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)


Unbuilt and rebuilt

Last week I was reading some references for my upcoming book project about Yongding river in western Beijing. One of them is Subnature by David Gissen, in which a number of "man-made" natures, the biological biproducts of urban activitites, are given special focus. In each chapter, Gissen retells the historical and philosophical background of a Subnature; how and in which context it has appeared in historical documents, how it has been used and viewed upon, and finally pairing it with one or a few contemporary projects which explore its architectural potential. The book devides these Subnatures into three categories: Atmospheres (Dankness, smoke, exhaust), Matter (Dust, debris, mud) and Life (weeds, pigeons, crowds).

Featured in the chapter about debris is Arata Isozakis Re-ruined Hiroshima from 1968, a project emerging from a mutual fascination for one the one hand ruins and on the other superstructures. In his collage the wasteland of post-nuclear Hiroshima provides a backdrop for these mysterious structures which, either appear to be constructed from the debris of the destroyed city, or, in a more fantastic interpretation, landed from above like an alien object, ready to redistribute themselves as the raw material for a new city fabric.

Either way, his striking view of this obliterated city seems curiously familiar when confronted with the desolate images inundating us, from the same country albeit further North. I am not someone to romanticize on destruction, especially with the (abstract) knowledge of how many lives were taken out and chronically disrupted by the earthquake and following tsunami. Yet one can't help start to wonder what kind of architectural response could be triggered by this devastating event.


If we conclude that the last decade in Japanese architecture has been characterized by playfulness, lightness and experimentation, it is also important to note that these tendencies to a large extent are restricted to a particular scale; that of single-family semi-detached suburban house. This limitation could of course be attributed to the level of development that Japan has reached, which on a larger scale has been coined the Japanese Economy Stagnation. In other words, large-scale construction is no longer a main component of the economy. Instead, the combination of a refined and well-educated middle-class and rather permitting urban policies have given rise to the continuous stream of meticulous photos of experimental houses reaching the laptops and coffee-table magazines of admiring (if not to say, jealous) architects around the world. Currently, though, we are perhaps not so jealous. The amount of damage done to the Japanese cities in the vicinity of the earthquake and tsunami are not small. Nevertheless, a few days after the earthquake, Japanese stocks were again rising because of the immanent need of reconstruction, which will generate well-needed growth to the economy.

Putting the economic issues aside, I am curious to see if and how our Japanese colleagues will change their practice in the coming years. Finally, an photo of Toyo Ito's Sendai Mediatheque after the earthquake. Badly damaged, it actually looks worse than it is, as the structure is still standing and most of the debris in the image seems to deriving from the suspended ceiling.