Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron’s unbuilt villas
The Chinese artist and Swiss architects commissioned 100 villas - why weren’t they built?
Ordos, a region in Inner Mongolia inside the People's Republic of China, takes its name from a local word for 'palace'. This is odd, as the Ordos is fairly desolate. Nevertheless, the region has palatial aspirations, and is subject to a great deal of development, partly because Ordos contains huge coal deposits.
In January 2008, Ai Weiwei and the Swiss architecture practice Herzog & de Meuron arranged for 100 architects from 27 countries to come to Ordos, in preparation for building a hundred, 1,000-square-metre houses in the region.
Firms including Rojkind Arquitectos from Mexico, New York's Multiplicities, and Luca Selva Architekten of Switzerland, all took part, in what was viewed as a well-funded and worldly undertaking. This was, of course, prior to the 2008 Summer Olympics, where Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei's National Stadium drew almost as much attention as the sporting event itself. Since then, Ai's relationship with the Chinese government has soured while the houses of Ordos 100 remain almost entirely unbuilt.
So, what should we make of this travelling exhibition of the architectural models from the Ordos 100 project on show at the Galleria Continua, in Le Moulin, just outside Paris, until the end of the month?
The maquettes have toured the world, and this latest stop is no more or less important than previous shows. Yet, now, nearly six years since Ordos 100 began, it can't be viewed as a great example of grand global intent, but a testament to how unforseen vicissitudes can stymie even the greatest plans.
Ai completed a documentary on the project last year, which captures what happens when high-concept architects meet hard-nosed, ambitious apparatchiks. Of course, neither Ai nor Herzog & De Meuron would have gone to Ordos with anything but ambition. Yet, this unbuilt model village says something about China's new age, and the West's relationship with the Middle Kingdom, in a way that only Ai can express so eloquently. For more, go here. For further insight into Ai Weiwei's art, please take a look at our monograph; for more on how we build today, consider our brilliant Architecture Travel Guide app, and to understand the huge panoply of Chinese art a little better, pre-order our Chinese Art Book.