Table and chairs for WAM

  I have completed a new set of table and chairs for a client in Beijing. The pieces are prototypes but will be developed for production in the next few months.

EastWest

The table is called EastWest and echoes the architecture within which it will stand; one of Beijing's best preserved Qing dynasty courtyard houses in Heizhima hutong, just North of the IFP Studio. The name is also a reference to a book When East Meets West by Werner Blaser which draws parallels between the work of modernist Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and traditional Chinese and Japanese wood architecture. The table is made in pinewood, also frequently used in Japanese furniture, treated with wood oil and white pigment to keep the wood from turning yellow with time. The legs protrude the table top in the shape of crosses, which helps increase the contact surface between the top and the legs, as well as referencing Mies frequent use of the cross in building elements.

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Untitled

The chair Untitled is a simple dining chair made from solid wood, with the seat and back in nylon bands, normally used in clothing, bags and accessories. The entire frame is made from square profile ashwood, drawing inspiration from Donald Judd's minimalist furniture and Sol Lewitt's grid structures. I have adjusted some of the angles to provide more comfort for everyday use, and tapered the bottom of the legs to make the chair look lighter. The bands making up the seat and back are wrapped around the wooden frame several times in an ad hoc manner, to give a more complex texture to the chair. Compared to a wooden seat and back, the bands adapt to the body and allows for longer-term use.

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New residency programme

  IFP_logo

Finally, after months of preparation, the Institute for Provocation is launching a new residency programme in collaboration with IASPIS. The 2-month residency is open for Swedish visual artists, architects and designers and starts in August this year. Deadline for applications is May 8, application here.

 

More information:

Iaspis – the Swedish Arts Grants Committee’s international program for visual art, architecture, design and craft – announces a new residency collaboration with the Institute for Provocation (IFP) in Beijing during 2013-14. The residency is open to applications from visual artists, architects and designers, and is thematically focused on the topic of public space in China.

Residency period: In 2013, two separate residencies of two months each are offered to two candidates, one from August 22 - October 22, and one from October 20 - December 22. Please indicate on the application form which period you are applying for.

Application deadline: 8 May 2013

Application procedure: The Iaspis delegation of the Visual Arts Fund selects a shortlist from the received applications. The final selection of grant holders is made by IFP. Successful applicants are informed by Iaspis on behalf of IFP at the end of June.

Grant: The total sum of the grant is 50 000 SEK per person and residency. This should cover costs for return travel Sweden-Beijing, food, sustenance and eventual production costs over the 2 month residency. As part of the residency, IFP provides shared workspace, accommodation and a part-time assistant. Please see more detailed information below. About Institute for Provocation

The Institute for Provocation (IFP) is a Beijing-based workspace and think tank hosting residencies, research projects, workshops and lectures stretching the borders between visual and performing art, architecture and design. As a workspace, IFP focuses on the thinking process before or even beyond the actual creation of an artifact: the collection of dramaturgical information, the testing of different architectural scenarios, the summarizing of existing artistic vocabularies and realized projects, the experimenting with new media or disciplines, and so on. Space, territory and geography serve as bridges between many disciplines and IFP has a specific interest in research that proposes cross-disciplinary strategies to open up for inquiries into topics related to these notions.

IFP was originally established under the name Theatre in Motion (until 2010) by sinologist and dramaturge Els Silvrants and architect Shuyu Chen and has since 2005 collaborated with artists, architects and performers on a wide range of projects and residencies.

The studio and workspace is located in a 85 sqm renovated courtyard house in the old city of Beijing. The studio is shared with 1-3 other resident artist(s) and IFP staff, has basic facilities such as internet, projector and screen, basic hand tools, shared kitchen. The resident artist will be accommodated close to the studio in a private or shared apartment with private bathroom. About the residency

As a part of an ongoing research project into the conditions for public space in Chinese cities, the Institute for Provocation in collaboration with Iaspis invite artists, architects and designers to apply for a residency based around the topic of public space.

China's economic rise over the past three decades is the result of a conscious strategy in which cities are playing a key role. Urbanization has been and will continue to be the main instrument for bringing the people out of poverty and into a consumption- and service lifestyle. But as the existing cities sprawl out and new ones are built from scratch, little attention is paid to their spatial and social qualities. The massive leap in scale from the ancient architectures to the new forests of highways and high-rises that now dominate the cityscapes create an array of problems related to space, identity, environment and social and economic equity. The juxtaposition of opposites – formal and informal, open and closed space – shapes the syntax in the reading of the Chinese city.

The applicant is intended to form their own interpretation of the theme and eventually find a focal point for his/her research. Responsible for running the programme in Beijing will be Max Gerthel, Swedish architect and IFP collaborator since 2011, and IFP's artistic director Shuyu Chen. We will guide the artist and provide insights into China and Chinese culture, special knowledge about cities and public space as well as local contacts in various fields. The residency will revolve around research as the main activity, without any specific requirements from the host organization regarding output or production by the artists in residence.

The purpose of this thematic residency programme is both to have a close dialogue and exchange between IFP and the artist, as well as to create more continuity, as each artist contributes to a larger body of research. This accumulation of knowledge, observation and interpretation can thus be shared internally, but also to the local community.

