Soft City - Forum, temporary pavilion and workshops

I am developing a project for Beijing Design Week 2016 called SOFT CITY, a multidisciplinary project including a temporary space made up of an inflated textile canopy, an international forum with two discussion panels, and a series of workshops and events in the pavilion.

For more information about the project visit soft-city.org

 First draft image of the Octopus Pavilion on site in Baitasi

First draft image of the Octopus Pavilion on site in Baitasi

 A more recent visualisation of the inflated conapy

A more recent visualisation of the inflated conapy

Prel_plan

IFP at Beijing Design Week

Don't miss IFP's shows during the design week. There is a lot going on around town but this is an antidote to the flatness of most of the design week programme. For some thoroughbred art and alternative design, come over, open your senses and stay for a while. More info at blacksesame.org

 

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Re(son)Art. Public Action and conference

Together with artist and IFP collaborator Tianji Zhao, I will participate in a conference on artistic research and public action at Centre for Architecture and Design in Stockholm Sept 9-12. Our contribution to the public actions, 'Hold Your Breath' will be performed in public space during the conference. More about the conference here

On Sept 12th I will also give a presentation about IFP at IASPIS/Konstnärsnämnden.

Looking forward to being back in Stockholm!

 

Image above from 'Parking Day Phoenix 2012'

In progress: Black Sesame

I am currently renovating a new space for art and design, located next to IFP Studio in Heizhima hutong 13. The space is shared between IFP, WAM/万物 and Here & Now Studio and will be used for exhibitions, installations, workshops and alike. The official opening will be some time in June. Below are some snapshots of the current state of renovation:

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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.

Metamorphosis

I had seen some of Günther Domenig's work, but this bank (sic) building in Vienna is outright bizarre. I don't know whether to be excited or disgusted... but for sure some of the ideas carried out here are epic. The guy must have read Kafka's Metamorphosis during the concept phase because if it doesn't look like a giant insect of a bank building, I don't know what.

 

This looks mostly like the underside of Darth Vader's mask in scale 50:1

And the inside is somewhat anatomical...

Domenig, who sadly passed away last week, is one of those extremely talented visionaries who became hugely influential among a younger group of architects; Wolf Prix, Zaha Hadid, Thom Mayne, the ones that were better at branding themselves and reaching out internationally. The few buildings that were built by this master are worth a closer look, as they will reveal the source for much of the formal language seen in many projects by the above mentioned above (and others).

Read more at: http://www.domusweb.it/en/from-the-archive/remembering-gunther-domenig/

re-iterate: Dashalar

 

Later this month, friend and colleague Jordan Kanter will be running a workshop in Beijing together with Gilles Retsin (AA-DRL, Kokkugia). The workshop will be based in Dashalar, one of the most dynamic and well-preserved parts of the historic city of Beijing. Collaborators are CMoDa, a platform for digital art and crafts, fronted by former NOTCH organizer Yang Lei.

More info below:

 

// Workshop Overview

Ecology of Objects In the course of this 10 day workshop, we will explore new techniques for mapping, cataloguing and intervening in the processes of development of the Chinese city. Working directly in the streets, alleys and buildings of the historic Dashila district in central Beijing, we will trace the particular patterns of inhabitation, use/reuse, production and exchange, documenting the ways these processes are materialized in the physical structures of the site. Working out from this “ecology of objects,” this workshop aims to explore new perspectives for activating, illuminating and informing new meaning to the everyday spaces of the city.

Participatory Mapping // Object Oriented Urbanism This work proceeds in two independent, but increasingly interwoven tracks: on the one hand, the revitalization of the Situationist approach of participatory mapping to unveil the underlying, often hidden dimensions of city identity, formation and logic; on the other hand, the development of a computational platform custom built in the Processing coding language, allowing for the visualization and manipulation of the various objects and elements – both concrete and ephemeral – encountered in the site. This begins an exploratory process into possibilities for reconfiguration, mutation, remediation, logistical reorganization, etc. in the building up of city form that is both historically grounded and radically new.

Exhibition @ CMoDA (Chinese Museum of Digital Art) + Beijing Design Week We will work directly with the agencies responsible for the development of the Dashila district to envision strategies for dynamic, iterative interventions into the fabric of the neighborhood. This will be an intensive, team-based effort with the aim of generating exhibition quality work. We will employ a variety of overlapping media (diagrams, maps, renderings, video, animation, interactive computer scripts, etc.) to communicate the logics, narratives and iterative systems at work. The results of this workshop (and a previous workshop held in Dalian) will be exhibited at the 2012 Beijing Design Week and the GeoCity Smart City exhibition at the China Museum of Digital Art (CMoDA). The workshop is open to architects, landscape architects, urban designers and planners, geographers, artists, filmmakers and anyone interested in the intersection of city development, computation and design. No coding experience required.

