Wallpaper*: Tale of Two Cities: the Bi-City Biennale of Shenzhen and Hong Kong opens its doors

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The Irish pavilion is part of the country’s program New Horizons: Architecture from Ireland, and was called ‘Shan-zhen: Reconnecting Shenzhen to Shannon’. Photography: courtesy of UABB

The latest Bi-City Biennale, shared between Hong Kong and its neighbour city of Shenzhen, is back this month with a host of architectural celebrations. The large scale event is intended to focus on the common urban challenges facing the Pearl River Delta region, drawing the two cities even closer.

In Shenzhen, the exhibition (titled ‘Re-Living the City’) is held in a striking settting – an abandoned flour factory – but includes many, if not too many, voices, which has an impact in its overall critical strength. Still, many worthy displays offer an informative visit.

Happily, Ecosistema Urbano’s thoughtful series of small-scale urban projects stood out for its practical application of using technology to create playful social spaces like solar-powered ‘air trees’; as did the V&A’s ‘Unidentified Acts of Design’ highlighting the creative intelligence that exists outside of conventional design studios, challenging the preconception that design in Shenzhen is limited to reproductions.

Elsewhere, Swiss architects Christ & Gantenbein’s typology city guide features an app identifying hidden architectural gems in Hong Kong. Presented with floor plans and key information, the resource acts as a basis of creating new architecture based on established types.

Meanwhile, across the border, in Hong Kong’s Kowloon Park, 60 exhibitors examined critical issues facing the city within a polished presentation, entitled ‘Visions 2050 – Lifestyle and the City’. Here, highlights include the Oval Partnership’s examination of the interaction between people and intangible spaces, which provided an interesting take on parts of the city that are usually ignored.

Other exhibits worth seeing include legendary Hong Kong photographer Ho Fan’s iconic black and white photographs of the city, and the quirky Transform Bar II by Kacey, Kwok Choi Wong. The mobile Mojito cocktail bar, complete with record player and pots of mint, takes inspiration from local hawkers, who the designers say have perfected the art of flexible design, displaying a multitude of products in a small space.

The park setting also provided a surreal setting for ALPOD’s monocoque aluminum pod homes, and elevator-company Schindler Group’s futuristic immersive urban environment showcasing the potential future of urban vertical mobility.

While both Shenzhen and Hong Kong’s exhibitions make for an interesting and extremely varied visit, it is a pity that with the ‘one country, two systems’ agreement (which is due to expire in 2047), neither city took the bold step to reflect on their position on the cusp of one of planning’s most dramatic moments and China’s voracious appetite for construction, reexamining the conventional planning model with a more critically audacious eye.