In Between Dissonance and Power

This project is a political interpretation of“noise”. If harmony metaphorically describes a society in unity, then noise could be seen as dissidence (or resistance) to an otherwise smooth system. Nowhere is the illusion of harmony and contention to noise more clearly expressed than in public plazas in China, where the dominance of power is achieved through the plaza’s bigness and emptiness.

However under the current condition which speech must be constantly released in dealing with the increasing hidden social agitation, for the stable improvement of its society, the government is obliged to offer a new gesture of openness. It is a gesture that is neither a smooth nor a collapsed system, but the introduction of noise as slight off deviation of the original system, in forming a new type of totalitarian plaza as a hybridization of power and dissonance. Namely, a plaza which maintains the main figure of the power at the same time allowing small changes to occur.

Having the government as a client, the project is a new design experiment for the civic square in Shenzhen, a city next to Hong Kong and recently commissioned as the laboratory for the country's political reform. The site of the plaza is 600 by 600 feet in front of the Chinese post-modernism government headquarter, and within the new totalitarian project: 20000 feet diameter pedestrian ring proposed by OMA.

The aim is to at the macro level, maintain a totalitarian image and meet the program demand of occasional ceremonies (e.g. parades) and mass assembly. Meanwhile at the micro level, introduce dissonance space and program, an at hoc cultural market with passage between subway and train terminals under the plaza. Rather than planned spaces for gathering and protests, the newly introduced space will trigger and represent speech by increasing physical contact and exchange of information.

Inspired by the validation codes and Haha landscape, the main design idea in achieving this hybridization is to take advantage of the large scale and introduce a series of subtle perturbation of the original surface to the regards of its view and movements. These small changes are hard to notice at the large scale, but having radical results at the human scale. A series of calibration was carried out in order to explore the thresholds, namely how much deviation can be introduced in this hybridization.

The first set of perturbations is to redesign the dialectical relationship between the views from official angle and non-official angle. The design turns flat plaza surface into surface that is slightly curved and elevated towards the center. This gesture maintains the totalitarian view from the official angle at the platform and the averaged area used by government. It avoids any occurrence of dissonance. Series of diagrams shows the variation of projection, from flat to the warping surface and the disappearance of openings. Subsequently, the original rigid flat grid of parade performers subversively changes into a curved surface.

“Surface with depth”is to respond to the overwhelming totalitarian sceneries and landscape, the government and the OMA ring. The areas with depth are pockets at much smaller and human scale attempted for gathering. The spherical rendering shows how the totalitarian landscape vanishes. In seeking for where the surface depth will take place, a computation calculation was made via marking and rating the viewing direction according to its importance, and evaluating the least exposed areas (shown as dark).

This surface perturbation will not be effective unless the space are occupied by people. Therefore the second sets of perturbation takes movements of people into consideration, in the hope of minimizing the perturbation while maximizing the effects in increasing physical contacts. Movement simulations of ceremony performers, strollers, commuters and market shoppers were run to read the secondary information out of the depth image. It decides the effective areas for further perforation. Only the effective ones are kept and the location for depth and perforation was reduced to minimal. Similarly, the surface edge condition is decided to maximize the physical contact of crowd movements. The entire plaza surface is elevated to eye-level and only leaving several touchdown points in joining the ground.

The project introduces a new plaza as a new city landscape, subtly and subversively changes the city skyline, achieving the in-between spatial co-occupancy of monolithic plaza surface and partially concealed but potentially radical dissonance spaces.