// Instructors: Jordan Kanter (SCI_Arc, FuturePlay), Guest Instructors TBD

// Techniques: Processing, Rhino/Vray, Illustrator/Photoshop, Geotracking/Geotagging, Basic Film Editing + Motion Graphics

// Sponsors/Collaborators: CMoDA, Dashila(b), 北京大栅栏投资有限责任公司 Beijing Dashilar Investment Limited, 北京广安控股有限公司及旗下的北京大栅栏投资有限责任公司 Beijing Guang’An Holdings and Beijing Dashilar Investment Limited

// Dates: 2012/08/22  –  2012/08/31

// Location: Beijing Shijingshan Electrical Relay Factory, No. 8 Dawailangying Hutong, Dashila’r  石景山继电器厂分厂8号

// Workshop Fee: 500 rmb

// Apply: send resume + work samples (under 2MB) to j.kanter@gmail.com

 

http://foundcity.blog.com/

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)

Beyond Wang Shu

In connection to the recent appointment of Wang Shu as this year's Pritzker Prize winner, I recall a thought that I had around the same time last year when the prize was given to Edouardo Souto de Moura. My first reaction at the time was, probably like many others, that this prize is out of date. Not that Souto de Moura is not an accomplished architect, but in relation to the long list of previous laureates, most of them already well-known to the general public when they got the prize, he is a local Portugues architect with solid practice and a few good buildings to his name. No masterpieces, but quite nice. There had been a few laureates in the past with similar scale of output, and Souto de Moura was perhaps better known than in the architecture world than Sverre Fehn by the time he got his prize. But there was another aspect that made me conclude that this kind of prize has played out its role. The previous year, the prize went to Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, who work together but also run their own individual practices. As many of the previous laureates, they have discovered new territory in the field of architecture and also created a long line of followers in their home country and elsewhere. This can hardly be said about the modest Portuguese who is mostly known as a former disciple of master builder and laureate, Alvaro Siza. There was a sense of lack of imagination in the jury's choice. Without doubt, there were other people more qualified to enter this exclusive club solely based on their contribution to the field. Indeed, the political dimension of this kind of prestigious award; the implied geographical correctness often works as a block for giving the prize to the same country or region too often. Many issues make it problematic: Either the choice is too predictable, too controversial or not famous enough.

The most difficult thing to overcome though, is that an increasing amount of architecture practices are formed as collectives, without a recognizable "mastermind". All the efforts needed in the process of erecting a building are by definition in need of a collective, as everything from drafting a programme to design to construction has a number of agents who provide their part of the process. More importantly, many offices are set up so that a group collectively produce designs which are then selected, and therefore the principals work more as an editors rather than designers. This needn't reduce their influence in the design process or even the end result, but when a collective efforts of a practice of several hundred architects can be reduced to that of one, then I believe something has been missed.

Until this year's appointment of Wang Shu, I felt that giving this kind of prizes to individual architects somehow feels outdated in the current world of architecture. The whole idea of the eccentric architect sitting at his drafting table next to a dried-out cup of coffee at 10pm sketching on manifold with thick 8B pencil feels kind of murky, perhaps also because this is my experience growing up. The photo of Souto de Moura by his desk did not exactly help to erase this image.

After reading Brendan's comment in Domus that I wrote about earlier today, and getting his secondary comment, I felt I had to empty all my possible points of view on this matter, only to realise that the prize actually has a purpose, and that it can reach deeper into the system and attempt to execute its influence more than it ever has in the past. Wang Shu might still be young, perhaps too young (some of his work could use a little of Eduoardo's austerity) but he is bold and smart enough to understand how he can do the most good. He realized early in his career that building in China is about putting things together, through a poetic game of give and take with the craftsmen. So far, I have only seen a handful of building that was carried out in full according to the architect's drawings. There is simply too big a gap between what we envision and how this vision will be executed. The only way to achieve something new in architecture in China is to explore that gap, and to invent by combining the existing construction technologies into new typologies and methods.

There is actually not a big difference between the two most recent laureates. They are both simple, noncommercial, nonfamous architects firmly grounded in their local traditions. In the end, the revolutionary thing about this prize is the fact that it praises individuals, who distinguish themselves through a high level of integrity in a world where architects have taken part in the collective demolition and eradication of thousands of years of history.

The Pritzker prize will doubtlessly bring Wang Shu a lot of fame, not at least in China. But while this new spotlight has already caused an inflated sense of self-pride in the motherland,  Mr Wang himself will presumeably keep building his career with brick, tiles and mortar.

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.

