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An insider’s perspective

As Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s (DSR) winning entry in the Hainan Eco-Island Competition shows, architecture is not just about towers anymore. While we continue to cede our center cities to pencil-thin skyscrapers for the equally slimmed down with absurdly fat wallets, and as many cities around the world continue to grow by housing their inhabitants and workers in slabs and blocks that waste energy and stand as scourges of the landscape, we are seeing the possibility of other directions architects could take. The first is one that would take us towards the reuse and re-appropriation of existing buildings. When that is not possible, building with the land, rather than on it, and creating structures that integrate with the complexity of our lives while providing a clear framework that brings us together, rather than isolating us, is the way forward.

I was hesitant in facing the task of judging the Competition as one of its jury members. The client had made an artificial island off the coast of this resort island, which seemed to me an unnecessary bit of terraforming, and its shape smacked of other attempts to impose abstract ideas onto new landscapes: it is a circular island that is meant to contain a protected cruise harbor, so that its final shape, when you see it from the air, will approach the symbol for Yin and Yang. Right now the site is a flat stretch of sand you reach by a bridge from the main island. Soon flanking islands shaped to resemble “auspicious clouds” will join it in the bay off the coast of Hainan’s largest city, Haikou.

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