Curatorial Practices in An Urban Community – A Case of Zhongkang Road
深圳市城市设计促进中心Shenzhen Center for Design
Zhongkang Arts Corridor (ZAC) is a regeneration project focusing on the public realm along Zhongkang Road in the area of Meilin, Shenzhen. Shenzhen Centre for Design (SCD), being the main organiser of UABB, situated on the threshold of Zhongkang Road, and had been actively involved throughout the design and construction of the project. The main objectives are to catalyze Zhongkang Road’s public realm by inserting art while preserving its convivial street life, as well as enhancing its stormwater management and ecological system. This proposal is an integral one which considers landscape elements, transport, ecological engineering, retail frontages and public space (re)configurations.
Although sitting right on the extension of Shenzhen’s central axis, Zhongkang Road faces the situation of slightly “segregated” from the city center, partly due to its isolation caused by the North Ring Road. The public realm suffers from poor pedestrian environment, dilapidated urban facilities and lack of public spaces. In this area, Upper Meilin Village is an urban village with a history of over 840 years, and still remains densely populated with both residents and retailers in very high social mobility. Zhongkang Road is of good accessibility to surrounding natural resources, which creates a potential ecological walkway. Besides, it has a diverse and inclusive culture, embracing over 400 design studios in the area while having both a Christian church and a mosque. In a word, Zhongkang Road stands on an important location while enjoying abundant urban resources, its built environment and public realm is in need of regeneration to better serve its residents and visitors.
The SCD proposed to introduce Urban Curation as one of the main strategies of intervention. Curation, in today’s definition, has shifted from dealing with artefacts and art in a museum to a broader sense of generating and promoting creative activities. Interpret the city as a curated collection enables new possibilities for creating an inviting public realm and minimize the gap between public and art, which in turn, increases the sense of identity, pride and belonging of the local community.
Adapting the notion of “Urban Curation”, the design concept of ZAC can be viewed in three layers, namely the Container, the Exhibition and the Activator. At the basic level, the public realm will be retrofitted as a fully functioning road and “the Container” for the city lives and urban art. The sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, cycle lanes and public spaces are all improved. A vacant plot which informally occupied as car park is transformed into a community park of 4600 square meters. The sidewalks are enhanced through new permeable paving with the addition of a new cycle lane. Improvements such as raised pedestrian crosswalks are incorporated to prioritize the pedestrian experiences. Tree pits are enlarged to accommodate rain garden as part of the stormwater management system. The enhanced sidewalk will be the main thread which links thresholds, nodes and public spaces in the second layer — “the Exhibition” shown on the ZAC as an outdoor urban gallery.
In the process of Urban Curation, the SCD, acting as the main curator, associating over 17 organizations, designers and artists to contribute to “the Exhibition”. Through careful research and negotiations, the SCD sets six main nodes for public art along the road, includes decaying fence walls, underutilized public space and dilapidated facilities. Local elements are extracted by the artists to celebrate collective memories. The artists are also invited to utilize urban facilities such as manhole covers and substations as their intervene subjects.
Finally, “the Activator” highlights a stage where most of the construction work was completed, and collective activities will start to be inserted into ZAC as catalysts. This implies the ongoing process of an urban project that is always extending its conceptual boundary. Activities include but not limited to communities planting in the park, The Fifth Shenzhen Public Sculpture Exhibition, as well as a series of community-led exhibitions happen in the proposed “Wall Art Museum” — a series of linear exhibition spaces transformed from a dilapidated fence wall. The Container, the Exhibition and the Activator will exemplify a continuing and collective process of urban transformation on ZAC.
Today, Shenzhen constantly experiences ongoing writing and rewriting of the city in its every corner. Like every other area in Shenzhen, Meilin experienced a sweeping transformation during the past four decades, which externalized as a split in its past and present. The ZAC project and the SCD entails a role of connecting, as it links the area’s past and presents through artwork while associating different stakeholders and participants within and beyond the area. In the ZAC, people are invited to interact, to make, to record and to play with art in the public realm.