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On June 28th, 2019 Pavillon de l’Arsenal in Paris held "Towards the City of Tomorrow - Urban Interactions, Artificial Intelligence, New Humanism: The 2019 Bi-City Biennale of UrbanismArchitecture (Shenzhen)”. French journalist and writer Francis Pisani moderated the discussion. The panel included curators from the two main sections of 2019 UABB (Shenzhen): chief curator Carlo Ratti and academic curator Michele Bonino from “Eyes of the City” section, and chief curator Fabio Cavallucci and executive curator Manuela Lietti from the “Ascending City” section. Known French architect Dominique Perault joined the conversation as a special guest.

Chief curator Carlo Ratti shares his vision for this UABB

Carlo Ratti shared his vision of this year’s UABB (Shenzhen) and explained the section “Eyes of the City”. He started his overview mentioning that the biennale was designed to welcome a vast amount of visitors. UABB is initiated in Shenzhen, a forty years old city that is today surpassing the dimensions of the metropolises such as New York and this makes it an ideal location to discuss the concept of an “instant city”.  Ratti pointed out that thanks to the new technologies, the urban space will be able to “see” and to capture the usage of space in real-time and to adapt to serve its operations. The biennale will try to offer keys for the proper use of the new technologies. One of the main questions of the section will be: “Who owns the data and how it is shared and used?” He underlined a global character of the "Eyes of the City" section explaining that in the months leading up to the opening of UABB (Shenzhen), the team has involved international architects, designers, philosophers, scientists and writers to react to the curatorial statement.

Chief curator Carlo Ratti explains why FuTian high-speed railway station was chosen as the exhibition venue

The biennale will be held at the Futian Railway Station which for the occasion becomes an exhibition area. Furthermore, it will become an experimental area where visitors and travelers will be invited, even forced, to enter the exhibition space. Answering Pisani’s question, Ratti explained that the train station was chosen as a location because it has geography but, at the same time, doesn’t have one because it connects people to different territories. The station illustrates the anonymity of the former city supported by Guy Debord that is destined to become a controlled space. It brings together different people and different places in a single space and contains the overall network.

Chief curator Fabio Cavallucci introduces the section of "Ascending City"

Continuing the conversation about UABB (Shenzhen), Fabio Cavallucci identified the importance of “Ascending City” and explained how it was chosen.  Ascending for the Chinese part of the curatorial team means going from one dimension to multiple dimensions. “Ascending City” for Cavallucci, as an Italian, is related to Umberto Boccioni’s work The City Rises. Furthermore, it is related to futurism and science fiction for the first time for an international architectural exhibition. For Cavalucci, exploring the relationship between the city and the tech is one of the main objectives of the biennale. How the new technologies are modifying the cities we are living in? He shared his insights about the exhibition structure of the “Ascending City” part of the biennale: three sub-sections to reflect the basic fabric of our society. It starts at the bottom level - as everybody of us sees the city, from the street - and follows the bottom-up approach. The second part titled “Urban Alchemists” includes architects, urbanists, and politicians: it is all about the people in power to change the city from the top. To conclude, the artistic visionary part - utopia, an ideal city, and dystopia - a glance at what might go wrong?

Renowned French architect Dominique Perot presented his studio’s projects

Dominique Perrault, a special guest of the event and the “Eyes of the city” section, presented his studio’s projects: EWHA University, GITC Seoul & The Olympic Village. The link between the three projects is their conceptual strategy: the ground becomes a thick integrated architecture of connectivity for a multitude of human and non-human flux. Perrault observed the rise of this new breed of metropolitan objects somewhere between architecture, urbanism, and infrastructure. They are the result/symptoms of a new frontier of connectivity and system logic in city production. The thickening of the ground is a feature of the city conceived as a system. These projects were chosen to echo the biennale location in the Futian Railway Station, the largest underground transit hub in Asia. According to Perrault, the station announces the end of autistic networks assigned to a single task and connects former and new networks, creating a united database. He stated that the city is not a system in the way it was in the 20th century. Today, the city has a systemic dimension dominated by the world of data. Everybody will need to access data. The city is destined to become “instant”, because data satisfies the human need “to have everything, and have it right now”: somehow, that is another way in which the Shenzhen model is particularly relevant for the urban world as a whole.

Academic curator Bonino explained The Development Plan for Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area

Academic curator Michele Bonino explained to the public The Development Plan for Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, launched last February, and Shenzhen as the very urban core of it, facing the main challenges of urbanization. He underlined that the exhibition was also addressing this strategy from the urbanization standpoint. He made some observations on the contrast/complementarity of the Chinese cities. While digital technologies are quickly developing and the interaction between users and buildings is becoming more and more immaterial, a focus on a very physical relationship between the human body and urban space is emerging in the agenda of Chinese policymakers and urban planners who seek to balance the digital phenomenon. For Michele Bonino, there is no “Eyes of the City” without “the Body of the City”.

Executive Curator Manuela Lietti discusses the Chinese artists’ point of view and the approach they have towards the city and its challenges

The discussion switched from talking about infrastructure, architecture, and data to talking about what the artists think about all this. Manuela Lietti stepped in to discuss the Chinese artists’ point of view and the approach they have towards the city and its challenges. She pointed out that in China the future is always right now and explained how the artists reflect upon global and local situation, underlining a personal approach of every artist. For Cavallucci, architectural exhibitions are tools to understand the world and answer important questions. An exhibition itself can be seen as a question. As technology is entering our daily life, the question could be what will be the relation between the tech and the humankind.

Photo of the public question exchange session

In the public discussion (the Q&A session), Ratti responded to the question on the relationship between the city and the countryside. For him, it is important to go back to networks, networks of people, to anchor us and to mediate between the local and the global. The materiality of things and materials, such as wood, can become an antidote to digitalisation bringing nature back to our life and letting us feel good in the space. As his final remark, Perrault mentioned the concept of a “humanist city” as a city where people move because they choose to do it and not because they are constrained to. At the end of the discussion, executive curator Daniele Belleri explained that 2019 UABB (Shenzhen) aims to change the relationship between humankind and tech, and its reflection in the media, into a positive one and to be an open platform to discuss these issues.

Bi-City Biennale of UrbanismArchitecture (UABB) is currently the only biennial exhibition in the world that is based exclusively on the set themes of URBANISM AND URBANIZATION. Co-organized by the two neighboring and closely interacting cities of Shenzhen and Hong Kong, UABB situates itself within the regional context of the rapidly urbanizing Pearl River Delta, concerns itself with globally common urban issues, extensively communicates and interacts with the wider public, is presented using expressions of contemporary visual culture, and engages in international and avant-garde dimensions as well as discourses of public interest.