Design student creates fictional city in disputed South China Sea waters
Source: Twitter/@Archiplain

Bartlett School of Architecture student has designed what could be China’s next “pilgrimage destination” to be located in the contested territories at the South China Sea, Dezeen reports.

Calling it a “rebranding” exercise for the country’s political image, the fictional city named “Splendour” will act as “a new cultural capital city of the Great China Region” and is based on the concept of the predecessor to the European Union – the European Economic Community (EEC) – created after World War II.

“The EEC’s first steps were to foster economic cooperation: the idea being countries that trade with another become economically interdependent and so more likely to avoid political conflict,” the student, Freja Bao, said.

Instead of governing via political organisations like the EEC did, Splendour will instead be governed by nature’s four seasons and its festivities.

For the project, Bartlett’s design students were asked this question: “Can the appropriation of fiction and narrative inform the shaping of an urban and architectural vision, while addressing real and urgent sociopolitical, economic and environmental concerns?”

To answer this, Bao got inspiration from the book The Eastern Capital: A Dream of Splendor – a memoir written by a refugee, Meng Yuanlao, from the Northern Song Dynasty’s capital.

Meng’s memoir describes the city’s urban life, seasons, festivals together with its food and customs.

China is under scrutiny for constructing and militarising artificial islands in the South China Sea –  a move the US says flouts international laws – that other countries like Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have claims over. The territorial dispute is causing strain in the region as countries assert their sovereignty over the disputed water.

Bao’s tutors refer to the prediction around 200 million people will be displaced by 2050 “through an amalgamation of complex economic, social and political drivers, exacerbated by increasingly unpredictable environmental conditions” in its Bartlett Summer show catalogue.

“Rather than ‘fighting’, governments together with planners and architects, need to envision built environments that embrace the enemy.”

While Bao’s designs received praise for its artistry, not everyone agrees with Bao and her tutors on the political context of her project. One commenter, John Ha wrote: “This project is just reinforcing the rhetoric of the Chinese ultranationalistic propaganda almost unthinkingly, and this is deeply troubling, not only for the student concerned, but for the entire civilised world.

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