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Building Globalization

Transnational Architecture Production in Urban China

Building Globalization

Transnational Architecture Production in Urban China

From the years 2004 to 2008, Beijing and Shanghai witnessed the construction of an extraordinary number of new buildings, many of which were designed by architectural firms overseas. Combining ethnographic fieldwork, historical research, and network analysis, Building Globalization closely scrutinizes the growing phenomenon of transnational architecture and its profound effect on the development of urban space.

Roaming from construction sites in Shanghai to architects’ offices in Paris, Xuefei Ren interviews hundreds of architects, developers, politicians, residents, and activists to explore this issue. She finds that in the rapidly transforming cities of modern China, iconic designs from prestigious international architects help private developers to distinguish their projects, government officials to advance their careers, and the Chinese state to announce the arrival of modern China on the world stage. 

China leads the way in the globalization of architecture, a process whose ramifications can be felt from Beijing to Dubai to Basel. Connecting the dots between real estate speculation, megaproject construction, residential displacement, historical preservation, housing rights, and urban activism, Building Globalization reveals the contradictions and consequences of this new, global urban frontier.

240 pages | 18 halftones, 4 maps, 15 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2011

Asian Studies: East Asia

Geography: Urban Geography

Political Science: Urban Politics

Sociology: Sociology of Arts--Leisure, Sports, Urban and Rural Sociology


“Xufei Ren’s absorbing and timely study clearly demonstrates how transnational architecture is used as symbolic capital in the making of China’s global cities. What emerges above all from this wide-ranging account is the quite extraordinary pace of China’s urban development and the incredible power of the state. The book is packed with fascinating insights from the author’s extensive empirical research. Where China’s colonial urban past is selectively preserved, it is to represent it as part of the international present. The country’s new global identity is being constructed by spectacular transnational architectural forms. As for the new architectural criticism developing since the Olympics, Ren argues that critiques of power, exploitation, and social injustice are still a missing element. A must for urbanists, China watchers, and the growing ranks of transnational architects.”

Anthony D. King, State University of New York at Binghamton

“Xuefei Ren has written an essential guide to the imagined modernity and real modernization of contemporary Chinese cities. She depicts in sharp detail an emerging landscape of towering skyscrapers, prestige projects, and rising land values where public officials and private developers create world cities as national symbols of a new China. Along the way she offers a new, compelling view of the role of famous architects and of Western architectural design in the global cultural economy.”

Sharon Zukin, author Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places

“This richly documented book opens up new ground for our understanding of cities and of globalization. The focus is on China, but the findings point to trends that are emerging in other parts of Asia and in other parts of the world, notably Africa. This is essential reading.”

Saskia Sassen, Columbia University, and author of Territory, Authority, Rights

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Preface: Up in Flames



Map of China

Chapter 1. Space, Capital, and Global Cities: An Introduction 
Transnational Architectural Production
Building China’s Global Cities
The Stud
Organization of the Book

Chapter 2. Transnational Architectural Production: Firms, Cities, Trends
World City Networks
The Power of Large
The Power of Small
A Typology of Cities
Locating Transnational Architectural Production in China
Ordos 100

Chapter 3. Architecture, Media, and Real Estate Speculation
From Peking to Beijing: A Genealogy of Downtowns
Architectural Spectacles: From SOHO NewTown to the Commune to Jianwai SOHO
Public Spectacles and Place Making
SOHO Xiaobao: From Sales Brochures to a Literary Magazine
Developers and Policy Making
The Art of Sales, the Game of Survival
The Divided City
Shifting Centers, Shifting Powers

Chapter 4. History, Cosmopolitanism, and Preservation
Deciphering Preservation in Urban China
From Chai (Demolition) to Bao (Preservation)
Xintiandi: New Heaven and Earth
Displacement, Relocation, and Compensation
Beijing Preservation
The New “Old” Chinese City

Chapter 5. Olympic Spectacles, Critical Architecture, and New State Spaces
Olympic Beijing
A National Bid for the Olympics
Going for Global Architecture
The Bird’s Nest Controversy
Critical Architecture: A Debate
Architecture, State, and Political Change

Chapter 6. The Power of Symbol
Symbolic Spaces
Symbolic Capital and Its Transformations
Symbolic Power: Repositioning of Territorial Elites
An Urban Revolution, from Above and Below

Appendix: A Methodological Note on Network Analysis





ASA Political Economy of World Systems Section: PEWS Distinguished Book Award

ASA Community and Urban Sociology Section: Robert E. Park Award
Honorable Mention

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