The iconic "I♥SZ" sign on Hanking Center in Nanshan District is being removed because it blocked sunlight from many offices in the building, triggering a sense of loss and nostalgia among residents and Shenzhen University students.
The LED sign on the southern façade of the 350-meter skyscraper was turned on for the first time on May 1, 2018. On Oct. 15 this year, the sign beamed for the last time, after 1,267 nights adorning the skyline of Nanshan. Many people affectionately called it the "dancing heartbeat" of Shenzhen. When I drove through Nanshan one evening in 2018, I was attracted to the glittering sign, which aroused my hibernated affections towards the city.
Many residents, especially Shenzhen University students, have expressed affinity to the sign on social media platforms and said it was a pity that the sign had to be removed.
The giant sign was designed and put up by the property developer, Hanking Group. The company decided to remove the sign because the building is now fully occupied and the sign blocked sunlight from the windows of many offices. The light it emitted at night also affected the occupants of those offices. The sign affected about 10 floors while the heart shape blocked part of six floors on one of the best locations of the building, a company executive surnamed Jiang told Shenzhen Evening News.
Some residents said in social media posts that the sign used to serve as a kind of beacon when they went home after work at night. Many Shenzhen University students liked to take selfies with the sign in the background. Graduation photos taken with the sign within the frame were very popular among graduates of the university.
Hanking Group said it was considering to set up a new sign at another safe location that will pose no negative impact on the natural lighting of the building.
The sign mirrored the iconic "I♥NY" logo created by legendary creative designer Milton Glaser in 1977. Although the "I♥SZ" sign was not an indigenous design, it has been very popular and became part of the collective memory of Shenzhen residents.
In considering a new sign, it would be advisable to create an indigenous design that reflects the creative power of Shenzhen. The company can seek designs from designers across the city and ask the public to vote online for a new design they love.
The public reaction to the removal of the sign also led to another question that deserves our consideration: how to create, preserve and promote the things and icons that form the shared memory of Shenzheners and create a sense of community and belonging.
With most residents coming from around the country, in addition to tens of thousands of expatriates, Shenzhen used to be regarded as a city where residents lacked a sense of belonging to the city. This situation has improved over recent years as many early-year migrants have settled down for years or even decades, and the early migrants’ second generation has grown up. However, compared with other megacities that have a long history, Shenzhen needs to further foster its cultural identity and develop appropriate city branding as it seeks wider global recognition.
To the surprise of many people, the plain-looking blue-and-white school uniforms for primary and middle school students in Shenzhen are very popular among students, many of whom even wear the uniforms into their university years.
A set of Shenzhen school uniforms was showcased at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London in 2015. Corinna Gardner, a V&A exhibition planner, said because the uniform was the first to be applied to every school across a city in China, the museum decided to include the clothing in its collection.
"Shenzhen has always been regarded as a city lacking a sense of belonging," Gardner said in an interview in 2015. "The blue-and-white uniform has given its citizens a shared memory."
Wang Weili, deputy director of Shenzhen Academy of Social Sciences, explained at that time that the intention behind unifying Shenzhen school uniforms was to foster a sense of community and belonging to Shenzhen.
As the city continues to grow, many ideas, artworks and architectures have become icons of the city. The "Time is money, efficiency is life" billboard in Shekou, the Deng Xiaoping statue atop Lianhua Hill, the trailblazing bull sculpture in front of the CPC Shenzhen Municipal Committee compound, the Shenzhen Concert Hall and Shenzhen Library twin structures, the 592.5-meter Ping An Financial Center tower and the China Resources Tower nicknamed "Bamboo Shoot" now are all part of the Shenzhen identity. For the expatriate community, the Snake Pit bar, established in 1987 in Shekou as the only socializing, leisure and entertainment venue for the small expat community in the early days of the special economic zone, carries shared memory among expats who are living or have lived in the city.
In cities, culture is present not only through the built environment in the form of theaters, museums, parks, marketplaces and other iconic architectures, but also through the form of signs and designs, some of which create a sense of belonging and a unique identity. The giant letters on the Hollywood hills in Los Angeles, although simple, is one of the most well-known city icons.
As a UNESCO City of Design, Shenzhen can tap its huge pool of design talent to create logos, cartoon characters and signs that reflect the city's unique character and that will be loved by its residents as well as international visitors.
(The author is a deputy editor-in-chief of Shenzhen Daily.)