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Global Architecture Platform

Pure Architectural Experience

Conversation with Yung Ho Chang

NEXT Economic Conditions
How might the coronavirus crisis question the current form of globalisation and could make it evolve? How might this impact architecture?

While I do not have much a sense for economy, I would like to invite everyone to imagine a specific, possibly new model of globalization with me: It is a model that is inspired by the FabLab. Founded by Professor Neil Gershenfeld at MIT, the FabLab is concerned with personal fabrication. To me however, what the Lab does essentially is to distribute knowledge and information for free so that people with little resources in relatively remote locations, such as parts of rural Africa, would be able to access these technologies developed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, without charges and with local materials plus a few pieces of basic equipment – a computer and a laser cutter, which can be shipped in from elsewhere if necessary – build shelters and improve their lives themselves. Now, let’s consider this: What if, on the disseminating end, there is more than the FabLab or MIT? On the receiving end, besides the farmers and people suffering poverty, there are also the millions of urban small business owners and individual practitioners around the world? And, what is transmitted from one end to another is not only knowledge about fabrication but also all sorts of design tools, even business models and cooking recipes.

This will certainly not be the same old globalization that involved colossal amount of shipping and traveling. It is all about sharing intelligence through the internet. If that happens, the world will be perhaps less controlled by just a few and made more equal. Some of the major research institutions would likely play the central role in developing such network and could become extremely powerful; however, once the sharing begins, more and more people will be both benefiters as well as providers. A possible byproduct of this global knowledge sharing might constitute a challenge to the capitalistic labor division: A barber may produce face masks and an architect’s office may turn into a bakery, if needed, with the assistance from a direct connection with a remotely located knowledge center. If globalization will no longer be monopolized by big corporations and states, shall we call the version I just described People’s Globalism or John Lennon’s Globalism: Imagine there is no country?

NEXT Environmental Conditions
How might the current situation influence our relationship with nature? How could environmental discourses respond to it?

The coronavirus pandemic has both destroyed and cleaned our living environment. We have witnessed that urban public spaces are now an endangered species but didn’t we also see a direction for climate change? Which, in a nut shell, is about changing our lifestyles or simply slowing down, beside an overhaul of our economy. Slow Food Movement might be a good example. We produce more waste and less quality while rushing. Slowing down can be the departure to reflect upon and solve the environmental crisis that is bigger than Covid-19. When we have the time to appreciate the blue sky, I think we will be more creative about saving it. Shall we start a Slow Everything Movement?

NEXT Spatial Conditions
How might the sudden acceleration of the virtual in both private and public spheres impact our way of living and our relationship with space?

The pandemic has also made it clear to us that we no longer need the physical spaces as much as we did before: In past three months, I have attended Zoom conferences with clients and colleagues, Zoom reviews with students, Zoom lectures both in the audience and as speaker, and even a Zoom birthday party with friends from three continents and five cities. It all worked out well; however, this practical cyber space that we conveniently and extensively occupy today does not offer us genuine architectural experience. Virtual reality comes slightly closer but still does not generate any of the sensations of space, weight, texture, temperature, light, and this list goes on and on… I may have been impressed by the technological magic of the digital environment but have never been emotionally moved by it. And I don’t think I’m the only one. Furthermore, to suggest that the intangible realm would be capable of completely replacing the tangible one seems to me a total denial of the meaning of our earthly existence. Don’t we remember, in Wim Wenders’ movie The Sky over Berlin, the angel wants to be a human?

Therefore, I would like to suggest that it only makes sense if we create better, more elaborate, even more pure architecture in the tangible reality. An intensified experience of architecture can compensate the banality of the online landscape. It might appear to be a merely personal opinion, yet, in our practice we are receiving increasingly more commissions, the clients of which ask for something more than functional buildings that are worth visiting or inhabiting. For an art museum in Wuzhen, which is currently under construction, we manipulated the perspectives to address the issue of the immeasurability of space and time beside housing a painting collection while guiding the visitors on a meandering journey through a rather tight site. For another project, we designed pure architectural experience: On the great prairie of the Inner Mongolia, we proposed structures for visitors to look up at the sky, down into the earth, as well as to achieve horizontal and vertical views of the grassland in order to amplify the sense of being in a special geographical locale. This is to say that because some technology tends to gear people away from the tactile architecture, architects ought to produce imaginative spatial experience, innovative structures, and thoughtful craft to bring them back, also with the help of some technology.

04.Jun.2020 1089 views
TRANSFER NEXT Yu Hong Chang Yung Ho Chang

Yung Ho Chang is one of the Founding Partners and Principal Architect of Atelier Feichang Jianzhu, and Professor of the Practice and former Head, Architecture Department, MIT as well as Professor, Tongji University. Educated both in China and in the US, Chang received Master of Architecture degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1984. Since 1992, he has been practicing in China and established Atelier Feichang Jianzhu (FCJZ) with Lijia Lu in 1993. He has won a number of prizes, such the 2000 UNESCO Prize for the Promotion of the Arts, and the Academy Award in Architecture from American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2006. FCJZ has been recognized as one of the 100+ Best Architecture Firms 2019 by Domus magazine. Recently, Jishou Art Museum designed by FCJZ has won the American Institute of Architects 2020 Architecture Award. From 2011 to 2017, he was a Pritzker Prize Jury member.

The stopped present could be a good place from which to look at the near past and, most of all, the future.

TRANSFER NEXT aims to invite shared reflections on the new scene that coronavirus will probably usher in.

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