Reuse, Renew, Recycle: exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.
© 2021 The Museum of Modern Art. Foto Robert Gerhardt

China has experienced an unparalleled building boom in recent decades, which has made the country “the largest construction site in human history”. After urban mega-projects and spectacular signature architectures were initially designed by often Western star architects, a new generation of independent Chinese architects has challenged this approach. With the exhibition Reuse, Renew, Recycle: Recent Architecture from China, the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is dedicated to the commitment of these architects to social and ecological sustainability until 4 July 2022. The show was organised by Martino Stierli, Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, and Evangelos Kotsioris, Assistant Curator of the Department of Architecture and Design, with advice from Prof. Li Xiangning of Tongji University in Shanghai.

Reuse, Renew, Recycle” presents eight projects that incorporate a variety of approaches – from the reuse of former industrial buildings to the recycling of building materials and the reinterpretation of old building techniques to the economic renewal of individual villages and entire regions. In doing so, the architects advocate small interventions that meaningfully engage with the existing built environment and social structures. “As with every new generation,” says Beijing-based architect Zhang Ke, “you start by going back to the original questions, back to the basics, to rethink and ask what the architecture of our time might look like.”

This attitude has given rise to some of the most imaginative buildings in China today, presented through models, drawings, mock-ups, photographs and videos that show how contemporary architecture can be anchored in the country’s distinctive cultural context. From the vaulted ceilings of the Imperial Kiln Museum of Jingdezhen in Jiangxi to an open-air theatre made of bamboo in the village of Hengkeng in Songyang County and a former sugar factory transformed into a hotel, the exhibition presents a series of bold interventions that serve as a blueprint for resource-conscious and socially oriented architectural practices not only in China.

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