Arles Photography Open Salon 2012


A selection of work from my series “Beijing Walks of Life” has been selected for the Arles Photography Open Salon 2012. The exhibition will be held at Galerie Huit and runs alongside the Les Rencontres d’Arles festival from July 2nd to September 23rd. Early 2013 the exhibition will move to the South East Asia Photography Open Salon, organized by the Alliance Francaise at the China House in Penang, Malaysia.



Beijing, Jiu Xianqiao Block No.6 Central Heating


The No.6 block at Jiu Xianqiao was one of the dormitories for the 798 and other factories we wrote about in previous posts.


We walk around at a plant for the central heating of the block that was built in co-operation with the Soviet Union in the 1950s.


Every block in this neighborhood used to have its own plant with huge boilers to provide central heating. Now, 60 years later, most of them have been demolished and just a few are still in operation.


According to a worker at this plant, which belongs to a state-owned enterprise, the boilers are still in use. “It will be demolished soon”, he says.




Beijing, Sponsored government promotion


These photos are taken along the road near Chaoyang Park South Gate, Beijing. The posters are sponsored by Solana, a modern lifestyle shopping center. Solana distinguishes itself from other shopping centers with a (southern) European style architecture. Western retail chains like Zara have an outlet in the center and it locates many foreign restaurants like French, Italian, Greek, Swiss and Arabian.


The text on the posters translates as follows:


(Photo above left) The army and the people are united as one and build the Great Wall of Steel (the latter is a metaphor indicating how solid and strong the country is)

(Photo above right) The army and the people make concerted efforts to turn Chaoyang (district) into a wonderful place.


(Photo below left) Love the army, better treatment for the army families, and strengthen the national defense; Support the policies, love the citizens and let Chaoyang district flourish.


(Photo below right, poster on the left) The Party, the army and the people work together to construct a world-class city.








I saw this poster on a public telephone booth in Gaobeidian, Beijing. It translates as follows:


Photo of the “6.28” Shooting Criminal Suspect

Features of the suspect: male, around 40, 1.7 meters tall, medium build, dark skin, X-type legs, does not speak mandarin very well. He’s unsociable and eccentric, quiet, likes to be alone and hardly has any contact with others. He always gets up early in the morning.


Literally translated ”走路外八” means “walking outside the eight” and my guess is that it refers to X-type legs. I googled it for videos on the subject to understand what type of condition of the legs was meant; only to find that the first search results were all about this suspect.


Here is a Chinese news report, dated January 9th, on the case: In summary the report is about a robbery with shooting that happened on the 6th of January in Nanjing. The victim died because of a shot in the head. Two days later the police uploaded a video on Weibo (Chinese Twitter). The video shows the suspect running away with 200,000 RMB taken from the crime scene. In total, the report says, he stole 480,000 RMB in 7 robberies. He made 9 victims; 7 of them died and 2 were seriously injured. The Nanjing police is hunting for the suspect with all available resources.


More info via other Internet sources:
“6.28” on the poster refers to a robbery with shooting in Changsha at June 28th, 2011. The man, Zeng Kaigui, is the suspect in this case. He is also suspected of robberies and shootings in Chongqing.
The police is offering a 300,000 RMB reward for anyone who can provide information that will lead to the arrest of the suspect.

Update August 13th, 2012: Many stories in the media today about a manhunt for the suspect in Chongqing. The name of the suspect now appears as Zhou Kehua in the media.



Writings on the wall



On the left an advertisement for “Tattoos”

Middle photo on the left: “No parking here”

In the middle: “Happiness. For all the neighbours”

On the bike cart: “Make the capital beautiful”

Photo on the right: “Written in July 2010, by Cheng Yuanzhou”

“Must take the road of science

The society develops for the people

Do more good for the people

For all causes of the people”


Beijing Honest Architectural Design Company (BHAD)


The Beijing Honest Architectural Design Company is located on the 29th floor of one of the towers at JianWai SOHO. The company is managed by three partners. We speak with two of them: Yang Chenggang and Tian Bing.


Yang: I have been interested in architecture since high school. Actually, I enjoyed art and design when I was a kid and I started to learn painting at the age of 4 or 5. However, art didn’t promise a serious career in the 70s or 80s in China and so my parents hoped that I could do something better than art. That’s why I became an architect.


When did you start designing?

Yang: In 1994; it has been 17 years now. He (Mr. Tian) started earlier than me, he has been doing it for over 20 years.


What’s your first project?

Yang: I started doing some projects with my director when I was still studying in university, but I don’t feel attached to any of them; I just did what my director told me to do. My first own project was the Annwa Mansion near Anzhen Bridge, with a design that seems pretty naïve to me now and doesn’t match with my present view on designs.


Your company’s business is in commercial property or residential?

Tian: More in residential.

Tian: In my point of view, it’s quite hard to strike a balance between art and marketing demands under the present circumstances of architecture in China. The majority of our projects are more commercial than artistic and we are not satisfied about it.

Yang: But the truth is that we never give up finding a better balance. Because every one of us does have a dream on architecture, even though architecture itself is affected by many other factors, such as policies, clients, time etc.


What would you design if you could ignore all the external pressures?

Tian: Architecture can never get rid of the society. If it’s extremely idealistic, I would design something that meets an individual’s needs. However, needs vary from people to people.


What about the style?

Tian: I believe that the trend is a cycle of history. For instance, people now prefer simple design; however, today it’s modern but it is likely to become retro after 5 years. Just like villas, it’s popular to have a Tuscan-style villa nowadays, yet it could be an avant-garde Japanese style in a couple of years.  I think it’s same with fashion; it involves both vintage values and the psychology of the majority.


