Zone Infrastructures

Tim Oakes

Gui’an New Area (Oakes 2018)

This project approaches the zone in China as an infrastructure space. Recognizing that infrastructures involve more than just material constructions (bridges, pipelines, highways, wires, satellites), but also standards, regulations, models, and templates, ‘zone infrastructures’ are spaces that have been separated out to function as infrastructure; that is, to facilitate movement, connection, and the mobility of other things. In addition, and extending from a socialist legacy of zones as exceptional and experimental spaces of engineered social transformation, zones model aspirational futures, and can thus be thought of as infrastructures for worlds to come.

Gui’an New Area (Oakes 2018)

Throughout much of the world, the zone has emerged as a parallel infrastructure to the state and a key link in the global economy. Such zones have a long history and a variety of formats (e.g. the Hanseatic League, extraterritorial colonial concessions, special economic zones). For Keller Easterling (2014), zones are technologies of ‘extrastatecraft’, ‘spaces of exception’ set apart from national laws or regulations, where multiple forms of sovereignty and extraterritoriality are simultaneously at play. For Easterling, such ‘spatial products’ include not only special assembly and free trade sites, but also enclave resorts, IT campuses, malls, ports, golf courses, logistics cities, e-commerce redistribution enclaves, even islands and cruise ships.

While many in the West are perhaps most familiar with zones as sites of export manufacturing and processing, Easterling argues that the zone has moved from a backstage, fenced-off warehousing and manufacturing enclave to a ‘world city template.’ In this sense, zone infrastructures offer a window into what might be called a new form of ‘infrastructural urbanism’, in which urbanization is increasingly oriented around infrastructural projects rather than the ‘functions’ typically thought of as explaining the development of cities. Yet while the ‘exceptional’ nature of the zone clearly resonates with the context in China, the state remains the paramount actor within China’s zone infrastructures. Chinese zones, in other words, are likely not the ‘extrastate’ technologies that they might appear to be.

Focusing on the case of Gui’an, a State Level New Area established in 2014 for the development of big data infrastructures, the project explores two themes of the zone as infrastructure. First is the zone as an aspirational model for a new form of infrastructural – and export – urbanism. Gui’an is being developed not simply as a state-of-the-art IT zone, but as an entirely new city with a target population of 1 million by 2023. The zone thus functions as an experimental space of design for what architect Bruno Fortier called the ‘creation city’, that is, an ‘instant city’ built as conceived and designed, tabula rasa (Doevendans and Schram 2005). In Gui’an, the smart-, eco-, and sponge-city infrastructures upon which the zone is being built are themselves highlighted as the exceptional centerpiece for a new vision of the future city. At the same time, Gui’an promotes itself as an exceptional space of algorithmic governance enabled by big data infrastructures (see Loubere and Brehm 2018).

The second theme is the project’s focus on the rural and agricultural infrastructures that preceded the establishment of the zone, how they are being transformed, erased, or simply ignored and rendered irrelevant, and the social and cultural changes associated with the zone’s fast-forward transition from ‘backward’ rural to ‘futuristic’ urban space. While this kind of social transformation recalls the socialist legacy of the zone, Gui’an suggests an updated, decidedly urban and consumerist vision of a socialist future. Thus, the transformation involves, on the one hand, the demolition or decay of rural infrastructures – older roads or paths, settlements, small-scale industries, and agricultural fields – and, on the other hand, the construction of what could be called ‘aesthetic infrastructures’ of the consumption of ruralness: beautified villages, parks and leisure zones, or even the makeshift infrastructures of rural service provision, such as mobile food carts and market stalls for university students and white collar office workers.

Gui’an New Area (Oakes 2018)

The project explores these themes through an ethnography of everyday life in the zone, interviews with zone workers, leaders, farmers, and visitors; and mappings of the temporal layers of infrastructure that mark the zone’s transition from ancient rural land to brand new creation city.


Doevendans, K., & A. Schram. 2005. Creation/accumulation city. Theory, Culture & Society, 22(2), 29-43.

Easterling, K. 2014. Extrastatecraft: the Power of Infrastructure Space (London: Verso).

