TAASA Review Issues

September 2013

Vol: 22 Issue: 3
Building Big in Asia
Editor: Josefa Green

Cover Image
Interior of National Centre for Performing Arts, Beijing. Photo : John Courtney.

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Editorial

This issue explores a phenomenon evident across Asia: the construction in recent decades of massive building projects, often designed by international ‘superstar’ architects, which are so evidently impacting on its built environments.

There is the seemingly unstoppable contest to build ‘the highest’ – a record currently held by the Burj Khalifa in the UAE. The top 10 tallest buildings in the world have mostly been built in the last decade – and all but one is to be found in Asia.

However, ‘building big’ is not just about height. We are also witnessing the construction of enormous, truly ambitious complexes across much of Asia. What is the motivation behind such constructions? This issue cannot hope to cover the ground or tease out all the factors involved, however our contributors explore these questions in widely different, sometimes quirky, contexts.

It seems appropriate to start with an article on tall buildings in Shanghai – a city which currently features 2 of the top 10 highest buildings in the world. Anne Warr discusses the technical challenges which had to be faced in ‘building tall’ in Shanghai, given the city’s location on the mud deposits of the flood plain of the Yangtze delta. Reflecting Shanghai’s growing economic strength, the Park Hotel, built in 1934, also epitomised the new world of modernism in its Art Deco architectural design by Laszlo Hudec. It remained the tallest building in Asia until the 1980s.

The intersection of commerce with religion is one aspect explored by Professor Christiane Brosius in explaining the construction of the massive Akshardham Complex in Delhi. Completed in 2005 and claimed to be the largest Hindu temple structure in the world, this 100 acre Complex was build by a Gujarat based Hindu sect, supported by international Gujarati business interests. She sees this Complex as a ‘hyperbuilding’, a site of conspicuous consumption for a growing wealthy elite. Offering a potent blend of religious tradition and mythology with state of the art technology, the Complex can be seen as a new expression of Hindu based national confidence, teaming political and economic growth with religious zeal.

The largest complex of Buddhist temples in Vietnam, the Bai Dinh temple complex south of Hanoi, is also a privately funded project, this time by a wealthy Vietnamese entrepreneur. Ann Proctor discusses how this new, grand scale complex has been superimposed on what was once the area of the western gateway of the former Royal Citadel of Hoa Lu. But while the former temples on this site settled gently within the landscape, this new complex, covering some 700 hectares, dominates: its oversize structures and larger than life monuments honour one of Vietnam’s new rich industrialist patrons.

Supported by enormous wealth, cultural aspirations are driving the current ambitious program of museum building in the Gulf States of UAE and Qatar. Leone Lorrimer worked for 7 years in this region, in part as design manager for the three museums in the UAE discussed in her article, planned for completion in 2017. As with the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha designed by I.M. Pei, these museums draw on the power of ‘brand’ by engaging ‘starchitects’, and by partnering with world famous museums. She explores the way in which these projects aim to establish national identity through culture and education.

Geoffrey Douglas’ provocative article demonstrates how the natural environment can also be appropriated to promote national aspirations. Aiming to establish the Singapore ‘brand’ as a pre-eminent, environmentally sensitive garden city, the recently completedGardens by the Bay urban landscape complex extends over 100 hectares, combining spectacular gardens and glass conservatories to create a ‘better than nature’ experience.

In an entirely different context, cultural and political agendas have, in the last few decades, influenced the building of a series of mosques – currently numbering 10 across Indonesia and Malaysia – which incorporate the architecture of old Chinese mosques. In his article, Hew Wai-Weng contends that in Indonesia, these Chinese style mosques are symbolic markers for the acceptance of Chinese culture and the inclusiveness of Indonesian Islam while in Malaysia, they offer a clear statement that Islam is not a religion for ethnic Malay Muslims alone.

The final exploration of our theme takes us to Beijing, from where urban planner John Courtney regularly reports on its changing built environment. Here, we draw on his reports to cover two spectacular recent projects which exemplify the current spate of major iconic building projects by international superstar architects.

As always, this issue offers a range of shorte r items of interest: Jim Masselos’ entertaining review of Indian films in the last Sydney Fil m Festival, Philip Courtenay’s review of a new biography of Raffles and a charming personal recollection of Pagan by Minnie Kent Biggs.

We sadly acknowledge the passing of Heleanor Feltham, whose enormous legacy is honoured by Christina Sumner in this issue.

Table of contents

3 Editorial: BUILDING BIG IN ASIA
Josefa Green, Editor

4 BUILDING TALL IN SHANGHAI 
Anne Warr

7 RELIGION AND CULTURAL NATIONALISM: THE AKSHARDHAM COMPLEX IN DELHI 
Christiane Brosius

10 MUSEUMS IN THE GULF STATES – EXTERNAL IMAGE OR INTERNAL IDENTITY?
Leone Lorrimer

14 URBAN LANDSCAPE AND CONTEMPORARY VISIONS OF NATURE:
GARDENS BY THE BAY IN SINGAPORE 
Geoffrey Douglas

17 HYBRID MOSQUES: MIXING ISLAM AND ‘CHINESENESS’ IN MALAYSIA AND INDONESIA 
Hew Wai-Weng

20 VIETNAM’S BAI DINH BUDDHIST TEMPLE 
Ann Proctor

22 ‘TROPHY BUILDINGS’ IN BEIJING’S CHANGING URBAN LANDSCAPE
John Courtney with Tina Burge

24 THREE INDIAN FILMS AT THE 2013 SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL
Jim Masselos

25 TRAVELLER’S CHOICE: RECOLLECTING PAGAN
Minnie Kent Biggs

26 BOOK REVIEW: BIOGRAPHY OF RAFFLES
Philip Courtenay

27 HELEANOR FELTHAM (1942 – 2013)
Christina Sumner

28 RECENT TAASA ACTIVITIES

29 TAASA Members’ Diary: SEPTEMBER 2013 – DECEMBER 2013

31 WHAT’S ON IN AUSTRALIA: SEPTEMBER 2013 – DECEMBER 2013
Compiled by Tina Burge

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