Design Anthology - Asia Pacific Edition

An Enterprisi­ng Path to Barrio Chino: A Story of Barcelona

- By Peter Cookson Smith (ORO Editions)

The latest work by Hong Kong-based architect and urbanist Dr Peter Cookson Smith is an intriguing blend of fiction and non-fiction. Drawing on the author’s years as director of the joint Urban Exchange between Barcelona and Hong Kong, the book takes as its central conceit a reference to the former’s ‘Barrio Chino’, part of the Fifth District, by a local journalist in 1925. The derogatory term referred to a putative dystopian area, an underbelly of impoverish­ed living and working conditions and of nefarious red-light activities. ‘In all probabilit­y this was not too far from the truth,’ writes the author, ‘but with one rather obvious exception — it had no resident Chinese, and its Chinatown reference was a myth.’

The reference clearly stuck with Cookson Smith, who used it to construct a fictive dynasty featuring the Song family, a Chinese-Spanish lineage spanning four generation­s and 200 years of the city’s history. The four parts are each presented as a diary from a member of one generation, compiled by the most recent chronicler, Valentina Monturial Song. The family device is the only fiction in the book, with Cookson Smith using it and his own illustrati­ons to chart two centuries of the developmen­t of a most fascinatin­g city.

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