Thursday, 28 June 2012

Speculating with Architecture – Architecture Graduate Shows 2012

I was prompted to write this blog posting in response a friend’s comments on the recent architectural graduate shows that are currently on around London and the rest of country. Needless to say he was less than impressed with the work he viewed, dismissing the majority of it as ‘utter crap’ which is having a detrimental effect to the profession as a whole. Worryingly, this ill informed and distressing perception is too common; you only need to look at the BD website comments about the recent Bartlett show to see a number of opinions claiming the work as non-architecturally relevant.

These comments are usually inarticulate and unsubstantiated. One reader even proudly claims that he has never visited any of these shows, but can tell enough from the thumbnail images that they were not ‘architecture’. The absence of any analytical critique and his lack of viewing the work only serve to undermine the validity of his opinion.

Fortunately however these comments are outnumbered by well thought out responses, critique and praise for the creative fervour of these young architects. These responses coming from a place of deeper understanding of the life long process of architectural education. For example:

The Bartlett School of Architecture has historically very often been criticised of its imaginative approach to architecture. From my experience in this school during the past two years, I believe that students and staff see criticism as an essential method for the evolution of creativity and innovative thinking and thus take it very seriously.

I have learnt that "criticism" can lead to the production of knowledge when it is very specific and open to thoughtful discussion, rather than when it is being purely emotional and generic. The way I understand "criticism" in its most dynamic form, is when it is questioning itself.

The variety and depth of analysis on historical, social, political, religious, technical, economical and philosophical questions of the students projects, is articulated in their "portfolios" and "technical reports", where the so called "reality" is the driving force and presupposition for the breeding of their imaginative thoughts and creations.

The show, is exactly a "show", where in most cases, the students present more of a minimum of their creations and research and less of a process. But, I believe that this is exactly the point of a show: To walk through a space where creativity and passion for innovative thinking prevail. If this is crudely called "art", then it is a compliment.'

These shows (and I mean all shows around the country not just the Bartlett) are indeed a celebration of the potential of architecture, stretching its periphery and how it’s defined. The results often leave you feeling invigorated, refreshed, uplifted and inspired! And that’s exactly what these shows should do. As mentioned above we only get to catch a glimpse of the intense and rigorous processes that go behind the work on show but the purpose of the show is to share a small piece of their infectious creative energy.

I hope that these shows remind us that Architecture is not only a profession, nor is it only built work…it’s a discipline, a concept, an event, an act, a process, a time based phenomena... – all the ingredients that make it such a rich and diverse subject. Architecture is primarily a way of doing things and as such it will always seep out and merge into other disciplines.

An integral part of being an architect/ designer is to be able to broach new topics and subjects quickly with a powerful analytical outlook. This is what we’re seeing developing here. The fact that a school like the Bartlett produces students who don’t just enter the world of architecture but go into other disciplines such as film, art, product design, fashion, music etc or become pioneers in, for example, emerging worlds of interactive space and augmented realities is incredibly exciting and illustrates how powerful this creative training is. And for those who do remain in the more ‘traditional’ architecture roles, they tend to be better rounded and successful architects. Why is it that these types of students are so highly sought after by majority the architectural profession?

It’s wonderful to see and to be a student experimenting and speculating about what architecture is and can be, these are very real skills that are imperative to the practicing architect who wants to raise the aspirations of his clients and other stakeholders, find inventive solutions to a brief, help facilitate a conversation with communities about creating unified vision, refine a concept down to the working detail etc. Just looking through a technical report that accompanies a project and you quickly realise the depth of analytical thought and research that has gone into each project...these are not just whimsical ideas floating around in a world of fantasy.

On show at our architectural schools are the early stages of a long process that lasts a lifetime and beyond. Schooling offers a unique opportunity to explore and develop creative faculties, an architectural mindset and rigorous approach. It doesn’t always work or suite everyone although the profession as a whole is looking at widening the ways you can train to be an ‘architect’ (and the way the profession self critiques itself is greatly assisted by the analytical tools you see being demonstrated in our schools).

I hope to be working with some of these young talented architects very soon as they enter back into practice. I am looking forward to their enthusiasm, inventiveness and creativity enriching and challenging my own working practices.

Here are some examples of student work from the Bartlett work featured in the current show. (Apologies for focusing on the Bartlett primarily, I hope to feature work from other schools in the near future. Also apologies if I haven't credited your work for some of the photos I took at the show - contact me and I will)

Ayaka Suzuki - Place Making

BSc Arch Year 1 Library Bed Brass

BSc Arch Year 1 Small Drawing Room Chest Lead

Chimera RC2 Group Project

Fergus Knox Pearl - River Gardens Regeneration Project

Ifigeneia Liangi - Nostalgia of the Future 2013

Katherine Hegab - Gaming monastery, Tokyo

Lewis James - A Catylytic Architecture

Luke Royffee - Macys Balloon assembly of Kermit

Man Fai (Martin) Tang - Eternal Autumnal Micro-climates of Kyoto

Michelle F C Lam - The Tanka Archipelago

Ming Deng - Urban carnival

Tom Smith - Simulating a car crash architecture

Yeung Piu So - Karl Marx Allee Monument

Yolanda Leung  - Refuge and floating research platform

Unit 23

Unit 9

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Wang Shu's Amateur Architecture

'I design a house instead of a building. The house is the amateur architecture approach to the infinitely spontaneous order. Built spontaneously, illegally and temporarily, amateur architecture is equal to professional architecture. But amateur architecture is just not significant.