Loubere, N., & S. Brehm. 2018. The global age of algorithm. Made in China, 3(1), 38-43


Oakes, T. 2022. From creation city to infrastructural urbanism: the Chinese National New Area as an infrastructure space. In Hirsh, M. and Mostowlansky, T. (eds.), Infrastructure and the Remaking of Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, pp. 157-177.

Oakes, T. 2020. Not urban yet, no longer rural. In M. Bonino, F. Carota, F. Governa & S. Pellecchia (eds.), China Goes Urban: The City to Come. Milan: Skira, pp. 198-209.

Oakes, T. 2020. Infrastructures of permanence and deserted architecture in China. Roadsides 4: 68-75.

Oakes, T. 2019. China’s urban ideology: new towns, creation cities, and contested landscapes of memory. Eurasian Geography and Economics 60(4): 400-421.


该项目将中国的区域视为基础设施空间。基础设施不仅仅包含物质基础相关的建设,如桥梁,管道,高速公路,电线网络和卫星, 它同时与各种标准,规章制度,模式,样板相关联。“区域性基础设施”作为空间单位被分离出来实现其促进加快事物之间移动,联系与活动性的功能。其次,延续区域作为计划社会转型的独特实验空间的社会主义遗风 ,区域象征着激动人心的未来。也因此可被看作未来世界的基础设施。

放眼世界上大部分国家, 区域是基于其作为平行于政府的基础设施特点和连接世界经济的关键点而出现的。这样的区域不仅拥有悠久的历史,还呈现于不同的形式,比如汉萨联盟,治外法权的殖民租地和经济特区。对 Keller Easterling (2014) 而言,区域是用于创造“传统国家意义之外领域”的科技,也是是独立于国家法律和条款之外的“例外的空间。”在这个空间里,不同形式的主权与治外法权同时发挥作用。这样的“空间产物”对 Easterling 不仅是特殊的集合或自由贸易场所,更是度假村,科技校园,商场,港口,高尔夫球场,后勤城市,电子商务再分配中心,甚至岛屿和邮轮。

尽管西方大多数对出口制造业及加工业等区域最为熟悉,Easterling认为区域已经从幕后的,被隔离的仓库和制造场所过渡到了“世界城市的模型。” 这样看来,空间基础设施向我们提供了一个探讨新型“基础设施城市主义”的窗口。对于 “基础设施城市主义,” 城市化越来越以基础设施项目为导向,而不是以通常解释城市发展的“功能”为目标。 尽管区域“特有的”本质与中国的情况产生共鸣,在中国的区域基础设施中,国家政府任然是至高无上的决策者。用其他话来讲,中国区域尽管看似于创造“传统国家意义之外领域”的科技,实质上是非常不一样的。

贵安是一个创建于2014年旨在发展大数据基础设施的国家级新区。将贵安作为一个案例,这个项目探索两个将区域视为基础设施的主题。 对于新型的基础设施城市化发展,贵安新区是一个激励人心的模式。贵安新区不仅是一个最先进的科技区域,还是一个在2023年拥有预计100万人口的崭新的城市。因此,这个区域是一个用于设计的实验性空间。建筑师Bruno Fortier称之为“创造城市,”一个按照想象与设计建造的“瞬间城市” (Doevendans and Schram 2005)。在贵安新区,智能的,生态的,海绵的城市基础设施被强调为未来城市新展望的独特中心。同时,贵安新区标榜自己是一个利用大数据基础设施实行系统管理的独特空间(请参考 Loubere and Brehm 2018)。

该项目第二个主题关注区域成立前的郊区及农业基础设施。他们是如何被改变,抹除,遗忘或被隐形的?是什么样的社会和文化变迁伴随着区域从“落后的”郊区到“未来化的”城市空间的快速转型?尽管这种社会转型使人联想到区域的社会主义遗风,贵安新区展现出一种更新且明确的社会主义未来式畅想,即城市化和消费主义。因此,这种转型在一方面牵扯到郊区基础设施的拆迁或衰败 —— 老化的道路,安置区,小型工业和农地。另一方面,可以被称为“唯美基础设施“转型是建立在消费田园乡村特点的基础上的:美丽的村庄,公园和悠闲安逸的区域,甚至是提供乡村设施的临时基础设施,例如为大学生和白领服务的移动食品车和市场摊位。


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