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Monumentalism and Gigantism in Urban Form in China’s Inner-Asian Frontier

Sun, June 26, 1:00 to 2:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 103


This paper examines connections between resource extraction in peripheral regions of China and monumental reconfigurations of urban built form to assess contemporary expressions of “spatial modernity” in frontiers. Empirical portions of this study draw from four cities – Ordos, Karamay, Korla, and Yumen. As key sites of energy resource extraction historically and in the present, these cities have seen enormous flows of investment over the years. These have been accompanied by ambitious urbanization projects notable for their massive scale and aesthetic flamboyance. This paper investigates the construction and design of monumental urban spaces as contingent expressions of variously scaled and sometimes conflicting forces whose primary objects are economic exploitation and political integration of far-flung regions. Specifically, the analysis focuses on urban planning and design for their attempts to introduce particular forms of modernity that express national integration and spatio-temporal equivalence with leading coastal regions of China. However, by showing the important roles of private speculation and the diverse responses to monumental urban features, this article also underscores the unstable and manifold meanings of dramatic cityscapes and thereby draws attention to the cultural and political stakes of urban monumentality in the frontier. In particular, it suggests the enduring allure but also the inherent instability of modernist tropes fashioned through urban design when applied to frontier settings.