What could be more fitting than sneaking into the “tallest tower ever built by a British architect” for a Chinese girl brought up in the UK talking about Chinese urbanisation? The Kinkey Tower shadowed over its estate, consisting of five residential castles that sat proudly on a five-storey luxury shopping mall. “Only in China” was all that I could mutter.

The entire construction became a gymnastics exercise for my camera.

The entrance was via a black label only mall, filled with mega-boutiques that would put any airport to shame. Twenty years ago people used to go fantasise about these brands as their first class experience. Now, standing in the center, the looming infinity of luxury was dazzlingly depressing and it was all accessible without a border, passport or security check.

However, “you (were not) what you buy”. The a residential membership was a literal reminder of the glass ceiling.

What was the user-experience of “439 meters” in height? What was its post-awe experience? The residential entrance was a local secret. It seemed that no one wanted Gucci-shoppers strutting through their exclusive neighbourhood. That was the whole point of a floating city. The local joke could only be translated as: “gated communities are so 2000!”

Luxury under height: any potentially morbid incidences would have rolled out in film noir glamour. The affluent neighbourhood above Kinkey’s opulent mall would eat, sleep and have sex on the glitziest stage in town.

The staircase in a sweaty afternoon was enough to put off any common thief, law-enforcement or door-to-door sales man. Suddenly living in this uber-modern fantasy became as abstract and curious as living in a joystick factory.

What would one do if there was, god forbid, a fire, a power cut or simply a broken lift? Would creature comfort be replaced by a display of athletic ability? Were there luxury to be found in emergency services such as fitness instructors for scaling the building or pilates classes for abseiling posture? Could self-aid become the next experiential fad?

Judging by house prices, the common athletic tolerance for a standard Chinese family was ten floors. Below ten stories, house prices increased in positive correlation as people escaped from noise, pollution and the general evidence of other people that came with the metropolis. Under a certain height, mess was more frightening than gravity.

Above ten floors, however, prices decreased as buyers speculated on potential emergencies. Inflating housing prices forced many newer residents to balance their paranoia by purchasing parachutes. The effectiveness of these devices was not optimistic. Most of the placebo parachute owners were untrained families with elderly members and children.

Despite their impracticability, these parachutes were in demand at 4500rmb a pop. A bond-style escape from an exploding window seemed wildly romantic. Perhaps with Q’s help floor plans would evolve to be ‘jump-friendly’. Maybe parachute units would replace external air-conditioning, expanding upon smoke detection in a similar fashion to airbags in cars. Movie-grade placebo was the household inconspicuous consumption. This worrying demonstration video suggested that parachute users should rope themselves against door handles when leaping off from windows!

Roping yourself onto a door handle as you accelerate towards terminal velocity down a 32-floor building and into a shopping mall?!! If there were any key symbols of the future of domestic architecture, it was our misplaced aspirations in brushed stainless steel. Elevators, handles and even coffee-machines… Brushed stainless steel had found itself as the shortcut aesthetic for “reliability”, just as blue light had snuck into the language of cutting-edge technology.

From giddy heights, the perception of safety was the luxury of control and technology a finesse in its communication.

Written by Lisa Ma

Lisa Ma socializes activism. Combining ethnographic research and speculative design, Lisa creates platforms of engagement from surprising insights and processes that deeply resonate with the global technological community. The emergence of clicktivism – to protest at the click of a mouse – is trivializing activism. Lisa argues that although activism doesn’t necessarily benefit from technology, we need to evolve how activism contributes to technological societies. To illustrate this, she designs dilemmas and creates social events that are perceived as activism but function as services.

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