As a part of Sessions, IFP's public programme, the artist will have the possibility to present themselves and their work, listen to other practitioners and take part in discussions. There will also be possibilities of collaboration with external institutions for lectures and/or academic exchange. The residency will also be announced through IFP's network and newsletter, further enhancing the artist's visibility in China.

Residents will be provided with a desk space in the shared workspace of IFP's studio, accommodation in the vicinity of the workspace, a part-time art assistant providing interpretation/ translation and other assistance, support and guidance from IFP staff and opportunity to meet other artists in related fields. If the resident wishes to bring their partner/family for the full length of the residency s/he must inform IFP two months in advance. Any extra expense for accommodation of related guests will be carried by the resident.

The Third Meaning

This installation was a part of SaYiZheng (Sleepwalking in Chinese, or sometimes translated as nonsense) a night art exhibition taking place last Friday in and around Doujiao hutong here in Beijing. The exhibition was organised by IFP's artist-in-residence Zoro Feigl and artist and curator Tianji Zhao. Altogether 23 artists participated, and quite a large amount of people came to see the exhibition and performances.

The idea behind this installation was to create a space with light, and as a response to the rough and ecclectic environment, I decided to create something that was quite purist and clean, but still made from materials found locally. The flourescent lights are activated by sound, which is also common here, especially in staircases of residential building blocks. However in the hutongs the lights are usually quite dim and the relationship to sound is more surprising. The configuration of a gate or a portal suited the site very well and provided a quite new experience of the hutong space. At the same time, its purity and materiality can refer to the typical white box gallery space, in which this kind of flourescent light fittings are virtually prerequisite.

The title, The Third Meaning comes from a text by Roland Barthes, referring to a third layer of meaning in SM Eisensteins films. I don't claim to harbor such a meaning, but if there is a third layer of meaning to anything, I'm sure someone can find it.

 

 

Preliminary sketch

 

animation

The next morning, only a few pieces of wood were left.

Word on the street

The China of the Future will once again be the Kingdom of Bicycles - Yung Ho Chang (i) The reason why this quote makes me lose my faith in the gentlement who uttered it is that I just saw four (4) Bentleys on the twenty-minute bike ride back from the office. Sure, it's the right neighborhood of Beijing to spot this particular brand, since a Bentley dealership just opened in Sanlitun, but these were seen far away from it and I also saw a Ferrari passing a Maserati (in between Bentley number 3 and 4). I don't think I need to mention all the A8s, Mercedes Geländewagens, few Porsches and the mat-lacquered BMW convertibles which crossed my path. But more interestingly, just as I came out from the office in Chaowai SOHO looking around for my old Flying Pigeon, I heard a high-pitch roar and turned around to see an Audi R8, in polished aluminium finish (basically only a handful of these exist on the planet) swirling out on to the driveway.

When I was a child, from an age so early I don't have memories from to about 12, I was obsessed with cars. I could spot a Mitsubishi, a Citroen or even a rarity like Lancia from more than a hundred meters distance even before I could even say my own surname. Towards the final years of primary school, I started to hide it from my friends and classates since I was embarrassed to be interested in something so...mineral. I did go to the school discos and occassionally talked to girls but once a month when the latest edition of "Teknikens Värld" dropped down into the mailbox, I would dive into it and absorb every single technical specification, learning by heart the no of horsepowers of mundane saloons like Peugeuot 605 as well as super-sports cars that weren't even sold in my small Scandinavian homeland. I would digest every word of every virgin test drive and even chronicles about family life and the MGB club's trips to Jersey.

But again, after a certain age this fascination with the motorized world ceased, and I could move on to other, more important things like architecture, stopping on the way at Nirvana and flanell-shirts, Stussy jeans and Ice Cube, Graffiti, Skateboarding, Wu-Tang, Tommy Hilfiger, and finally German techno (which I still occassionally go out to enjoy). Of course, it was hard to rid myself of my past passion and I still have a habit of remembering the new car models when they hit the streets.

If I had seen a one-in-a-billion Audi, four Bentleys, one Maserati and one Ferrari in the course of 20 minutes as an 8-year-old, I would probably have thought I was dreaming.

Now I just feel sick.

I feel sick because I am in China and nowhere should you see so many ridiculously expensive cars in such short time frame but at a car salon, in Geneva, Frankfurt, Paris Detroit or Tokyo. Maybe even Beijing Car Show. But not on a Tuesday night at 9.15 in a developing country.

This place seems just sprawling with people who don't know what to do with all their piles of cash (yes, they do still use cash in China, for obvious reasons, and in huge amounts since the largest bill is 100RMB). And all they seem to have forgotten what it's like to ride on a bicycle, for never have I seen such egoistic drivers as here. Never ever do they stop until they are centimeters away from hitting you. Their automobiles are constantly in motion, as if they thought the engine would stop if they did (which is probably the case wth the first Chinese-made cars that were rolling on the roads). And as if to celebrate this fact, they never want to turn them off. I've gone through parking lots outside shopping malls where many of the cars were idling just to keep the AC on until the owners came out again several hours later!

