December 12, 2007 / 9:21 AM / 11 years ago

Master designer eyes China's architectural revolution

HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - He’s designed everything from avant-garde chairs to cars to the Islamic art wing under construction at the Louvre, and now Italy’s Mario Bellini wants to join China’s architectural revolution.

Italian designer Mario Bellini smiles during an interview with Reuters in Hong Kong December 12, 2007. Bellini, a renowned designer and architect, with product and furniture designs featured in museums worldwide, has won several awards, including a medal of honour from the President of the Italian Republic for his international work. REUTERS/ Victor Fraile

Bellini is a renowned designer and architect, with product and furniture designs featured in museums worldwide. He has won several awards, including a medal of honor from the President of the Italian Republic for his international work.

In recent years, China has, to much controversy at home, flung open its doors to big-time architects from abroad who have won bids for headline projects like the egg-shaped National Theatre and various Olympic venues in Beijing.

Bellini spoke to Reuters on the sidelines of a design event in Hong Kong about working in China, which is rapidly modernizing its cities and has been dubbed an “architectural playground”.

Q: What do you think about what’s happening in China?

A: I know that China is today a place to be. I think that China is giving to great architects really great opportunities at this moment, with financial power, a very fast decision process, and with physically fast construction. In the time they build a tower there, we build a little house. They seem really open to the top quality, not because they don’t understand and take what looks strange and foreign. They do understand. Considering the projects they are having, it seems that really major things are going on here, as it used to be in Japan 20, 30 years ago.

Q: Do you think indigenous architecture and design in China is getting watered down by Western architects?

A: I don’t know much about indigenous architecture. But a few years ago when I was here for a competition I met Chinese local architects and I was astonished by the high quality. Not because I didn’t think China would have good architects, of course, but astonished by the fact that the Chinese architecture school was already delivering first-rate young architects.

Q: Do you want to work in China, or feel the need to do so?

A: When a nation reaches the level where they are able to interface with architects and intellectuals from abroad then it is nice to work there. What could be attractive about working in China is the fast timing, because architects always feel they haven’t got a long enough life. In Italy, whatever you start working on, at the end it takes 10 years between when you start and when it is completed. From what I understand, in China, when there is a real will to do something then it goes fast, it is done seriously, and that is for an architect important. Otherwise you burn your life during these long waiting times.

Q: Considering the speed that some things can get done in China, what would you like to do there?

A: I think that the most exciting and challenging projects are normally the public interest projects, like museums, or stadiums, or public administration buildings, or university campuses. Or, a usual challenge for an architect is the big tower. Everybody is racing against others to build the longest and the tallest.”

Q: In the context of China, what are the biggest challenges?

A: The challenge is to be able to answer their enormous expectations. I can imagine that if a Chinese city calls an architect from far away or abroad, which would mean a higher difficulty, a higher cost, it’s because they have got such tremendous expectations. They are looking for something outstanding, for the best ever. They are just expecting to see something unexpected, something they think they themselves wouldn’t be able to imagine because we are the bearers of different cultures... which have been open to innovations longer, because China is just growing so fast now after a long, long sleep. That would be the challenge.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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