“Buildings are not just concrete or steel or glass. Each building is really a function of what people do inside it.”

Born 1968, Beijing. Lives and works in Beijing

As a working architect, Cheng Dapeng is all too familiar with property developers’ expos, where salesmen present in glorious 3D detail the “wonderlands” to be. As a concerned observer of city life, he also knows how often those dreams fall short—and by how far.  China’s fast-multiplying urban buildings look sleek, rational, futuristic. But what lies beneath their pristine exteriors?  Cheng Dapeng’s 9.6-metre-long 3D print Wonderful City (2011–2012) resembles the scale models of the property pushers, with a geometric grid neatly marked on top of a lightbox. But in place of the buildings, or crawling from their “skeletons”, are mutant creatures of shadow and swamp: humanoid frogs, newts, fungi.  Similar freaks crowd the canvas of his black-and-white painting Cola Landscape II (2011). The architect-artist’s favourite city is New York, he says, “because of its human richness”. In his view, China’s new, planned cities are wonderful in concept, but the values that inhabit them are twisted, even monstrous. He accepts that there is no going back: urbanisation in China is unavoidable. He only hopes that cities can become more attuned to human beings and human culture.

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