Urbanatomy

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Urbanatomy expo guide coverWhen the Shanghai World Expo officially opens on Saturday, visitors will have to negotiate the largest fairground ever constructed, spanning 1305 acres on both sides of the Huangpu River. Such an expedition requires not just a map, but a guide – and the Urbanatomy team has stepped in to provide one. Hitting shelves at Carrefour and City Shop stores in Shanghai this week, the Urbanatomy Shanghai World Expo Guide 2010 includes maps of the Expo site, in addition to discussions of World’s Fair history and background on Shanghai. Below, two excerpts from the guide’s introduction, written by Nick Land.

Expo 2010 Shanghai

Spectacle has been granted a special place in Chinese culture since the distant dawn of its recorded history. While contemporary architects and designers pursue the essence of ‘Chinese style’ into the nooks and crannies of specific construction techniques, its most significant and influential trait is a commitment to the production of psychological effect on a massive scale. China’s great philosopher of war Sun Tzu exemplifies this continuous line of spectacular tradition, when he argues that the aim of the general is less to kill than to create an overwhelming impression on the enemy. The same thread passes through the invention of fireworks and the layout of the Forbidden City (constructed as a succession of theatrical gateways) to the glittering East Asian cityscapes of today, built almost as stage props for epic dramas of development, and painting vast panoramas in artificial light. This tradition of all-enveloping theater and aesthetic staging, vividly exhibited at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 60th anniversary of the New China in 2009, is naturally predisposed to affinity with the World Expo, an event whose very name calls for a spectacle of planetary dimensions.

As theater created on an immense scale, the Expo is aimed at an audience. Its structures are for the most part temporary, designed to make a powerful impression, to communicate, and to persist in memory, enduring not through solidity of construction, but through the effects they produce. At every level of physical organization the Expo is pre-adapted to fluidity, anticipating as many as half a million people flowing through the Shanghai Expo Park on certain days, with tens of thousands streaming through particular pavilions. Although something like a miniature city, the Expo site and its pavilions are not designed for inhabitants and their possessions, or for workers and their tools, but for visitors and their experiences. Everything is performance: transient, dramatic and informative.

Throughout Chinese history, the art of politics has always been intimately interwoven with the techniques of spectacular demonstration. This mainstream tradition is naturally focused upon Beijing, the nation’s political center, whose monumental Imperial architecture consistently betrays a theatrical design, constructed with reference to the awestruck perspective of a lowly observer, rather than for the comfort of a privileged occupant. That Beijing maintains a rare mastery in the field of grand spectacle – exhibited in the international and national pageants of 2008 and 2009 – should surprise no one.

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