Here are some of the first images from the B.A.S.E. studio in Beijing. Not much has been undertaken in the way of projects. The program officially started on Monday. That hasn’t prevented me from slicing open my hand on a table router while cleaning the wood shop. Fortunately, at B.A.S.E., the wood shop and the kitchen occupy the same room. Treatment was convenient, even if sanitary conditions were a bit dubious.

 

Here’s some background:

B.A.S.E. (Beijing Architecture Studio Enterprise) is located in the village of Caochangdi, an area that five years ago comprised of rough, one-story buildings and unpaved streets. The village’s rapid transformation in the past half-decade has been driven primarily by the migration of the arts community, particularly the artist Ai Weiwei, who brought with them galleries and art collectors. Today, villagers have expanded their homes with three- to four-story additions that they lease to visitors. The expansions are also a strategic form of property insurance. The additional raise property values, which serves a purpose even the space goes unoccupied since the Chinese government uses them to determine compensation in the event that they decide to demolish the village. The possibility of demolition and relocation has loomed over the village for the past few years.

 

Our temporary accommodations at the 7 Days Inn are a 15 minute walk from B.A.S.E. and adjacent to the fairly well known 798 Arts Zone. Most recently, 798 was all abuzz about Jessica Alba’s stay with Dianne von Furstenberg (yes, that website really exists). To give you an idea of the 7 Days Inn’s place in the hotel pecking order, it’s located on the dusty lot behind the Days Inn, accessible only by an unlit alley, and guarded by angry ankle tall terriers. One presumes that their guard dog status is limited and after some short period of time they will mysteriously disappear into the less-than-appealing restaurant that fronts the main road.

 

Next week we will start living in true Beijing style, as three friends and I will be taking a four-bedroom sublet in a two-tower complex built atop a five-story shopping mall. Equipped with a gym, Olympic-sized pool and rooftop driving range, anything less would be barbaric.

 

Tomorrow we head out to a series of rural villages north of Beijing. As one of the research trajectories for the summer, a group of students will be documenting and cataloging personal stories and conditions within the villages—in part as an anthropological study and in part simply to record of the rapidly disappearing rural settlements of China. Rural-to-urban migration has left many of the villages without the working age population. Often, children leave for employment in the cities soon after finishing grade school. The remaining villagers earn an average income of about $400 per year, and rely on remittances from their children to afford luxuries in their retirement. Satellite TV has been a recent hit, but the Internet is still far off. So too, in many areas, is indoor plumbing. It’s that kind of rural.