Not to get too deep into it here, but I feel this topic is so loaded with political, economic and consumption ideals that it deserves to be studied, in facts and without judgement. I want to understand, both how this could become such a common way of unloading heavy wallets, and a symbol of China's growth and rise as a global power. How did the world's biggest bicycle-city become the world's biggest car-city in one generation?

(i) From The future will be...China. Thoughts on What's to Come Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Pinoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli/UCCA, 2012

Chinese Public Space Symposium

PROJECTING THE FUTURE FOR A CHINESE PUBLIC SPACE

- A symposium on the possibilities of a New Urban Realm

I am currently in the process of planning a symposium on the possibilities of a future Chinese Public Space. The aim is to start a multidisciplinary discussion about among those involved in the planning, design and realisation of China's future cities; their parks and landscapes. What are the possibilities for designing specifically "civic" spaces, belonging in the realm of society rather than for community or symbolic use?

Public space in China is a topic which crosses over into many other aspects of Chinese society; the political impact of the emerging middle-class, urban planning policies (or lack thereof), social stratification, congestion, urban cultural expressions and the emergence of a ‘virtual public space’ on internet sites, forums and microblogs.

In the Arab Spring and other forms of public mistrust towards political leadership, public spaces play a key role in providing a forum to meet and raise opinion, allowing political movements to gain momentum and eventually cause change. This fact has been, since the 1989 Tiananmen square protests, well noted among Chinese political leaders. As a consequence, urban designs of new Chinese cities often lack the kind of open, accessible squares and public meeting places found in urban centres around the world.

Before 1989, in cities designed during the Mao era, the Big Square typology was often introduced as a part of urban regeneration, to serve as a venue for political gatherings (for example during the Cultural Revolution), along with long and wide boulevards for military parades. In recent years these large squares spaces have often been invaded by commercial interests and become the staging ground for local governments’ self-promotion. At the same time, they have lost their public raison d’être as the urban population has found their place inside air-conditioned shopping malls. The boulevards have become highway-like traffic arteries for the ever-growing number of people moving around in cars, often dividing the city spatially and socially. We can see this development in Chinese cities of all scales and in every part of the country.

According to the German scholar Dieter Hassenpflug, the spaces of Chinese cities not belonging to either of two major institutions Family and Community are considered to be Open Space, which means that they belong to whoever claims them; for example cars, plants, trees, pedestrians, individuals or groups who use the vacancy for temporary activities such as dancing, tai chi, free markets etc. This typology is distinct from Public Space in the sense that its use is always negotiable, and the public - free individuals - have no universal right to it. This configuration is very different from the concepts of public space prevalent in Europe, and yet most of the architects and designers involved in the construction of Chinese cities have very little knowledge of this.

After a long period of negligence towards those spaces which still can be considered public, the growing middle-class is now at least beginning to attach greater importance to the size, design and safety of their urban environment. This is not to say that the space that these urban space are public in the sense of being civic, but instead they are often private spaces that have the appearance of being public (Example: Sanlitun Village, The Place, Jianwai SOHO). We can also see that China’s ageing population, which is increasingly urban, is putting high pressure on public parks, and making use of random open spaces such as memorial squares or generously sized sidewalks for playing music, dancing, playing boardgames and socializing.

This symposium aims to bring together the different stakeholders in the formation of China’s future urban and rural environments: Architects, landscape architects, urbanists, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, cultural theorists and activists, for a discussion and exchange of views.

Questions to be discussed: What new concepts can be formed to describe the different conditions of open space in China? What kind of urban spaces in China fit in to the Western description of Public Space and how? What are the consequences of the shifting of public communication from urban spaces to online social media? What role can designers really play in the reappropriation of the urban realm? Will Landscape Urbanism save Chinese public space?

Organiser: Institute For Provocation (Max Gerthel/Jordan Kanter/Chen Shuyu)

Because Wang Shu

 

In this recent op-ed in Domus Brendan McGetrick explains his view of why Wang Shu got the Pritzker Prize. Compared with my own hypothesis (which is less elegantly formulated below) it's less about geopolitics and more about the decline of trust in architects following a global financial crisis and consequent recession. Indeed, there is a geopolitical side to the jury recognizing China's rise as a political and cultural power in the world, but Brendan argues that it is Wang Shu's methods and low-tech amateur approach to architecture which carries the most significance in his (modest) oeuvre.

Indeed it is reasonable to engage in such a reading of the event, and I agree with Brendan's arguments. However, I would like to put forward another hypothesis: Contrary to the Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize and the recent ascent of Ai Weiwei into superstardom following his 81-day detention, the Pritzker is less of a diplomatic meltdown. It will not create a Norwegian salmon boycott in Zhongnanhai or ignite mass-demonstrations around the art world, but it will shed light into a dark and remote corner of architecture and urbanism in China, one that is rarely highlighted by the regime and enjoys little understanding by the industry.

Mr Wang not explicitly political, but in my mind his works evoke many of the same attitudes as presented by the two dissidents. By working with local materials and craftsmen he is creating his own individual interpretation of Chinese architecture traditions, not a reproduction of a "global" "modern" "style" as so many of his peers who simply reproduce their own and others' work for the weekly submission of some medium-size-city urban planning museum proposals and mixed-use suburban drop-down bombshell. In addition, this is also how Ai Weiwei bagan his career as a builder in the late 1990's, and there are many interesting parallels in their careers and approach to designing.

