July 23, 2011
Maxwell Baum and Elias Varon
On 23 July 2011, two high-speed trains travelling on the Yongtaiwen railway line collided in the suburbs of Wenzhou, Zhejiang province in China. Officials responded hastily, concluding rescue operations and ordering the burial of the derailed cars. Considering that the high-speed-rail infrastructure generates a large percentage of the country’s GDP, justified by the fact that national passenger turnover has doubled between 2001 and 2011 (Yichuan Wang, Quartz. “High-speed rail is at the foundation of China’s growth strategy.”), there was incentive for the government to preserve the high-speed-rail enterprise, ensuring that despite the accident (which, at first was thought to be a technological error), the Chinese peoples would still use the high-speed rail system. In covering up the incident, it ironically elicited strong criticism and skepticism from Chinese people, media, and online communities. To combat the criticism, Chinese government issued directives to restrict media coverage. This incident captures the Chinese population and society as a whole’s skepticism and apprehension towards the implication of new technologies, despite the incident later being discovered to be human error. This skepticism was and is mirrored in architecture through the advancing means of production and design and the move to push the limits of architecture. To put it simply, people are hesitant when it comes to change, and it is indicative in architecture with the development of technologies and systems that people are already accustomed to.
China’s High Speed Railway (HSR) project is rapidly moving forward in an effort to be completed by 2015 and provide the Chinese with a modernized network system of transportation. The project’s trains achieve a high speed due to the maglev technology they are employing that allows the trains to travel at speeds upward of 200 kilometers per hour. Yet this new technology has raised a multitude of questions from safety to sustainability that have aroused scrutiny and uncertainty from the Chinese people. The collision on the HSR in 2011 brought to light these fears and scrutiny caused by the tragedy itself as well as the way in which the Chinese government and Ministry of Transportation handled the situation. Unearthed were the people’s true feelings toward the project and the corruption that was prodding the project onward.
On July 23, 2011 two high-speed trains collided with each other in Wenzhou, China. The incident left 40 people dead and at least 192 people injured. The cause of the collision was uncertain in the time after the collision due to the restriction of information and the inconsistency of the information that was actually given.
Initially reports indicated that the accident was caused solely by a signal malfunction, however a safety inspector of the railway reported that human error was to blame for the accident, contradicting what had previously been released. Investigations on the collision led to the conclusion that the incident was caused by both machine malfunction and human error, but in the time period before a culprit had been declared social media sites filled up with theories and inquiries towards the legitimacy of the information being provided by the government. This uncertainty due to the government’s handling of the accident and the possibility of a cover-up caused a feeling of skepticism towards the new technology being used on the HSR. Suddenly the HSR, which had previously been a symbol of China’s rapid development, turned into an object of fear and scrutiny towards China’s rapid technological advancements.
The Chinese people’s feelings of uncertainty about new technologies is essentially just the fear of the new, a phenomenon that has been mirrored many times throughout history. Notably this phenomenon has occurred in the advancement of architectural building processes and methods and is still occurring today.
Architects are constantly working towards furthering architecture as a whole through any means possible. From materials, to aesthetics, to actual building production, means are being tested and improved through new technologies and better understandings of their abilities. Yet even though these methods are being developed and applied in small scale, their large-scale application and general acceptance remain stymied. New building technologies don’t achieve mainstream use because of the stigma that comes with them. The risk, the cost, or merely being different or braking the mold can be crippling to the new process and build notoriety around it for no real reason. Processes or architectural theories can be left underused or unused entirely because society is too afraid to move forward and leave behind the conventional.
Architecture of the 21st century continues to try to push the limits of design. Strides in construction materials, sustainability, building production, and construction processes have been made. Construction materials are being approached in a new way due to modern day construction being comprised of enclosed spaces made up of layered exterior planes. Buildings are no longer just single construction or limited to a small pallet of materials. Prefabricated materials are gaining popularity due to their practicality, cost, and speed of construction. Yet examples like modular construction and container construction see little widespread use.
