In 1989, Kevin Costner uttered the iconic words “If you build it, he will come . . .” in the beloved melodrama Field of Dreams. Approximately ten years later, these words seemingly became architectural truth when Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao opened, which, highly arguably, saved the deteriorating city’s local economy. It was at this moment, when witnessing the Bilbao Effect, that architects, designers, and planners began viewing architecture as a possible impetus, and not the result of economic stimulus. Kevin Costner and Frank Gehry planted the seeds for this philosophy: build first, work out the details later.
Then came China. In the early 2000s, the Chinese government, sitting on an enormous trade surplus and seeing only greater economic boom in their future, made the decision to build hundreds of urban areas in which hundreds of millions of people would move to from rural areas. They built, and then they waited. But, nobody came.
There were a couple of hiccups along the way. First, it’s not so easy to uproot your life and move to a brand new area you’re completely unfamiliar with—especially when this place is empty with no jobs, and no one else seems to be going. Second, there was this little thing that happened during the construction project known as the Global Economic Crisis.
Most notably of China’s many vacant Ghost Cities, is Ordos, a city in Inner Mongolia, which was the place of Ai Weiwei’s famous Ordos 100 competition. Curated by Herzog and de Meuron, architects from around the world sent designs in a 100-day competition to build avant-garde residences. Today, it’s a few abandoned shells in a vast desert.
Atmospheric modern architecture is compelling and adds value to the quality of life of a city, but is it enough to attract inhabitants and boost local economies? Below is a photo of the Ordos Art Museum, designed by MAD Architects, with its polished metal cover and subtle undulation. Truly a work of art, it was completed in 2011. Yet, this museum has no website. They have no exhibitions. It’s unclear what it’s even doing.
By: David Plick