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This Ridiculous World Guide: China – Life Stages of a Modern Building

A building is a magical thing. However, as a resident, whether temporary or permanent, getting to know your own building can be confusing, if not scary. At times you may wonder what goes on within its walls, or below the floorboards. You may be concerned about the shifting of doors and cabinets, or the loosening of plumbing fixtures. Do not be ashamed. You are right to wonder. While we understand a little about how and why some buildings are constructed and what makes them deteriorate, much remains a mystery. In our neighborhood we are lucky enough to have three generations in close proximity, which allows us to observe the life cycle of the modern apartment building. Hopefully, through this study, we will come closer to understanding the peculiar nature of these structures, which some of us call home.

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1. Here is an example of a brand new unit. Note the distinct shine of the tiles, the manufacturer’s wrappings still adorning its features. In fact, it is so new that it has not received its windows or its surrounding pavement, and stands awkwardly amidst its own excess material – but those things will come with time. Soon (sooner than you might expect), this building’s exterior will develop an unattractive sooty coat, and you may discover blackish stains forming below windows. All of this is perfectly natural and unavoidable, just standard signs of existence and occupation.

2. This building may appear very old, but it is not far beyond its adolescence. Unfortunately, the life expectancy for such a structure is currently very low. Note the gray streaks, the sagging paint, and the formations of mineral deposits left by internal water leakage – all signs of an inherent defect. From a distance you may be unable to determine its true color. Up close you may wonder how it stands. Its interior walls, once white, are now scuffed, stained, foot-printed and flaking. Upkeep seems to be a futile struggle – the building’s defense system can no longer repel the dust, there is no hope of retaining heat, and the pipes that carry things in and out must be held in place by crude cement.

3. Here you can see yet another stage of life: the building swaddled in green gaze to hide its nakedness, with a system of long poles to guide its physical development. The true miracle of construction occurs within, with dozens or more worker cells, sometimes referred to as migrant laborers, toiling long hours each day in order to bring this structure to a stage suitable for exposure to the elements. This birthing will come suddenly, and often in clusters of four or more, if not entire neighborhoods. Here we witness the stage of possibility, the stage at which it is difficult to imagine a thing is gray and forlorn as the elder units, a stage at which one can picture whatever one wants beneath the green covering. Appreciate this stage while it lasts.

Location: All over China
Cost: Free
Domestic Attention Level: Highest at the beginning of Stage 1
For more information on this topic: The Art of Architecture in 21st Century Urban China

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