Culture-Led Spatial Productions: Case Studies Of And For East Asia

Department: Architecture
Research Centre: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities Initiative;
Active Dates: 1 Jan 2016 - ongoing

Title of project:  Culture-Led Spatial Productions: Case Studies Of And For East Asia

Project team: PI: Ying Zhou


East Asia’s economic growth in the recent decades is paralleled by a shift in its urban development strategies. With the rapid depletion of historic urban structures and the push for economic transition to a post-industrial, knowledge-based service economy, especially in the context of regional and global competition between cities, municipal authorities are also increasingly promoting developments of ‘culture-led urban regeneration’ projects. In Singapore, for example, a model city for urban governance in Asia, the developmental state’s cultural ambitions, part of the regional competitions between cities, has direct relation to its urban developments. Similarly, in China, where the party-state dominates urban development, the recent ‘museum boom’ seems to project an image of progressive liberalization and global integration to the outside world. New forms of public-private alliances capitalize on the transition economy’s distinctive governance structures and dual land market. They also offer new business plans for cultural enterprise development.

The proposed research is a design research project for understanding better the drivers, agents and value chains for what are called ‘culture-led’ spatial productions that have proliferated in East Asian cities in the last decade.  Choosing contemporary visual art as the cultural industry sector to frame the research, the study of the development of spaces contemporary art reveal how the larger governance structures and political economy impact spatial production. Detailed cases in, i.e. Singapore, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, three notably different contexts, spatially and structurally, while at the same time economically competitive regionally, offer insights into the similarities and differences in the pathways and processes for art space developments. At the same time selected case synopsis from Europe and North America offer modes of successful developments that could be compared and contrasted to at a broader scale.

Economists have posited creative industries, a broad and rather fluid category, including the cultural industries, as both the indicator as well as instigator for economic transition from industrial to post-industrial service-based knowledge economy. Given the aspirations for East Asian cities, it is still notable that for most the industrialization process is recent and there is often a unique simultaneity of industrialization and post-industrialization coexisting spatially. Existing studies for culture-led spatial productions have largely been based on experiences in developed countries and their cities, and thus fail to account for the unique and quantitatively paramount phenomenon notably associated with a continental-scaled country like China.

At the same time, this research is not interested in only spaces consumption of the cultural industries, exemplified by China’s ‘museum boom.’ It is also interested also in the spaces for production of culture. The research is also interested in the bottom-up processes for spatial production that innovate and often feed into the top-down processes prevalent under the East Asian developmental state. It is the bottom-up processes for spatial production under transition economy that have notably become appropriated by the state in the mid-2000s to produce “creative industries clusters,” through the “adaptive reuse” of “industrial heritage.” It is thus the constellation of bottom-up and top-down agents and drivers as well as production and consumption side spaces are crucial to the development of what bureaucrats and branders have increasingly called the “contemporary art ecologies,” a term for a robust and “sustainable” value chain that is rooted in the larger economic system.

As consequence, the city is not only the vessel and incubator for the development of these “contemporary art ecologies.” Contribution of the spatial productions for contemporary art conversely also impact the cities and the flows and networks. Issues of gentrification, globalization, socio-spatial polarization, and proposals in the forms of ”Grand Projets” crucially intersect the study.

Anticipated outcomes and outputs:

  • produce publication of the case studies as well as comparative summaries of the different drivers for culture-led developments
  • produce evaluations on the case studies and form guidelines that would facilitate policy makers decision making and white papers

Published outputs:

The related project has resulted in the following publications:

Zhou, Ying. “Building a Discourse: Capturing a Moving Target of Shanghai’s Art Boom – Book Review: Jenny Lin’s Above Sea.” Art Journal 78, no. 3 (Fall 2019): 137–39.

Zhou, Ying. “Looking to New Institutional Models, China’s Cultural Landscape by Mid-Century.” In Looking to New Institutional Models, China’s Cultural Landscape by Mid-Century | 展望新的制度模式:本世纪中叶之前的中国文化景观, edited by Leigh Tanner and Nicole Ching, 17–25. Shanghai 上海: Museum2050, 2018.

Zhou, Ying. “成長中的當代藝術生態,香港 [A Growing Contemporary Art Ecology Hong Kong].” ArtPlus, no. 079 (August 2018): 22–25.

Zhou, Ying. “Herzog & de Meuron’s Latest Arts Venue, Tai Kwun, Opens in Hong Kong.” frieze, June 7, 2018.

Zhou, Ying. “Growing Ecologies of Contemporary Art: Vignettes from Shanghai.” In Critical Landscapes: Art, Space, Politics, edited by Emily Eliza Scott and Kirsten Swenson, 218–35. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2015.

Zhou, Ying. “Global Aspirations and Regional Specialization: Art Stage Sets Bar High in Singapore.” Modern Weekly [代周刊], 2013, 78–79.

Zhou, Ying. “Introduction Asia.” In City as Loft: Adaptive Reuse as a Resource for Sustainable Urban Development, edited by Martina Baum and Kees Christiaanse, 230–32. Zurich: GTA Verlag, 2012.

Enlarge Photo: Research_Culture_ZHOU_timelineHK_20180803Enlarge Photo: Museums for contemporary art that have been completed in Shanghai since the Expo 2010Enlarge Photo: Timeline showing the development of art spaces in Shanghai in relation to policies governing heritage and creativity since 1992  (drawn and © Ying Zhou)