What About Dreaming in (in)forma?

What About Dreaming in Beijing?

By Nathalie Frankowski and Cruz Garcia

The Chinese capital wakened up under the veil of a thick cloud of sand. The sepia tinted light gave a gloomy atmosphere to the city which made the time of day uncertain. The cars and the streets were covered by a uniform layer of orange-colored dust. As the small sand particles were violently smashing on the glass windows, you could spot outside several courageous people fighting against the saturated wind; their faces partially covered by masks so as not to breathe in the sand, moving as if in slow motion, painfully trying to reach their destinations.

It would be the day that we discover “it”.

A tower was standing in the center of Beijing;
no one could remember how it got “there”. The tower looked simple from the outside. It was one of those buildings that despite its sheer size had nothing to alarm your senses. It could have been one of those developments that pop up from one day to the next like mushrooms after a rainy day.

When we first noticed the tower, the sand storm was not as severe as some hours before. The effect of the small particles flying in the air mixed with the dimmed light of the afternoon gave the building a mystical halo. As we were approaching from Dongzhimen Street, our curiosity started to grow stronger. When we got closer to the tower, we noticed to our surprise, that it was free-standing above the Hutongs. None of the traditional courtyard residences had been removed. Instead, the massive monolith seemed to levitate over them. We were left speechless at the
sight of this visual spectacle. We had never seen anything similar before. The contrast with the colossal proportions of the tower intensified the fragile appearance of the Hutongs. We had thought it impossible to see the old and the new coexist in such propinquity in a city where tabula rasa is a daily exercise.

Once inside the tower, we were astonished by what we saw, the sober and neutral façade had nothing in common with its interior. The building was
bustling with activity, smells, sounds, colors, textures. Every level that we reached had a different function or use. Some levels were housing entire Hutongs, others were parks or theaters, or neon lit markets, with a color palette like that rendered by Hayao Miyazaki. In fact the building seemed to be like an endless city contained between four walls.

As the sun outside
faded away, the tower turned gradually into a glowing lantern. The noise of the crowd grew loud enough so as to muffle our words. The laugher and conversation created a kind of uniform humming sound that was only interrupted by the sudden clap of hands of people cheering the dancing couples. In a matter of minutes the space appeared to us completely different from when we first came in. It was now almost impossible to walk between the staggering amount of people, the dining tables, and ambulant vendors.

Once outside the tower, after leaving its intense
excitement behind us, we noticed that even the size of the building had changed. It seemed to have gained some extra storeys during the night. Restless and under constant transformation the sight of such a monumental structure made us wonder if it was the city whose accumulation of layers was literally piling up as a tower, or if it was our growing understanding of Beijing which made the building appear like a city of endless possibilities.


Dreaming in Beijing Has Been Featured in the IV issue of (in)forma the official journal of the School of Architecture of the Universidad de Puerto Rico. The issue titled Living in the City includes a wide selection of articles, projects and interviews that feature Michael Sorkin, Ciudad Urban Think Tank, Rodrigo Vidal, Lilliana Ramos Collado, Jorge Lizardi Pollock, Andres Mignucci, Jorge Rigau, and Francisco Javier Rodriguez, between others.