One problem of professional architecture is, that it thinks too much of a building. A house, which is close to our simple and trivial life, is more fundamental than architecture. Before becoming an architect, I was only a literati. Architecture is part time work to me. For one place, humanity is more important than architecture while simple handicraft is more important than technology.

The attitude of amateur architecture, - though first of all being an attitude towards a critical experimental building process -, can have more entire and fundamental meaning than professional architecture. For me, any building activity without comprehensive thoughtfulness will be insignificant.

Winning this award is something that I had not expected. For many years, I have been pursuing my dream on a solitary course. Before this award, I had never published any architectural design collections or designed any buildings outside of China. I always see myself as an amateur architect, so it was a huge and pleasant surprise for me to receive this honor. I wish to thank the judges for their insight and comments.' - Wang Shu

Pritzker Prize acceptance Speech 

As the first architect born and educated in China to win this award, I accept with both honor and reverence. You should know that China, despite its great architectural tradition, has not had an official system for professional architects over the past thousands of years. Modern architecture as a profession, starting from my teacher's teacher, has only been in existence for three generations, making this award one of special importance for Chinese architects. A young architect myself, I have to say that I owe this award to the age we now live in. It is in this golden age that China has achieved unprecedented prosperity and openness, giving me so many opportunities to make difficult architectural experiments in a short span of time. Here, I wish to thank my partner Lu Wenyu and all my friends who have helped me before. Yes, I can see some of you in this room today.

Maybe it is because the professional architecture system in this country is still in its infancy stage, or maybe it is because so many things have happened in the past decades, but I still remember that 30 years ago, when I was studying at the architecture department of Nanjing Institute of Technology, "What is architecture?" was the question most often raised. Once, Mr. Tong Jun, my respected professor, who is also the first architect in modern China to study traditional gardens, was asked this same question by a humble student. His answer was simple, "Architecture is just a small thing."

Yet, it is this small thing that has profoundly changed the outlook of China and the lives of the Chinese people over the past 30 years. It has been a process full of experiments and confusions. As an architecture student who had read too much philosophy at school, I first embraced modern architecture with full passion, and then quickly turned my attention to post-modern architecture. Just as I was starting to feel bored about the extensively artificial features of the modern buildings, I fell in love with deconstruction philosophy and architecture. I was so excited that I even designed and built several deconstructive buildings myself. But throughout the process I was confused by the same question, "Are my buildings deeply rooted in my own culture?" This was one of the reasons why I chose to live in seclusion in the 1990s. I withdrew from the professional architecture system, and turned to the renovation of old buildings. I spent days and nights working with local craftsmen. And I realized that compared with modern buildings that are more about fabrication, there is another type of building that recognizes things that are already in existence. Unlike modern buildings that focus on abstract space, this other type of building focused on creating a sense of place and connecting with the past. And compared with buildings carrying a strong human imprint, traditional Chinese buildings are closer to nature, taking architecture to a whole new horizon. It is an entirely different world of architecture that I had never seen or learned before, but it contains something more valuable than what modern buildings can offer. If modern architecture is all about the professional architecture system, I would rather call myself an amateur.

All my architectural activities so far have taken place in and for China, but the issues involved in these activities are not confined to China. Many of the architecture-related issues that have emerged in China amidst tectonic changes in the past decades have all been experienced in other parts of the world, although they are taking place in China on a larger scale, with a stronger impact and at a faster speed. In a country that only had craftsmen but not architects just 100 years ago, such changes have resulted in a sharp conflict of civilizations. Therefore, architects should not just see themselves as professional technicians, but also demonstrate a wider perspective, deeper thinking, clearer values and conviction.

In all of my architectural design activities I have constantly asked myself the following questions: How can an architecture founded on craftsmanship survive in today's world? What is the relevance of the traditional Chinese landscape system in a world filled with gigantic artificial structures? In a society undergoing massive city-building campaigns, how should urban development be handled without resorting to major demolition and reconstruction? How can new urban buildings connect with memories of the past–that might be otherwise lost as structures are demolished–and re-establish their cultural identities? What can be done in the realm of architecture to overcome the stark contrast between urban and rural areas in China? Is it possible to ensure that alongside the top-down professional system of modern architecture, ordinary people’s right to initiate their own building activities is also protected? Is it possible to find smarter ways for addressing environmental and ecological challenges by drawing on the wisdom found in traditional architecture and grassroots building activities? Is there a way for us to express our architectural pursuit with stories and feelings without resorting to gigantic, symbolic and iconic structures? How can an independent architect maintain the attitude and work style against the background of a powerful modern system?

I always say that I am not just designing a building, but a world of diversity and difference and a path that leads us back to nature. These are the questions I was asking myself when I learned I was given the award, and these are the questions I will continue to focus on in my future endeavors.