February 27th, 2011
Recently I have taken up with good company.
I began work as researcher and studio prof at Keio University last month and was able to take part in a two day conference held by my faculty that tried to join together environmental scientists with architects and planners from around the world.
I say tried because in the end there was not a lot of communication between the two groups. I suppose I should not be surprised by that, but I am. It is a pity too, because it seems to me that each of the fields has something to learn from the other.
Perhaps this is why progress on environmental issues is so numbingly slow.
Fumihiko Maki + Kazuyo Sejima
There were many interesting presentations beside those offered by the star-architects, including a lecture on planning in China by James Brearley, and on designing schools in gang-ridden areas of Cape Town (South Africa) by Heinrich Wolff.
But for me personally the most interesting was a lecture from a Chinese architect named Wang Shu, who is one of the principals of an interestingly named office called Amateur Architecture Studio. He is also the head of the Architecture school at the China Academy of Art, in HangZhou - where he has designed and seen built a number of buildings created according to an idea about architecture that accepts modernity, but mixes in an appealing willingness to appropriate materials and ideas from the past without resorting to nostalgia.
At Chinese Architects dot com he describes his approach to architecture as being grounded in an amateur perspective, which allows a kind of wilful ignorance about correctness and allows him to take on a less formal approach to design.
“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.”
I found his work particularly interesting because it avoids being overly pre-occupied with rejecting the deficiencies of modern design. Instead it is based in acceptance - of the past, of the future, of tradition, and of experimentation. Appropriate to our current age of mashups, really. The idea is happily and purposefully naive, and I think a nice way to get more out of the opportunities that he finds before him. Even if a person disagrees with the aesthetic, the basic presumption is hard to argue with.
If only the climate scientists had shown up and joined in the discussions that took place in the morning workshops with the architects. My hope is that the conference we put together next year will be arranged to do just that.
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