In this 2008 interview of Wang Shu by Bert de Muynck, he describes some of his own working methods and attitudes towards the contemporary architecture practice:

"This month I have to design three museums, so my studio stops working for one month. Everybody goes home, so I can work on my own. I send them to the countryside for research or give everybody a list of books about traditional Chinese painting, French philosophers, movies or any subject that might be helpful. This is their homework. When they come back, we have a discussion, and then we work again."

He also reveals the need for architects (in China and elsewhere) to be pragmatists and grant the clients their less admirable wishes, albeit with a sense of humour and political irony:

"In the Contemporary Art Museum in Ningbo, for example, we designed two large floors. When we presented our plan, local authorities told me they had the money to build the museum, but no money to operate it. They needed a space they could let out in order to generate money. I told them that, apart from selling fish, they could do whatever they wanted on the ground floor to make money. But art should be on the first floor. When I said this to the mayor I used Marxist theory, explaining that a basement is about economy and an upper floor about art. I hope he got the joke."

All in all, despite his own scepticism of the appointment ("I'm still so young!") I hope that the prize will help shift the focus of China's reconstruction (a lot of it will have to be rebuilt soon again) from large to small, from global to local and from Wang (king) to Shu (book, calligraphy, script).

Read Brendan's text for yourself here.

 

IFP Session #2 Film screening

Tonight at 6 pm in the our studio, Institute For Provocation will host Belgian filmmaker Bram van Paesschen who is screening his latest film Empire Of Dust. The film depicts the reality of the Chinese involvement in Africa through the eyes of two middle-men in on the ground in Congo Kinshasa. Synopsis: Lao Yang and Eddy both work for a company called CREC (Chinese Railway Engineering Company). They have just set up camp near the remote mining town of Kolwezi in the Katanga province of the RDC. The goal of the company is to redo the road – covering 300km - that connects Kolwezi with the capital of the province Lubumbashi.

Lao Yang is head of logistics of the group. He is responsible for the equipment, building materials and food (mainly chickens) to arrive in the isolated Chinese prefab camp. The Congolese government was supposed to deliver these things but so far the team hasn’t received anything.

With Eddy (a Congolese man who speaks Mandarin fluently) as an intermediate, Lao Yang is forced to leave the camp and deal with local Congolese entrepreneurs, because without the construction materials the road works will cease. What follows is an endless, harsh, but absurdly funny roller coaster of negotiations and misunderstandings, as Lao Yan learns about the Congolese way of making deals.

Bram van Paesschen

Born 1979 in Vilvoorde, Belgium. Graduated in 2002 from Sint-Lukas in Brussels, film/video specialization documentary. Lives and works in Brussels. (Except for when he’s elsewhere)

The work of Bram Van Paesschen is indebted to various traditions of documentary filmmaking, from "classical" to fake documentary and essayistic formats. What unites this very diverse body of work is a sometimes radical, sometimes playful reflection on the rapport between the filmmaker and the filmed, as well as the necessary and responsible involvement of both in creating the documentary artifact. (Katrin Mundt)

Date & Time: Saturday March 10 at 6pm in the IFP Studio, Heizhima hutong 13, Dongcheng District, Beijing.

Because of the limited space, please notify us by email to max@iprovoke.org if you plan to attend the screening and following talk. And please don't arrive after 6.30! Thank you

Open Door Syllabus

 

Since February 20 I am leading a studio for undergraduate students of interior design at Tsinghua School of Art & Design. The studio will focus on basic concepts universal architecture and introducing a number of canonical works from the Western and Eastern hemispheres. Analytical studies will take up most of the first half, then gradually moving towards transforming the accumulated research into a small-scale project.

 

OPEN THE DOOR AND LET THE SUN SHINE IN - INTRODUCTION TO ARCHITECTURE

The main objectives of this 7-week studio is to:

  • Introduce the notion of architecture as a way of thinking through three basic concepts universal to architecture and neighbouring disciplines; landscape and interior architecture.
  • Expose students to architecture theory and analytical assignments in which they are forced to use language and images rather than design to describe their way of thinking.
  • Emphasize the process and the tools rather than the results, forcing the students to draw conclusions from their previous work.
  • Collect data and analyze canonical works of both Western and Eastern architecture, historical and contemporary and assemble it into a coherent archive.
  • Finally, to synthesize analysis and experiments into a design concept based on the previous findings.

The studio aims to give the students a basic knowledge of architectural history and theory through a number of lectures and case studies. These analytical studies will gradually lead to a design assignment based on the observations and conclusions drawn from the previous phase.

SCALE The notion of scale in architecture is ambiguous. Architects tend to assume that there is a general understanding of the concept of scale, but at the same time tacitly recognize that many different perceptions of scale exist and they are deeply rooted in cultural, historical and social values. In architecture, geography and many other disciplines, scale is used to define relationships between the real object and their representations. This use is instrumental to the conception of space, as the designer uses drawings and models to represent their intentions. Other uses of the word scale are more subjective and refer to the way we relate things to each other in real-world values (right scale, out of scale) or describe their size, importance or impact, (a large-scale military operation, a small-scale manufacturer, a medium-scale city). In Chinese, these are three different words, 比例 (relation, ratio) , 尺度 (proportion, measurement) and 规模 (scope, extent, size) which facilitates the use in the architecture field. Nevertheless, there is a direct link between the above mentioned concepts of scale in the English language.