Standard building conventions remain the norm despite the benefits of the new systems being developed. Sustainability is a new technology being implemented into building construction that is actually gaining popularity and mainstream attention. A rating system called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) was developed to encourage new buildings and construction projects to remain “green”. LEED construction changes the process in which a building is designed to where decisions are made for reasons solely pertaining to keeping the building highly sustainable in all regards. Construction process is an area of production that can truly be revolutionized using today’s technology and capabilities. 3D printing is now reality and its abilities are being developed and pushed to accommodate more applications. Initially 3D printing was limited to only plastic prints, however, the technology to print metals and other materials are being developed and in some instances, being adapted for use in architecture. Machines at large scale are able to print entire walls or even entire modules for a structure. A process such as 3D printing could revolutionize architecture entirely. Yet as the technology is still blossoming, it isn’t able to reach its full potential. In history, the leap was made and architecture entered a new age, a jump that will eventually have to be made again in order to usher in a new age of architecture.
Historically, architecture underwent a series of conventions where each were met with uncertainty and scrutiny but ultimately contributed to the modernization of the architectural practice. Countless times in the history of architecture were the conventions of practice and reality expanded and revolutionized. Every era of architecture and even every style brought with it a series of innovations that, at times, were met with a wide array of unfavorable opinions, yet ultimately were steadfast in their genuine brilliance. A prime example of this is the Crystal Palace unveiled in the Great Exposition of 1851.Designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, the building was of simply cast iron construct with large glass panels inset. This was like nothing the world had ever seen before. Not only was it the largest enclosed space ever constructed, it achieved this feat with a level of transparency that was unthinkable. This structure took the architecture dominated by thick stone walls and brought it into the age of metal and glass and ultimately modernized the practice of architecture.
“Mystery over China’s Wenzhou Bullet-train Crash Inquiry.” BBC News. BBC, 22 Nov. 2011.
Web. 08 September 2013.
This article covers a contradicting statement released by a Chinese railway inspector that goes against what had been previously explained by the government. This has caused speculation towards a possible attempt by the Chinese government to cover up what truly happened in order to preserve their HSR project development. The original statement had said that the failure was due to a signal failure, but the newly released statement said that it was due to human error.
“China freezes new railway projects after high-speed train crash.” Reuters. Reuters, Aug 10 2011. Web, 08 Sept. 2013.
China’s shutting down of HSR development reveals several potential angles, such as having skepticism driving the investigation of the incident. The railways were shut down in order to conduct more rigorous safety checks in response to the public’s distrust towards the safety of the lines. Premier Wen stated that they need to now adjust the speeds of their trains accordingly due to the fact that they are still in the early stages of development and production.
Wang, Yichuan. “High-speed rail is at the foundation of China’s growth strategy.”
Quartz. N.p., 22 Aug. 2013. Web. 18 Sept. 2013
“Raiload: Maglev.” Encyclopӕdia Britannica Online. Web. 8 Sep. 2012.
Discusses technology of HSR, mainly relevant because it provides insight into the reasons and decisions for advancing transportation systems and methods. The maglev system works in two ways having been developed originally in two countries: Japan and Germany. The article also goes to say that political support is constantly lacking in the production of maglev lines.
High-Speed Rail: Lessons for Policy Makers from Experiences Abroad [with Commentary]
Daniel Albalate, Germa Bel and Adie Tomer
Public Administration Review, Wiley
Vol. 72, No. 3 May/June 2012 pp. 336-350
“Bullet Trains for America?” The Wilson Quarterly. Woodrow Wilson international Center for Scholars.
Investigation on why America hasn’t invested in developing a HSR. Reveals potentially vital information on skepticism with advancing technology.
“China’s High-Speed Rail Network.” High-Speed Railway in China, China High-Speed Railway Network, CHR. Absolute China Tours, n.d. Wb. 08 Sept. 2013
China’s rail network diagrammed, relevant to examine/investigate the expansion of China’s HSR enterprise. The network and expansion of China’s maglev railway system is meant to be a symbol of China’s growth as well as provide a way to link together all of China.
“China’s Trains Tip on Technology.” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904353504576568983658561372.html?mod=wsj_valettop_email Wall Street Journal
Diagrammatic analysis and description of the incident. Gives insight into the process of the accident and the details about its components.
Video and Audio
“Anger Rising over Wenzhou Train Crash.” YouTube. YouTube, 01 Aug. 2011. Web. 08
Video covers the Chinese people’s reception of the incident and reveals a large dissatisfaction with the way that the incident is being handled.
“Wenzhou Rail Crash Could Undermine Chinese Train Exports.” YouTube. YouTube, 28 July 2011.
Web. 08 Sept. 2013
This Video covers the effects of the crash on China’s railway exports showing that the incident’s impact is a far reaching and lingering result of questioning of the Chinese railway system.