On The Way Home

In collaboration with Junting Zhou

On The Way Home investigates how the Guangzhou Opera House became an iconic landmark in China during the local government’s campaign to elevate the city of Guangzhou to a modern-day Chinese metropolis. The Opera House was the first built project in China for its designer, the late Zaha Hadid, who was known for her risky, ambitious, and mostly unbuilt architecture. Contrary to the assumption that “starchitects” like Hadid promote their signature style without regard to the urban context, the Opera House was created through the engagement of numerous local actors and the final product reflected the expression of local tastes and cultural values. Five months after the inauguration ceremony, the international media exposed flaws in the cladding of the building’s façade and questioned the architect and constructors’ credibility.

By investigating the reasons that led to these perceptions, the film reveals how the collapsed image of a futuristic city held up by a foreign starchitect, in turn, created a lacuna of accountability. The story, presented by a researcher and a filmmaker who both were in China, reflects how their perspectives migrate from one ideology to another and gradually become more ambiguous. In the era of globalization, the ideological dichotomy between East and West is no longer relevant to understanding the fast-paced urban changes occurring in China. The study of the Opera House reveals the identity problems that “developing” countries face as they chase an image represented by “developed” countries, thus leaving places like Guangzhou in an in-between space of Eastern/Western images and ideals.