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Five-element theory inspires Olympic Village design
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-04-07 08:38

At first sight, Lin Xiangxiong might remind people of the world-renowned Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa. Their mid-length silver hairstyles and eyes that bespeak the vision and energy of an artist are the things that do it.

Lin Xiangxiong, explains to onlookers the features of his design for the Olympic Village, which is on display at Beijing Tianhong Yuanfang Architecture Design Co Ltd, the Chinese partner in Lin's design bid. [file photo]
He is, indeed, an artist. But he wields the brush of fine art not the conductor's baton.

At the age of 59, the China-born Singaporean has got enough accomplishments under his belt to make him proud.

He has held numerous personal exhibitions in countries such as Singapore and Thailand, in major parts of the country. including Taiwan and Hong Kong.

He has published dozens of painting albums and books of prose, along with plenty of art reviews. He has been the subject of five biographies, published in Singapore and China.

He was included in the 1991 and 1993 "Who's Who in China," in the Cambridge-based International Biographical Centre's "Dictionary of International Biography, 23rd edition" and is mentioned in the book "International Man of the Year - 1993/94," and the American Biographical Institute's book "1994 Man of the Year."

Recently, he was invited by the Chinese Academy of Arts, China's top institution for artistic research, to be one of its first two overseas advisers.

Yet all these honours will pale a bit for him if the residential complex he has designed for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, known as Olympic Village, wins out over competing proposals, he said.

Head of a group of international architects and artists working on the project, Lin said the design integrates modern architecture with China's 5,000 years of civilization.

"It will be a lifetime honour for me if I can contribute my bit to this historic event and to familiarizing the rest of the world with some of the glories of Chinese civilization," he said.

Olympic dream

Lin's eyes shine through his glasses when he talks about the Olympic Village design, a work dear to his heart and soul.

"The 2008 Olympic Games will be a great opportunity for China and its people to introduce themselves and share their culture and history with the rest of the world," said Lin.

"As an overseas Chinese, I'm honoured to take the challenge of participating in the international bidding for the 2008 Olympic Village design."

Accepting the offer to head a design team, he led a group of more than 50 architects and artists from China, Singapore and Japan that took five strenuous months to work out the design.

The essence of their design, Lin said, is to combine the Chinese traditional philosophical theory of wuxing, or the earth's five fundamental elements, with the five Olympic rings, which symbolize the earth's five continents.

"We were so thrilled to find that the colours of the elements - wood, water, fire, earth and metal - exactly match those of the Olympic rings," Lin said proudly.

In the traditional view of the Chinese, the five elements of wuxing combine to give form to all things in the universe.

The designers decided to apply the colours green, blue, red, yellow and black to the five avenues cutting through the Olympic Village from south to north.

The red one in the centre, called Fire Boulevard, on the city's central axis, takes Tian'anmen Square as its starting point.

It is also at this avenue that two canals, the Tiger and the Dragon, meet, which alludes to the Chinese saying "longzhenghudou," or "the dragon and tiger contend."

"This implies the competitive atmosphere in which the athletes will be living," said Lin.

The buildings in the village will incorporate traditional features of architectural structures in the country's north and south, such as rectangular courtyards, water city layouts, and round Hakka houses.

Lin said the combination of traditional and modern elements in these buildings reflects China's process of historical development and the concept of a "People's Olympics."

Lin's design was one of the six Olympic Village design projects undergoing the evaluation of experts from the International Olympic Committee last August.

When the Beijing Urban Construction Group consortium (BUCG), the successful bidder for the tender of the Olympic Village, signed the contract later last year, Lin's design and another design, both proposed by the consortium, became the last two options.

The final result will be announced soon and work on the project is expected to start this year, according to the municipal government.

Lin does not hide his eagerness to see his design win out and finally become part of the Beijing skyline.

"My life will become really meaningful if my design finally stands in the Olympic Green," he said.

"I also hope that the light of Chinese civilization will be carried to every corner of the world by athletes who will live here."

East to West, West to East

Lin's pursuit of art took him full circle, as did his life, from the East to the West, and then back to the East.

Born in 1945 in rural Chao'an, a small town in South China's Guangdong Province, Lin spent his childhood with his mother and two sisters doing farm work.

Although he left for Singapore at 11, what he saw among the hills and fields during those childhood years became a major inspiration for his future art work.

After studying painting at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, in Singapore, from 1965 to 1968, he moved to Paris in 1971 to continue his study of world art.

It was a move from the world of Chinese traditional techniques to a world featuring typical Western painting techniques.

Those three years of study and his travels in Western European countries in the following years gave a touch of Western style to his paintings.

"His painting has a touch of the Western modern art of Pollock and De Kooning," said Singaporean art guru Liu Kang, adding that Lin's works were the result of his immersion in the work of various masters in the West and East, out of which he created his own style.

The mixed style evolved when he returned to Singapore and began frequenting China in 1986.

As he later described it, for years he toured across his motherland, visiting serene places, drinking in the cream of Chinese culture, and developing a stronger love toward his people.

"Recollecting the old days and returning to original purity are tendencies of the human heart," said Lin.

"Such longings are even stronger in those of us who have deep feelings for our nation, and who have a strong sense of responsibility."

Critics who have been keeping an eye on his work have found his changes are in line with his convictions. "His later paintings are more Oriental than his earlier works, and more strongly reflect his nationality," commented Shao Dajian, professor with the Beijing-based Central Academy of Fine Arts.

He explained that the earlier works focus more on building shapes and structures, while the later works pay more attention to the simple expression of feeling.

Yet Lin is not simply an artist. He was engaged in business as early as 1975 when he worked as a design consultant for a famous ceramic tile factory in Italy.

He does not think doing business will blur his vision as an artist. While holding to his belief about art, he successfully achieved his goal of "feeding art with business."

He did not stop painting and writing while he was involved in a number of other business activities over the years.

As president of Innovation International Consultants Alliance, he has been providing consultancy services for architectural designs and urban planning in many cities in China.

Lin will give a lecture on Friday at a forum organized by the Chinese Academy of Arts. The forum is to be about China's architecture and art development.

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