This essay investigates the self-governing media platforms as sites of resistance to the mainstream architectural design system in China during the early years of the quasi-capitalist marketization. In this research, architectural production is approached as a mediated cultural phenomenon in domestic and global power dynamics rather than the mere construction of physical buildings in a local setting. I focus on the wrestling between the strictly-planned, socialist mainstream design system and the burgeoning individual architectural practices under the newly established market economy during the early 2000s, a dynamic process which was partly instigated by the active manifestation and participation on self-governed online forum: abbs.com.cn. Despite the state-controlled system which dominated the major media content production, the alternative meaning-making activities on the “unofficial” media platform democratized architectural criticism, voiced the peripheral opinions, threatened to question the authority and gradually nurtured the previously suppressed, marginalized and neglected creative class as the dominant force on the design market. The research, therefore, concerns with the following questions: How do self-governing media platforms answer to the dominant state-planned media industry? How the meaning-making process of the subordinate group cracked the mainstream power structure through peripheral practices? How do media practices in turn instigate the transformation of architectural design practices? Appropriating the encoding/decoding model developed by Stuart Hall and theorizing the media practices, I solve the above problems by identifying the major actors (individuals, entities and institutions) under Chinese media and design system, and analyzing the media content produced under domestic power dynamics on abbs.com.cn forum.
Dijia Chen is a second-year Ph.D. Student in the Constructed Environment at the School of Architecture, University of Virginia. Her research work lands at the intersection of media theories, Asian studies, and contemporary architecture, and examines architectural production as a mediated cultural phenomenon in the context of global exchange under asymmetrical power relations.