The Merchandising of Architecture and Rearmament of Labor

Undergraduate Thesis

Advisor: Lawrence Chua
Award: Jury Prize / James A. Britton Memorial Awards 2019; Citation for Excellence in Thesis Design.

“At the highest point of capitalist development, social production becomes a moment of the process of production, which means that all of society lives within the factory, and the factory extends its dominion over the whole of society.”
- Mario Tronti, “La fabbrica e la società,” 1962

Cyclical Crises on Labor

The project is situated in the context of contemporary China where tremendous production power and labor force have been accumulated through decades of rapid economic growth. In recent years, China’s persistent growth begins to slow down, which challenges the administration with an imminent socio-economic crisis and the potential of a massive scale of surplus capital and consequences. This conflict emerges out of the complementary “inner connection…between the developments of capitalism and urbanization” identified by British-born Marxist scholar, David Harvey. Such a problem and its resolution can be seen in France in the mid-19th century right after an economic recession as well as in the pre-WWII United States suffering from the Great Depression. Urbanization, as a solution, was adopted by the two countries to absorb the surplus products capitalism constantly produces. However, according to Engels, urbanization is merely a process of replacement and displacement of the problem rather than elimination. The exhibition tells the tale of Sinoconn, a fictitious enterprise that bundles architecture and labor as merchandise to supply low-cost production power. Its state ownership maximally consolidates political and economic leverage to guarantee the plausibility of its merchandise model. Architectural design as the medium here creates a narrative that examines our global socio-economic environment and offers speculative investigations into the future. It sarcastically depicts the absurd world order we are in today.

France: 1830s-1870s
In one of France’s most tumultuous periods, we can find proposals of urban gentrifications in response to the state’s economic and social failures.

United States: 1920s-1960s
After the greatest economic disaster in human history, exhaustive efforts in military mobilization and infrastructural expansion were implemented ot be the solution.

China: 1990s-2020s
Nationwide urban expansions supported by massive production and construction became China’s strategy to maintain its economic momentum after 2008.

A Booming China

The communist party led new China through a series of revolutions and reformations. In less than a century, the nation has risen again to become an economic and political superpower.

The amount of cement China produced between 2011 and 2013 is more than the US cement production of the entire 20th century combined.

©Edward Burtynsky
(Image © Edward Burtynsky)

Migrant workers return home before spring festival.
Accumulation of Labor Force and Production Power

China’s recent economic success has been substantially supported by its immense labor pool both as an overbearing production power and as a prime market power. During China’s economic reformation at the end of 20th century, the state stimulated the market to mobilize 286.5 million migrant workers moving from the countryside to seek financial opportunities in already densely populated cities. The manufacturing sector along with the service sector and real estate was able to grow rapidly. With incredible labor power on reserve, the state and its closely tied enterprise continued to maintain the economic incentives while sustaining massive production power. As domestic demand lowered, the central government looked for ways of consuming its surplus production power. Advancing communication and logistic technologies allowed China to start exporting soft products as well as physical products overseas. China relied on the externalization of the internal crisis to keep its pace while casting influence globally.

According to World Bank’s data, China’s GDP growth is declining consistently after 2010 and its annual growth rate fell below 8%.

To address tremendous surplus labor and production power due to the slowing economy, Beijing prepares for another imminent global crisis...

The Birth of Sinoconn

Press Coverage of Sinoconn

Timeline of Sinoconn

Inspired by the radical architecture conceived in the midst of social unrest and political activism of the 1960s through 1970s, this thesis intends to be a provocative revelation of the inert cruelty of this very reality. This proposal speculates on the present status based on historical precedents and imagines the establishment of a state-funded corporation, Sinoconn, whose business model is built upon the concept of an architectural apparatus that promises social accommodations and well-being to China’s marginalized cheap labor while also providing jobs to them. This device becomes a neo-socialist commune but functions as a de facto corporate campus guided by humanitarian ideology of capitalism. Sinoconn’s sale of the labor and its physical container as a bundled kit for production would revolutionize current mode of global trade. The corporation itself embodies the mechanism of profitable capitalist activities and would once again revitalize global capitalism. This thesis presents itself as a liberal answer to a current crisis but in fact, uncovers cruel reality of the geopolitical exploitation and expansion of capitalism’s productive system.

Product of the Chinese Urbanization: Floating Village
China’s rapid urbanization and subsequent migrations from countryside to cities gave birth to the nomadic urban factories. They are mostly walled behind temporary fences in corrugated aluminum sheets. Mainly consisting of mobile housing units and some minimal service facility, the settlements usually attract small grassroots businesses to fulfill working residents’ further needs and sponsor the autonomy of the village.

Described in Dutch architect, Daan Roggeveen’s book, How the City Moved to Mr. Sun (2010), the “floating village” can be found in every Chinese city today near a construction site as it has been the norm of building construction since the beginning. It adopts a plug-in-and-play method to meet the requirements set by the market-driven urbanization. The concept of a “floating village” offers an archetype for an apparatus armed with productive labor force.

An Antidote to Capitalism

Why Sinoconn?

reduction of time and cost in transportation

provision of social housing for underpriviledged workers

provision of vast labor force

provision of productive infrastructure

massive absorption of domestic surplus labor

humanitarian aids through debt-financing

a liberal solution to the labor crisis

an upgrade of “Made in China”

Architecture, the Vessel of Labor

  1. Dock
  2. Storage Warehouse
  3. Consignment Center
  4. Power Generator
  5. Crematorium
  6. Water Tanks
  7. Gantry Crane
  8. Structural Core
  9. Circulation Core
  10. Transferring Deck
  11. Production Shop
  12. House of Goods
  13. House of Fitness
  14. House of Gamble
  15. Living Quarters
  16. Canteen
  17. Garden
  18. Refuse Room
  19. Water Treatment
  20. Ventilation Mechanics (Intake)
  21. Ventilation Mechanics (Exhaust)
  22. Core Corridor

Production hall

In-Situ Assembly

Staircase inside a Circulation Core
The Revolving Cores
The cores revolve on an 8-hour lapse, allowing the unit to maintain 24-hour production.

House of Fitness

Workers’ Living Unit
Compact Living (Scale) + Luxury Living (Format) ︎︎︎ Compact Luxury Living

Unscrolled Section of a J-Series Unit

1.    Dock
2.    Storage Warehouse
3.    Consignment Center
4.    Power Generator
5.    Crematorium
6.    Water Tanks
7.    Gantry Crane
8.    Structural Core
9.    Circulation Core
10.    Goods Transfer
11.    Production Shop
12.    Mechanical Room

13.    House of Commodities
14.    House of Fitness
15.    House of Gamble
16.    Living Quarters
17.    Canteen
18.    Garden
19.    Refuse Room
20.    Water Treatment
21.    Ventilation Mechanics (Intake)
22.    Ventilation Mechanics (Exhaust)
23.    Core Corridor

Merchandising of Architecture

The Modern Merchandising of Consumer Products
Sinoconn’s Product Tree

Sinoconn’s Sale Services

A New Era, Powered by Sinoconn.

Watch Intro Video

Superjury Exhibition, 2019

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© 2019