The most fundamental reference for scale is the human body, a measure that as been used in most human cultures throughout history, and still prevail in many cultures (e g foot, inch). In order to build up an understanding of scale and its importance, the students will create their own system for referencing between different scales.

MOVEMENT In both Occidental and Oriental cultures, movement is a major aspect of architecture. Movement is not only about circulation within a building or a complex, but it is directly related to hierarchy, organization, perception etc. While this wide understanding of the concept has been extensively explored in the West, especially since the Modern Movement, there is a more implicit understanding of movement within the Oriental realm of architecture. The assignments will explore these different aspects and bring a conscious understanding of movement into the design.

ATMOSPHERE While the concepts of scale and movement are relatively well-defined within architecture history and theory, the notion of atmosphere is quite a lot more ambivalent. It generally ranges from the phenomenological aspects to the metaphysical, yet architecture can be analyzed and conceived using this notion consciously.

The assignment will focus on the phenomenological aspect of atmosphere, focusing on light, materiality, colour and relationship with the environment. As with scale and movement, the aim is to provide the students with a basic understanding through case studies and analytical drawings/models, all of which will compiled into a larger body of research.

 

List of architectural works for analysis:

WESTERN CLASSICS Le Corbusier - Villa Savoye Frank Lloyd Wright - Falling Water House Ludvig Mies van der Rohe - Villa Tugendhat Luis Barragan - Barragan House Villa Malaparte Adolf Loos - Haus Müller WESTERN CONTEMPORARY Steven Holl - Nail Collector’s House OMA/Koolhaas - Villa Dall’Ava Peter Zumthor - Kunsthaus Bregenz Alvaro Siza - Iberê Camargo Museum (ICM) Ben van Berkel/UN Studio - Möbius House David Adjaye - House For An Art Collector R & Sie (n) - Invisible House EASTERN CLASSICS Beijing Siheyuan (北京四合院) Temple of Heaven (北京天坛) Foguang Temple (佛光寺) Katsura imperial villa I M Pei - Fragrant Hill Hotel (北京香山饭店) EASTERN CONTEMPORARY Ai Weiwei - Red Brick Galleries, Caochangdi Kuu Architects - MINUS K HOUSE/ 南汇别墅 FCJZ/张永和 - Villa in Shanyujian, Huairou, Beijing Wang Shu - Xiangshan campus building Liu Jiakun - Luyeyuan Stone Sculpture Art Museum

IFP Workshop lectures

The workshop is starting next week and we are working hard to finalize things. As promised, there will be a series of public lectures in the evenings at 7 pm, and anyone is welcome to join. Here is the list of confirmed lectures with date and time. All lectures will be taking place in the IFP Studio in Heizhima hutong 13, Dongcheng district, Beijing.

 

Michael Caster (US) is a freelance writer, researcher, and traveler. He has lived and worked in the United States, China, The Netherlands, Turkey, and Tunisia. His research interests touch on symbolic power and the politics of representation in social space, specializing in social semiotic analysis. He is currently involved in an ongoing independent research project examining the socio-political role and affect of street art.

Date & Time: Thursday, February 2 at 7 pm

 

Benjamin Beller (FR) of BaO Architects first came to China in 2005 where he worked with Beijing architecture studio Atelier 100S+1 while pursuing his own research on rapidly developing Chinese cities. In 2010 set up his own practice BaO as a collaborative platform engaging in China and abroad. The studios he leads concentrate around both urban and rural contexts as a way to challenge their ever-imposed dichotomy and to respond to Chinese urban agenda. Throughout his practice, he's been experimenting extensively with both research and design, with a strong belief that it is through acting and engaging within both grounds simultaneously that architecture becomes constructive.

Date & Time: Monday, February 6 at 7 pm

 

Hutopolis is a research program run by AQSO Architecture office  and architect Giannantonio Bongiorno that aims to investigate new boundaries for the urban development in China. The study intends to re-use and enhance the existing urban framework and networks as a key idea to generate a new evolution of the city. Meaning an utopic city of Hutongs, Hutopolis (h-uto-polis), is a fictive collage of words coming from radically different backgrounds that reflect the cultural openness of the project.

Date & time: Tuesday February 7 at 7 pm

 

WAI Architecture Think Tank is an international studio practicing architecture, urbanism and architectural research. Founded in Brussels in 2008 by French architect Nathalie Frankowski and Puerto Rican architect Cruz Garcia WAI is currently based in Beijing. WAI focuses on the understanding and execution of Architecture from a panoramic approach, from theoretical texts to architectural artifacts, narrative architectures, buildings and urban and cultural conditions. WAI strives to make significant contributions to the collective intelligence of architecture, from the conception of intelligent buildings and masterplans to the production of fresh research projects and innovative publications. WAI is a workshop for architecture intelligentsia. WAI asks What About It?

