Buildings and their builders in Life Magazine

Life Magazine, November 2007 (cover by Ai Weiwei)

The November issue of Life Magazine (生活) is devoted to the theme "China under construction."

Life, formerly called City after the English name of its Hong Kong sibling (号外, "extra"), is a thick, oversized, eclectic magazine that has won awards for its design. Though the magazine is fun to look at every month, this issue hits a sweet-spot: it's a combination of fascinating articles and great art and photography, particularly if you are at all interested in architecture or in Beijing's transformation in the run-up to the Olympics.

Some of the articles are available on the magazine's website, including a fabulous photo-essay by Anothermountainman (aka Stanley Wong Ping-pui) that presents staged scenes set against backdrops of abandoned construction projects. But the photos are much better in the print version; among other notable articles unavailable online are a conversation between director Jia Zhanke and architect Ma Yansong, and a look at some of Ai Weiwei's architecture-related artwork.

CCTV building (photo by Ye Yong)

The special insert section this month is titled "Following the light of Liang Ssu-ch'eng"; here's an excerpt from Rocky Liang's introductory essay (translated by Weng Xinyang):

We are embracing a new golden age of architectural development today. Objectively speaking, nevertheless, how much inspiration today comes from traditional architecture? In fact, after Liang Ssu-ch'eng's death in 1972, the appreciation of those architectural styles was again lost in the fast development of the country. After years of political movement, the Chinese were suddenly involved in a storm of economic fever. The Reform and Opening-up Policy inspired the whole country to modernization and practically changed it into a huge construction site.

"For a city of an ancient Eastern country, if its architectural traits were totally erased, it will be a great loss to its cultural heritage. The fact will only illustrate the decline of our culture," said Liang.

For a long time, the preservation and study of the ancient architecture was neglected in this country. Comparing with attitude towards architecture and that towards literature and painting, Liang sighed, "Calligraphy and painting were treasured no less enthusiastically than literature by the rulers of every dynasty, which greatly contributed to the passing down of our cultural spirit. Only architecture was neglected, seen only as a skill or the production of an occupation. Its artistic expression was mostly the result of unconscious inheritance and evolvement."

We bring Liang and Shanxi up again in order to arouse the interest in Chinese architecture. If our discussion here helps some readers to regain confidence in our own architectural heritage, and helps to change the confidence into creative forces, we will feel very grateful, as our ail will then be achieved.

Finally, for science fiction fans in the audience, Pan Haitian (aka Peter Pan, aka Dajiao), an award-winning fantasy and science fiction writer who also happens to be an architect, contributes "Those structures 10,000 years later," the story of alien archeologists who discover the remains of Beijing's magnificent Olympic village.

Life Magazine costs 50 yuan and can be found at various bookstores, including the One Way Street chain in Beijing.

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I believe that although the American publication of LIFE magazine( defunct that stealing the name is still a trademark infringement.

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