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223 REPRINTS AVAILABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE PUBLISHERS. PHOTOCOPYING PERMITTED BY LICENSE ONLY© BERG 2007 PRINTED IN THE UK CULTURAL POLITICS VOLUME 3, ISSUE 2 PP 223–230 THE IDEA OF A TOWN NEIL LEACH NEIL LEACH TEACHES AT THE DESSAU INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTURE IN GERMANY, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTURE IN LOS ANGELES, AND THE LONDON CONSORTIUM IN LONDON. HE HAS ALSO TAUGHT AT THE ARCHITECTURAL ASSOCIATION, CORNELL UNIVERSITY, COLUMBIA GSAPP , UNIVERSITY OF BATH AND UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM. HE IS THE AUTHOR OF CAMOUFLAGE (MIT PRESS, 2006), FORGET HEIDEGGER (PAIDEIA, 2006), CHINA (MAP OFFICE, 2004), MILLENNIUM CULTURE (ELLIPSIS, 1999) AND THE ANAESTHETICS OF ARCHITECTURE (MIT PRESS, 1999); CO-AUTHOR OF MARS PANTS: COVERT HISTORIES, TEMPORAL DISTORTIONS, ANIMATED LIVES (ARCHITECTURE FOUNDATION, 2000); EDITOR OF DESIGNING FOR A DIGITAL WORLD (WILEY, 2002), THE HIEROGLYPHICS OF SPACE: READING AND EXPERIENCING THE MODERN METROPOLIS (ROUTLEDGE, 2002), ARCHITECTURE AND REVOLUTION: CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVES ON CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE (ROUTLEDGE, 1999), AND RETHINKING ARCHITECTURE: A READER IN CULTURAL THEORY (ROUTLEDGE, 1997); CO-EDITOR OF EMERGING TALENTS, EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES: ARCHITECTS (CHINA ARCHITECTURE AND BUILDING PRESS, 2006), EMERGING TALENTS, EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES: STUDENTS (CHINA ARCHITECTURE AND BUILDING PRESS, 2006), FAST FORWARD>>, HOT SPOTS, BRAIN CELLS (MAP OFFICE, 2004) AND DIGITAL TECTONICS (WILEY, 2004); AND CO-TRANSLATOR OF LEON BATTISTA ALBERTI, ON THE ART OF BUILDING IN TEN BOOKS (MIT PRESS, 1988). CULTURAL POLITICS DOI 10.2752/174321907X194039 The site for the new town is about an hour north of Beijing, very close to the mountains and the Great Wall. We drive there in a cavalcade of black Audis led by the government minister who commissioned the project. All government cars are in fact black, and many car owners in Beijing also opt for a black car. It is a practice which appears like a form of cultural camouflage, but actually it is a kind of insurance policy – no one would dare to steal anything that looks like a government car. The difference, though, between our black Audi at the back of the cavalcade and the minister’s at the front is that our car doesn’t have a blue flashing light and siren, that scatter pedestrians and cars whenever the road is blocked. We drive up to the site behind the minister’s car clearing a path for us through the mayhem of the Beijing traffic. The minister is in fact a friend of Xu Wei-Guo, the architect and professor with whom I am collaborating on an exhibition for the Beijing Biennial, and who is now commissioned to design the new town. The Minister is a fellow graduate of Tsinghua University, where Xu is a professor, and Xu’s cousin works for him. It is unclear whether or not Xu fixed the job for his cousin, but it does seem clear enough that Xu’s cousin has been instrumental in fixing this commission for Xu. That’s the way they seem to do things here in China. Once we have left Beijing we pass through several miles of idyllic countryside. There are farmers tending the flocks – sheep, goats and cows. The grass is a beautiful, vibrant green, the sky azure blue, and in the distance there is the dramatic outline of the mountains. CULTURAL POLITICS 224 NEIL LEACH > CULTURAL POLITICS 225 THE IDEA OF A TOWN We are all admiring this bucolic idyll when suddenly the cavalcade comes to a halt. This, we are told, is where the center of the new town is to be. We all get out of our black Audis and peer across the landscape, trying hard to imagine what it would look like as the center of a new town. The immediate response from everyone is that it would look better left as it is. Then we set off in our cavalcade again. First we call in at the nearest town – a strange collection of postmodern office blocks with mirror glass façades, slightly resembling the kind of urban vision that a child might have if given glitzy building blocks to play with instead of traditional painted wooden blocks. We are taken past a lake with a pair of giant kitsch swans at one end, and everyone gets out to discuss the map of...


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