Date & Time: Wednesday, February 8 at 7 pm

Spring Festival workshop 2012

From January 30 to February 12, I will host a workshop in our studio in Beijing together with architect Jordan Kanter. The workshop will investigate the nature of the hutong as a public space through reiterative analytical processes, with the aim of introducing architectural intervention(s) in the city. We will also host a number of lectures during the course of the two weeks.

Below a short introduction:

 

ITERATE workshop 2012

This workshop aims to create new perspectives for activating, illuminating and informing new meaning to the everyday spaces of the city.  Working in the neighborhoods, streets and hutongs of Beijing, we will identify and define ongoing patterns of use, materializations and micro-topologies as a catalogue of the urban experience.

Using a variety of computational tools, including the KML language in Google Earth and the Processing coding language, we will develop techniques to operationalize this data as dynamic diagrams.  These diagrams, in turn, will guide and inform a series of interventions back into the public space.  The process is inherently iterative, alternating between observation, activation and evaluation of the intervention, constructed with new or reconfigured material on the site.  The computational diagrams function as a mediating framework between these modes of work by charting and informing the interventions as an ongoing emergence. The first part will be a series of exercises familiarizing ourselves with the site and the scripting tools, proceeding to the formulation and execution of rigorously conceived, team-based projects engaging (physically, virtually or both) the public space of Beijing.  It will culminate in a review by an outside jury and a public showing (and possible publication) of the work.  A lecture series exploring the relationship of public space to politics, individual agency, computation, art and architecture will coincide with the workshop.

The workshop is open to architects, artists, planners, geographers, engineers, programmers and students of the above or other disciplines; anyone interested in exploring the intersection between design, computation and public space.

Instructors: Max Gerthel (SE) (KARCH, Tsinghua, HUST) Jordan Kanter (US) (Sci-Arch, Tsinghua)

Lecturers: See the workshop blog

Software: Processing Google Earth KML Rhino/Maya

Date: 2012-01-30 - 2012-02-12 Location: IFP workspace in a Beijing courtyard near Nanluoguxiang Cost: 2000 RMB for students 2500 for professionals

Apply by sending a brief portfolio (max 10 MB) to: hutongworkshop2012@gmail.com

Find more information on the workshop blog

Organizer: Institute For Provocation (Beijing)

Supporter: Huazhong University of Science And Technology (Wuhan)

 

Final Review

My 2-month Studio in Wuhan Huazhong University of Science and Technology ended on Dec 18th with a final review followed by an exhibition of the students' work in Yangtze River Space in Wuhan, a gallery awkwardly situated in a guarded villa compound in the south part of Wuchang district. The works are by students of myself, Elaine W Ho and Chen Shuyu. Below some photos of the exhibition (which had to be merged with some murals remaining from the previous artist's exhibition). The studio was an interesting experience as a first attempt at understanding the capabilities of the students as well as familiarizing with potential fields of urban investigation. Although I'm perhaps not fully satisfied with the results, the studio forced me to formulate a syllabus and assignments comprehensive enough to be understood by Chinese 4th year students not usually engaged in self-programming and narrative drawing. Working in a diffuse field in between studio/tutoring and research, I will try to strengthen the research part in the future so that a comprehensive goal can be set and reached through the joint body of work.

I'm now back in Sweden, trying to resume my writing and summing-up of the studio, after a week of christmas eating, giving and receiving. Most of all right now I'd like to sink into my gifts: Public Space - An interpretation by George Baird, Issue 2 of Too Much-Magazine of Romantic Geography, Issue 22 of LOG and a beautiful catalogue of Studio Mumbai's exhbition in EPFL Lausanne, but this week needs to be productive as I am also entering a crucial phase of promoting our ITERATE workshop starting on January 30 in Beijing. More on that asap.

 

 

 

Welcome to Wuhan

Almost two months after embarking on a my teaching studio in Wuhan I am slowly starting to get a tiny hold of this city. Having spent most of my day walking around the old city center of Hankou, the township on the opposite shore of the Yangtze River, I was trying to sum up my impressions of Wuhan on the long bus ride back to the university campus. Besides being one of the top ten cities in China in terms of size, Wuhan is somewhat of a dark horse, and it's quite hard to pinpoint its main asset. For all its universities and collages - one out of ten inhabitants is a student at one of them, 1.2 million(!) in all - it's still far away from what I would call a "university town", like Cambridge, Lund, Heidelberg, Leiden or Austin; small, convenient, well-developed, highly academic and full of students. Education in Wuhan, it seems, is more like one of the city's main industrial bases. It's the production of students that is emphasized, not production of new knowledge. And since very few universities in China - Wuhan is no exception - promote studies in the humanities, the output every year is a very large batch of engineers with unspoiled belief in "Scientific Development", i e the extension of which you would call a technocracy.

The riverfront of above mentioned Hankou is lined with night clubs and bars, massage parlours and luxury cars. The buildings are "restored" early 20th century colonial-style buildings turned into a locale where the new rich get their groove on. As a public space it's decent, and I'm sure some of those night clubs are too, but that typology of space is as played-out as the colonial era it originates from. The rest of Wuhan is all about bigness, and it's architectural space as impressive as any one-liner dropped from a helicopter alongside 10-lane motorway strip or wedged in around a roundabout the size of Latvia. The physical dimension of most of this city - I'm sorry to say - is not worth looking at with anything other than fascination - for its brute ugliness and lack of human scale.