 

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

Retrospective addition

As we were in a crucial stage of the workshop last Wednesday for the final lecture, I didn't post anything about WAI's talk. I'd like to resume to that evening and recall some of the works they presented and the discussion which followed. WAI is Cruz Garcia and Nathalie Frankowski, and they present themselves both as a small architectural practice and a think tank that is trying to push the current discourse on architecture (or lack thereof) from a superficial flow of images (mainly on the web through blogs) towards a critical discussion about the role of architecture and architects in today's globalized consumer society. The projects they presented range from fairly conventional architecture proposals (fotball school in Puerto Rico, Fashion Museum in Tokyo) to speculative projects on preservation in Beijing, fictional movie makeovers and analysis of "hard core" architectural forms.

The lecture was a compressed version of one they did recently at the University of Puerto Rico, and apart from a few projects that were presented more in-depth, it was mostly a rather forced stream of images, including renderings from well-known global practices and drawings from architectural history, cut and pasted into new or rediscovered contexts. Despite the obvious ambition of dragging such a vast range of architectural expression into the same room for discussion and comparison, the presentation came across as somewhat superficial, and this was also well put by one member of the audience, calling it a "glossy lecture". I am quite sure this was not the intention of Ms Frankowski and Mr Garcia, they obviously tried hard to get all their ideas across by compressing this rather extensive presentation into less than half of its normal length.

This might not have been a good choice, as there was an overwhelming sense of image-washing in this which ended in a cascade of spot-the-manifesto accompanied by a loony jazz tune. Ironically, they also mentioned the problem of architectural drawings and collages being presented in museums all over the world as pure images, without the idea-historical context in which they were made. Truthfully, any image can be manipulated and reread through the way they are presented, and this is exactly the point that was being made. Rather than questioning this fact, I understand their work as personal interpretations, quite speculative sometimes, but very conscious.

Although they do write regularly for a number of architecture magazines, WAI's work seems very focused on images. Without them, the writing comes across as rather superfluous, reducing historical events to one-liners and focusing on the iconization of architecture. A relevant topic all the same, I can't say I am a big fan of the idea of using more images to fight the overflow of images, but if you are good at something, keep doing it. Indeed the most interesting projects presented were the more personal ones like the Wall Stalker story and the Beijing preservation monument tower.

Now I am starting to think of WAI as architecture theory's Kanye West: Young, ambitious and confident enough to be sampling from some of history's real tours-de-force, creating a new, imaginative and pretty groovy universe. All we need now is that they attack the next Pritzker Prize winner during then ceremony and claim it themselves. Keep it up, Nathalie and Cruz.

 

 

ITERATION and conclusion

 

It's now been two days since we drew our last screws into the two projects that became the product of the ITERATE workshop. The first thing I want to do is to thank our dedicated students Song Yating, Zhai Jingyang, Wu Yulun and Yangyang Seunghee. Without their adventurous choice of joining this speculative workshop, it would not have taken place. The fact that we had a group of students pushed us to do our homework and prepare a rigorous theoretical framework for our exploration, presenting a wide range of precedents and references from many different fields. The point being that we are operating in a field that crosses over to many other disciplines, and the two pieces that came out of the workshop also constitute an ambiguous result in terms of definition.

Defining what it is we made is perhaps not the most important issue here, but it still one of the crucial points of criticism that we are now facing. Early Sunday morning I received a phone call from our landlord saying that a group of neighbours had gathered in the courtyard in protest of the installation of sticks and string designed by student Yangyang Seunghee. The problem was not only that we had failed to inform all the neighbours in the courtyard behind, but also that these suspended objects were hanging at a height where you would have to crouch down to avoid collision, creating an especially precarious condition because of the lack of lighting during night time.

In a different context though, this installation might have been understood as a temporary artwork which could be spared a few hours of existence, but in the context of one of the few remaining preserved Beijing courtyards, it was seen by the local retired residents as a threat to their security and therefore must be taken down. To make it simple, we were naive towards our neighbours' capacity to accept a temporary piece which would force them to take a different route, and they were perhaps overly dramatic in their reactions against this alien object. Nevertheless, it is worth reflecting on the consequences and how they could have been avoided.

Which leads me back to the main topic; the content of our exploration and conclusions which can be drawn from it.

There was a series of underlying notions in the formulation of the framework this workshop, and by extension in the research project that now has started. From my own side, I would like to stress the ideological aspect of our project: Addressing the prevailing issue of the credibility of our contemporary consumer society. The workshop addresses this issue in two direct ways: By limiting our source of material to used or discarded matter, things that would have been disposed of in landfills or incinerated, we would not impose unnecessary pressure to the environment for the purpose of developing a specific new knowledge. The fact that these objects have unique variations in terms of form, colour and texture as well as possessing their own latent history, make them all the more gratifying to work with. In addition, we explored the social aspect of how these objects can be retrieved and harvested in the specific context of Beijing's old city. The second point is the fact that the tool we used in the reconfiguration/design of these materials, Processing, is a free, open-source software and coding language. This of course means that while you as a designer first have to design and customize your tool in order for it to become efficient, it also brings a lot of advantages. During the past two weeks we only scratched the surface of the possibilities offered by using this environment, but the future process will be directed towards developing and streamlining the code to our use.