Some architects put more emphasis on the aesthetics of the design, while others focus more on the ecological aspects. What’s your position?

Tian: As an architect, I hope that my design can contribute to an individual’s living style. Ecologic buildings are certainly part of our plan, including low-carbon and low-energy buildings. I also wish that we could have more design with Chinese distinctions. As you can see, most ideas in China are from other countries which lack our own distinctions.


Now please mark the following buildings on a scale from 1 to 10.



(1) New CCTV Building

Tian & Yang: Nine.


(2) The old (JianWai) SOHO buildings

Tian: 5, I think. This is a famous Japanese concept (SOHO: Small Office, Home Office).

Yang: It can’t be great on the form of design, but it is a successful project considering the operation afterwards. When evaluating a building, we need to take the period in which it was designed into account as well. Some buildings may turn out to be a failure years later, but it can be a masterpiece at the current time.

Tian: Chinese architecture still puts a  lot of emphasis on the appearance in the design, due to the uncompleted development at present. However, form is just part of designing.


(3) The LG Twin Towers

Tian: Five. I feel that Koreans do worse on this very aspect (he means designing), so are their clothes …^_^

Yang: It’s not good, not even as pure commercial buildings.


(4) The Phoenix Office Building

Tian: It has not been completed yet, a 7 perhaps.

Yang: I give only 6 points. First of all, I don’t think that it fits the environment there. It’s without saying that architecture should coordinate with the environment. Besides, I have seen some other designs at the competition of this project, and they were better.


(5) Interesting. What about the Bird’s Nest?

Tian & Yang: Nine.


(6) Forbidden City

Tian & Yang: 10!


(7) China World Trade Center Tower III

Tian: 8.

Yang: I agree.


Among the projects in your company, which ones satisfied you most?

Yang: We are still developing.

Tian: I was awarded for the best design for several times, but I’m not particularly satisfied with any of them. There’s always something, professional or commercial, affecting us.

Tian: Frankly speaking, some of the foreign designs are also not so good, such as architecture in the 60s in America, as they were in the process of a big development. Like the current the situation in China; architecture is still developing.

Yang: Yet, we are always seeking for a better opportunity. In fact, we always consider how much development a case can bring us.


That’s sensible. I’ve observed that your company seems to be doing well. When did you start it?

Yang: This corporation was founded by the Ministry of Construction together with Hong Kong partners in 1994. Then we three bought this company in 2003 and later we became the managing directors of this company after the elder architects retired.


I used to run a company with a partner as well, what will you do when there’s an argument?

Tian: Arguments are inevitable. We need to consider more about collective interests, and seek the common ground while respecting differences.

Yang: Architecture is a rather idealistic job, for everyone holds their own ideas. Thus, it’s necessary to communicate, to have discussions and then come to an agreement with each other. That way we can work out the best scheme.

Tian: It’s kind of different with western people. Occidental individuals tend to stick to their own grounds; while oriental people are likely to find a balance between two sides. I think that’s due to the different cultural backgrounds.


Are you also good friends after work?

Yang & Tian: Of course!


You have many employees working in your company. With the fierce competition going on, how do you retain your staff?

Tian: With money.


Just money?

Yang: Of course not. China is a pretty materialistic country nowadays, thus the economic basics are important. However, employees are also seeking for good opportunities in their careers, challenges as well as happiness at work.


How much does a senior architect earn every month?

Tian: A senior architect can make at least 200,000 RMB per year. That’s 15,000RMB for a month.  The cost of manpower increased a lot these years in China, while the payment for our designs still remains the same.

Tian: What people pursue is different. Some prefer making more money, while others are more interested in opportunities. To illustrate it with our company, if a project cannot bring any opportunity to develop ourselves in new directions, we will make it a commercial case and try to maximize the profit. By contrast, if a case can contribute to our development, we will ask for less money. So, our strategies are different.

Tian: Anyway, architecture in China is still in a process of development, so the social status of Chinese architects isn’t as important as in foreign countries. It’s not a problem only for this industry. Actually, the situation in Beijing is much better then in the provinces.



Beijing, Bringing in the Wine


Demolition, in an area that has to make way for new development, reveals a wall of a former living room with a poet of the famous Chinese poet Li Bai (a.k.a. Li Po):




See how the Yellow River’s waters move out of heaven.

Entering the ocean, never to return.

See how lovely locks in bright mirrors in high chambers,

Though silken-black at morning, have changed by night to snow.

…Oh, let a man of spirit venture where he pleases

And never tip his golden cup empty toward the moon!

Since heaven gave the talent, let it be employed!

Spin a thousand pieces of silver, all of them come back!

Cook a sheep, kill a cow, whet the appetite,

And make me, of three hundred bowls, one long drink!

…To the old master, Cen,

And the young scholar, Danqiu,

Bring in the wine!

Let your cups never rest!

Let me sing you a song!

Let your ears attend!

What are bell and drum, rare dishes and treasure?

Let me be forever drunk and never come to reason!

Sober men of olden days and sages are forgotten,

And only the great drinkers are famous for all time.

…Prince Chen paid at a banquet in the Palace of Perfection

Ten thousand coins for a cask of wine, with many a laugh and quip.

Why say, my host, that your money is gone?

Go and buy wine and we’ll drink it together!

My flower-dappled horse,

My furs worth a thousand,

Hand them to the boy to exchange for good wine,

And we’ll drown away the woes of ten thousand generations!