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.




God is in the details

20110630-210349.jpg I am sitting on the cheap but slow train from Malmö to Stockholm, where the French-owned operator is generous enough to include free wifi. But since I don't know what to use it for, I am using this delightful vacant time to read one of the the books I brought: Cradle to Cradle. Yes, as a manifesto for a cyclic and holistic approach to design it might be a bit dated; these days every other project on design blogs have feature which "give back" something to the environment they have been designed for.

One such example was a new type of concrete that absorbs Co2 from the air in the manufacturing process. More interestingly, the article was found in Wired magazine. You may excuse me for not being a dedicated Wired reader, but there is something refreshing about such an earthy piece of news in a magazine about the likes of Steve Jobs and Google-spinoffs.

As I am washed in broken sunset blaze spreading out across the Swedish Midlands I can't help but hope that there is a possible future when the stuff we create and consume actually are a part of the ecosystem. No doubt there is a long way to go, and all the plastic bags in the Pacific waste dump will never be safely incinerated, but as the public grows increasingly aware of the collective planetary impact of their individual behaviour, we stand a chance of making that fundamental shift needed to stay on this planet.

Re-quoting a 1992 conversation from the above mentioned book: Republican White House representative: " I see. You want an endangered species act for the whole world...and the devil is in the details". Evolutionary biologist: " No, Sir. God is in the details."

Whatever we do as designers, we'll never be able to match the almighty. So far, we have created such a gap between ourselves and nature that we have a lot of "giving back" to do before we can safely re-enter the eco system that surround us.

Revisited Mutations

Zhuhai - A city in the Pearl River Delta with "air so clean that it could be bottled and sold to other countries"

This afternoon when rereading Rem Koolhaas' text on the Pearl River Delta I was taken aback by this impressionist statement of the late 20th century (Originally from 1997, the text was published in Mutations (Actar, 2001)). What always strikes me about Rem's texts is their frankness; ultimately his ability to address an urban situation with the clarity of an overseas correspondent condensing a complex domestic situation into a three-minute recorded monologue. Explicitly, it is about finding keywords; in the case of his PRD Project on The City research, seventy-five of them.

Below are some of my favourite extracts:

"As a city, it represents nothing more or less than the coexistence of a number of apparently unconnected buildings which, by the simple fact of sharing a certain proximity, form an urban condition and which is inhabited without apparent anxiety."

"In China, curtain wall is sometimes pronounced "curtain war", and this has become one of our copyrighted terms: "The competition between architectures using the maximum variety that the glass-panel allows".

"Between the design of Central Park and our image of it, at least a hundred years went by. In Shenzhen, it only took seven."

"What does it mean to become Singapore? Here, above all, it has meant clearing unbelievable sections of ground in an orgy of tabula rasa where it seems as if the act of clearing becomes an act of faith. There is an apparently sacred pleasure in creating void spaces where tabula rasa is no longer an anticipation, but almost an autonomous condition."

"If China is destined to become a market economy, today it is only speculative and addressed to the rich. It is unthinkable that in the foreseeable future it will adopt certain things that we traditionally associate with the market economy, the first of which is profit. Here it is only a matter of speculation in terms of a future condition, linked perhaps to the incredible speculative energy of a communist system that always explained and amnestied the present with regard to an ideal future condition."

I cannot help but wonder what conclusions would be made if Rem and his research team returned to PRD ten years after (at least) these clear-cut statements and readdressed the situation. What predictions were correct? My impression is that most of the observations still are spot-on, while leaving a few of his comments on the speculative nature of the Chinese economy without further comment.


Yesterday a long awaited book was finally delivered to our door: CHANCE from the series Documents of Contemporary Art (MIT Press, 2010). Compiling texts on  20 or so conceptual artists that all have worked with the unpredictable as a main driver of the work, the book narrows down the concept of chance to a few - shall we call it - case studies. The most reoccurring artists Marcel Duchamp and John Cage fail to surprise me. Needless to say, the importance of the former is monumental. The fact that Duchamp held an all-embracing attitude towards chance is perhaps the most prominent aspect of his work. Cage, on the other hand, is still quite unknown to me, and I am looking forward to getting a broader sense of his works and impact. For my part, the concept of chance remains quite important. In the projects I have developed in the past three years I have left part of the design to chance with, shall I say, mixed, but predominant success. It is with this in mind that I aim to look deeper into the art(y) references to understand the potentials of chance as an ingredient in an architectural exploration.

Below are some images from my thesis project LINE-POINT-FIELD where I used a Drawing Machine - essentially a table with a number of acrylic plates and a projected mounted at the bottom -  to distort and reproduce my original drawings. As a strategy to achieve a level of complexity that would be difficult to design, this tool did what I wanted it to. Bringing the table into the photo lab, I allowed the force of light to play a role in the process. Despite not using the drawings directly in my project, the logic related to the drawing machine became very important for the further conceptualisation.