Another major aspect is of course that of using our abilities as designers to propose and speculate on solutions for local and global issues. This aspect of the workshop is perhaps where we failed. Despite an ambitious level of research in the way some materials are used and how they are instrumental in the accretion of small reclaimed spaces in the hutongs of Beijing, the connection between our design process and these issues became increasingly blurred in the second week. In many ways, it is just as important to learn new tools as to be critical to them while they are being applied.

With better planning and stronger focus for the Processing classes, we would probably have come further in the form explorations on an earlier stage, giving more time to establish a solid relationship between our materials and the environment in which they were found. To resume to our mission statement, we wanted to explore the intersection between design, computation and public space. By designing without specificity in neither user nor site and erecting the pieces in a sheltered, semi-private courtyard we not only avoided confrontation with the public, but projected an sense of arrogance towards the local community. Instead of allowing our neighbours and our initiated friends from outside to meet inside a common fascination for our research, and despite good intentions, the works provoked a sense of alienation from the point of view of our neighbours.

 

To conclude, I would like to see this experience as part of an ongoing process, in which we tap into a wide range of material flows in the city, in production processes and socio-economic systems and reformulate unwanted output into operational synergies. In other words, turning waste, in whatever scale, into desirable matter.

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

Junkitecture and wood SUV's

This text was originally posted on the blog of the upcoming workshop I am currently organizing in my studio, starting next week. Through the collection of reference projects, I have come across a few very interesting practices, and here is one of them:  

The work of German duo Köbberling Kaltwasser address a very contemporary issue with sophisticated social criticism and humour. Through their remodeling of redundant commodities: turning scrapped cars into bicycles, raising self-made pavilions from debris on empty lots in Berlin, and building a temporary theatre out of disused woodboards and pallets, they are seemingly interested in the processes of consumtion and its environmental impact. But this is not an idealist practice with a "save-the-world" approach. The issues they address also reach beyond the idea of reuse.

As an artist-architect couple, Folke Köbberling and Martin Kaltwasser also deal with sensitive ideological aspects of their own native country of Germany. By building full-scale models of Audi and Porche SUV's, they are poking at something deeply embedded in the identity of the engineered German society: Despite its ability to solve serious problems, most of the engineering ingenuity goes into creating advanced metal monsters for consumption with giant's appetite for fossil fuels, eating up valuable land in our cities.

Below a few of their works:

Musterhaus (Model House), Berlin 2006

Built on a green area of the Martin Gropius Bau premises in Berlin, the Musterhaus (Model House) is a one-family prefab model house. In its cube shape it rather resembles the T-Com House, a hightech house which a manufacturer of prefabricated houses has put on show in central Berlin to advertise the delights of suburban life. In contrast to this, we have made the Musterhaus from materials that are widely available on Berlin’s streets, disused lots and building sites: bulky scrap, used materials, random finds and construction waste. We put these production cycle rejects to new use and imitate the cultural technique of direct, sustainable, user-based recycling which is primarily practiced in the southern hemisphere. The Musterhaus brings the globally prevalent concept of informal building, which has also characterised the recent urban development of Istanbul, to the heart of central Berlin. The Musterhaus, just a stone’s throw from Potsdamer Platz, forms a marked contrast to the Berlin monoculture of block buildings and the rigid plans for the city’s urban development.

 

 

Jellyfish theatre, London 2010

Built from locally sourced discarded materials by 100 volounteers during the summer of 2012, the Jellyfish was used as a theatre for the Red Room Theatre Company. Seating 120 and featuring a lounge, dressing corridor and backstage area, the creation also created quite a lot of PR for the theatre, igniting discussions about the Themes South Bank area in which it was placed.

 

Crushed Cayenne (2007)

 

Koolhaas on ice

 

"SPIEGEL: Just now, when we were in HafenCity, standing in the new Unilever headquarters building designed by the Behnisch architecture firm, you said that ugliness can make a building more open.

Koolhaas: I don't think the Unilever headquarters is ugly. But the building is more disorganized and more chaotic. And disorder can have a stimulating effect. It is more accessible to people than a rigid form. What's more, it was louder there. But, with time, you'll get louder here. You seem a little unhappy with this building that was built for you. And you are skeptical about this new neighborhood in which the building is located. I get the feeling that what you need from me isn't so much an interview as an hour of therapy."

For more architectureal acidity read the full interview here.