Actually, after understanding some of the more underlying messages widely and explicitly published on billboards across the city, I am starting to think that socio-anthropologists could have a field day here in Wuhan. According to my sources, most of the advertisement on buses, billboards, tv and radio revolve around plastic surgery, potency-enhancing medicine, underwear, cars, alcohol and women's hospitals (abortion clinics). In other words, an unsavoury cocktail of emerging-market-induced indulgences.

Or as Wuhan based artist and curator Gong Tian expressed it: Wuhan is a mix of everything cheap, loud and low, plus some anarchism. It's also known as a punk city, a side that I have yet to explore. It all seems so difficult when the city is the size of a European country and there's no subway (yet).

Well I'm not sure the photos below support my story, but at least they are moments from the past two months.

 

   

 

 

 

           

IFP Sessions No 1

In the past few weeks I have been planning a lecture series hosted by Institute For Provocation, the art organization with which I share my studio space here in Beijing. The lecture series we call IFP Sessions is a public event and a contribution to the wider discourse on art, architecture and design in China. For each session we invite someone to present their recent work, followed by a talk with other invited guests. Our ambition is to create a forum for artists, researchers and designers based in or visiting China, to share and discuss their work. Last Wednesday we hosted a lecture by Brendan McGetrick who is a writer, editor and curator, to present his work as curator of the exhibition Un-Named Design at the Design Biennale in Gwangju, Korea. The exhibition was initially a collaboration with Ai Weiwei but following his arrest in April, was carried out by Brendan as chief curator together with Michelle Liu, Naihan Li and a group of students from the Oslo School of Architecture. The lecture was followed by a discussion with artist Tudor Bratu (currently in residence with IFP), art critic Mia Yu (PhD researcher on Chinese art at McGill) and architect Anu Leinonen.

Brendan's essay about the project for Gwangju biennale can be read here.

Below a few photos from the session. The next IFP Session will be on Nov 30 when architect Jordan Kanter will present his research on Tiananmen square and Mao symbolism.

 

Zero Energy Slum

The other day I paid a visit to the newest addition to Huazhong Architecture School in Wuhan where I am currently teaching. I had found this Panoramio photo with description on Google Maps and I got curious to see what these new premises were housing. I quote from the description (presumably written by someone highly involved in the project): "The national demonstration project of renewable energy building in Huazhong University of Science and Technology, approved by the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, is dedicated to construct a teaching or office building with renewable energy use to adjust temperature and comfort all year in hot summer and cold winter area. To begin with, the project has taken advantage of Active Dynamic Hollow Walls (ADHW) with fluid air layers and climate adaptive windows. Furthermore, renewable energy, collected and stored by circulating water in the underground heat sink or heat source, has earned its position in the project because of the local advantage of an underground temperature annul balance. Fresh air exchanges heat with the water containing renewable energy in an under-floor radiator to adjust its own temperature. The fresh air is released into the indoor through an under-floor air supply system, thus regulating comfort in an indoor environment. In addition, the annul power consumption of the comfort regulation system is no more than the annul power generation of solar cells on the roof of a building. In a word, buildings in the project succeed in utilization of solar energy, underground heat sink in summer and heat source in winter for anti-reason use and have achieved the goals of saving of energy, land and water along with building materials, of environmental protection and of pollution reduction."

High ambitions, no doubt. Actually, whether or not this building lives up to its environmental claims become quite irrelevant when confronted with the architecture and construction materials. Below are a few photos I took of the inside, and bear in mind that this building is built less than two years ago:

As an experiment to show that these energy-saving technologies are efficient, this building might be successful on paper. But the extraordinarily poor quality of design and materials completely undermines the possibility of convincing anyone that these techniques are compatible with ordinary construction procedures in China. Building it in the first place is not only a waste of money and materials, but a liability to the real research and work that is going on to find truly sustainable solutions to housing construction.

To Live Is to Leave Traces

- Walter Benjamin As the chosen site for my students' sectional exploration of layered architecture in Wuhan, this block contains that complex programmatic adjacencies which have been purged from almost all of the inner cities in the developed world. Textile factories and music schools, dormitories and printing houses, social welfare centres (!), hospitals and speculative housing are all growing on this small hill north of the Yellow Crane Tower. During the next few weeks, my students will explore this area, finally getting to know it better than their own back yard, as they inquire and observe reality through the eyes of the insurgent architect (or better yet, a doctor doing autopsy on the city to know how its inner systems actually work).

Below a few snapshots from my own wandering about.

 

 

Wuhan Studio

From Oct 24 I will be leading a studio in Huazhong University in Wuhan, China. Wuhan is one of China's 2nd-tier cities, a monster growing at fast and steady speed and most presumably governed by crooks (one evidence of which is that they sold one one third of the city's biggest and most famous lake to a real estate developer, so that in the future, the public will not have access to it. Fortunately, the water is anyway too polluted for bathing. I went to Wuhan on a weekend-trip three years ago and I assume the monster has grown by a few hundred square kilometers since then. It'll be great to explore it, now that I am more adapt to the scale and logic of Chinese cities. Until I have more recent photos, here are few from last time in June 2008.

