Macau: Cross-border Cities

The studio is premised upon two fundamental ambitions, the recuperation of an idea of the city as a project and the pursuit of alternative forms of urbanization in response to the challenges posed by the developmental city in China. The former treats the project of the city as a cultural, political and aesthetic act; the latter as a strategic project for urbanization, articulated through its architecture, landscape and infrastructure.

Macau will be the second city for our three-year sponsored research and design studio on China. Looking beyond the brash neon lit, awe inducing spectacles of casino developments, the challenges that face the former Portuguese colony is stark. The city needs to wean itself off the uneven development that the casinos offer. It is increasingly evident that the future of Macau is tied to its position in the Pearl River Delta, the most populous and economically vibrant city-region in the world. One of the defining characteristics of a city within city-region is the way in which it defines its identity and competitiveness by exacerbating its difference in relation to other cities. This tendency causes neighboring cities to develop different yet complimentary programs at their borders that trigger large daily surges of people across its administrative boundaries – for work, education and leisure. The recent relocation of Macau University to China\’s Hengqin, exemplifies the propensity for cities to compete and cooperate in equal measures. In this cross border development, the new campus, at 20 times the size of its former Taipa campus, remains under the administration of Macau on a 50-year land lease deal. In this way, Macau overcomes its land shortage predicaments by relocating entire urban quarters or programmatic elements that are too big, across its borders into the expansive mainland. Hengqin on the other hand will capitalize on Macau’s drive to diversify its economic development by hosting its urbanization on its virgin land. This act amounts to the relocation and incursion of a fragment of the city into another territory, with large infrastructural links as the umbilical cord to its mother city.

This Cross-border City in essence is an idea and a model of the city that can be transplanted to another territory. In these circumstances, the city becomes crystallized and its uniqueness exacerbated when it is juxtaposed next to its other. Precisely through its urban history, it can be argued that Macau stands as the paradigmatic Cross-border City – Lisbon in South China, Hong Kong in Taipa and more recently, LasVegas in Cotai.

The concept of the Cross-border City also offers an alternative strategy to sustain Macau’s unique heritage beyond the tropes of preservation and cultural tourism. The crystallization of the idea of the city of Macau, when it is propagated elsewhere, allows its heritage to be involved in the growth of the larger city-region and in the living collective imagination of its citizens. Thus the design task for the studio is to conceive of a border-crossing facility that acts as a common framework, accommodating housing, work spaces and another provisions that Macau presently lacks. The studio defines the common framework as an architecture that reifies the idea of the city as a space of coexistence. It acts as a background that accommodates the plurality of city life and is in constant alternation with its natural environment. Conceived as a singular discursive idea, it is realized through addition and accumulation. It is most poignant when it is shared, lived, experienced and viewed as a whole, as a city – as a collective work of art.