This 254 meter high oil lamp is about to be build in the Guzhen, an industrial city in the Pearl River Delta in the South-East of China. Where other cities in the region have specialized in producing oil paintings, toilets, locks, or anything, Guzhen has successfully specialized in making lighting fixtures. With some 2,000 factories that employ half the population, the city claims to produce 60% of the lights for the domestic civil lighting market. It’s main street, Xinxing Road, or ‘Lighting Street’, is along its seven kilometers stretch – with some government ‘support’ - lined-up with more than a thousand showrooms for lighting companies.
The building has 48 floors, covering 40,000 square meters, and is supposed to be completed before the Olympic Games in 2008, held in Beijing. Historically a pavilion with such a literal iconography has more to do with the World Exhibition architecture than with the Olympics. Just think of the ‘Atomium’ building in Brussels. The choice to make an ‘oil lamp’ seems informed by the fact that it has more form than a modern fitting.
Surprisingly Metropolis magazine aligns the building with architectures like the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. How ignorant can architectural journalism become? All these iconic buildings were major technological and cultural achievements at their construction. This is not.
To take it a step further: this building does not celebrate the future, but a past. It monumentalizes a past that is not even Chinese, since the oil lamp iconography is a European invention. It only monumentalizes size, bigness - the enormous production of the city. Not quality, but quantity. Big and hollow, yes. An Indian (?) ‘totem’ as an official of the city wrongfully says. A penis, maybe?
No, it made me think of the Soviet monuments in Russia, such as the enormous rocket in Moscow that is frozen in steel as if it takes off. So ridiculous it puts a smile on your face. But at least these Soviet monuments celebrated technological advancement. This communist monument in China does not even do that.