Join the cleanup

After passing more than one year in China and getting engaged in the local market for independent architectural services, I feel that it is time to start adapting my educational background and its preconceived notions of site, programme and regulation to the specific context of working in China.

As far as I can conclude, the context within which I am working is one where the concepts of tradition and modernity are still in conflict. By this I mean that the vast majority of Chinese live in a weave of systems that were developed in the west (although I object to this notion of  longitudinal quasi-cultural polarization), during a post-enlightened era of rapid industrialization, but nevertheless alongside a emerging democracy and increasing political pluralism. These systems, commonly known as socialism (in the political realm) and modernism (in the urban realm), have been imported and consequently distorted by a Chinese mono-cultural totalitarian regime. The same regime that is currently running this country (or at while bearing the same name) has also, in a perverse, twisted travesty of a political conflict, rejected its own culture and historical values, leaving the current generation with no other choice than to adopt a new global culture: Consumerism.

For the past thirty years, China's cities have become the main stage for a socio-economic upgrade on an unprecedented scale. But since these are essentially the same processes the developed countries in the west went through about 80-50 years ago, we are left to look at the incongruities; an authoritarian political system (Socialism with Chinese characteristics) and a vast population (almost twice the size of Europe). The third dimension which is much more difficult to approach, is what you could call Culture. There are many indicators that the business culture in China is the child of a marriage between socialism and confucianism.

Politics aside, it is time for me to find my own purpose. The only way to change things is to do things as good as you can yourself and hopefully inspire others to do so as well. Not that there aren't any good Chinese architects, it's rather an issue with the current Chinese Zeitgeist. Most people here are simply not ready to embrace new and different ideas about how to build. Admittedly, there are many new cities being built in China, but for the most part they look, work and smell the same. For all its image as being a place for experimentation, very few politicians or developers in China go out of their way to fully realize the high ambitions of planners and architects. And there are many examples to back this up.

So what can we do? Hope for the real estate bubble to burst so we eventually get a more balanced and mature market? Well, since this will happen eventually, we can either sit around and wait until the shit hits the fan, or we can try to act now, through small but ambitious projects that might draw a direct line between the verbs locate, design and build. Meaning, we need to realize that there will come a time when architects also in China will have to deal with small-scale projects, renovations and additions. Actually, the prospects for architects working in the "cleanup"-phase of China's future development are indeed looking bright.

So where to start? Bottom-up, unsolicited architecture. Ambitious, sure, but more and more people are doing it, also in China. For example, my previous tutor Li Xiaodong, professor in Tsinghua, built schools in remote villages in China together with his students, and eventually gained international recognition (which led to big commissions for commercial projects which led to a certain loss of credibility).

Nevertheless, during the Studio workshop in Wuhan I aim to locate a community, a local client of some sort, for whom to build in locally sourced materials using our competence as architect builders. Now I don't think this will be easy to realize in the first attempt, but hopefully with time we'll be ably to establish credibilty and enough local connections to carry out more of these projects.

Megacities and the City

Came across this article in Financial Times about the emerging 2nd and 3rd tier cities that will output 40% of global growth in the coming 15 years. In Asia, this growth will come mainly from construction of the cities themselves, which is of course something to question: Why this obsession with this kind of  growth, when the already existing cities in China essentially looks like this:

And the new cities like this:

Which is pretty much exactly like the suburbs built in Europe (mainly) during the heyday of cheap state loans and increasingly poor building quality. The only difference is, back then it was social housing, now they are built with speculation in mind and a large percentage of them are empty empty, in some cases entire new cities without residents. Most of the apartments are already sold, but the rents the owners is not enough to pay back their investment, which means that the investment is based on the presumption that the price will keep rising, which is quite unlikely, in areas that have been proven to be unpopular. After all, people move to cities based on their outlook of finding jobs there, but how many jobs can be found in an empty city?

The best part of the FT article is its concluding point: "(...) according to an Ipsos/Mori poll, Mumbai, a city with 55 per cent of its population living in slums and 65 per cent of its population working in the informal economy, is the “happiest” city in the world, its residents the most satisfied with their quality of life. London, just as astonishingly, comes in at number two."

Cities, like any other man-made products, need to evoke feelings of desire, creativity and joy, otherwise they just become devices for people-storage. Hmm, that sounds vaguely like a cynisist reintepreting Marx.

More on ghost cities here.

The City's recovery

20110818-093141.jpg Courtesy of the new high-pressure weather that so mercifully started hovering above Beijing a few days ago, I am finally seeing, actually seeing, my surroundings for the first time since the summer started 2-3 months ago.

And the other day, when reflecting over the fact that being swept into a haze is, also historically, the default condition for most of China, I could see why it made so much more senseto build around a courtyard rather than isolated elements on a surface. You are not trying to grasp an ungraspable landscape far away, but having full control over your nearest surroundings, your family and your own belongings. Considering the cultural AND climatic aspects, this must be the underlying logic why Chinese (traditional) architecture works the way it does.

This brings me to the next question: What is its current logic? It seems to often come down to one word: Speculation.