Brutalism, with Chinese Characteristics

HK - Central Mid Levels Escalators (Again) (4)

Honest revelation of tectonics and materiality. The social potential of architectural form. As the world enters an era of mass-urbanization, the primary ambitions of the Brutalist project are more relevant now than ever.

While only architects and masochists could love Brutalism’s eponymous concrete (and let’s see that Venn diagram!), the spatial and social ambitions of the Brutalist movement remain relevant as the world enters an era of mass-urbanization, the first waves of which are most acutely felt in Asia’s megacities. Continue reading

Amateur Architecture: a New Vernacular?

Amateur Architecture: A New Vernacular?

Evan Chakroff | March 11th, 2012

[Note: this essay was originally posted as a feature article on Archinect, March 11th, 2012. The portion on the Ningbo History Museum was originally published in Log #24, Spring 2012]

Wang Shu may be a surprising choice for this year’s Pritzker Prize, but it’s an excellent one, and well-deserved. In recent years the Pritzker Committee has gravitated towards architects who produce work with an innate understanding of place, allowing their ties to local culture to infuse their work. The choice of Wang Shu (and, by extension, of Amateur Architecture and partner Lu Wenyu) continues this trend: his work is as culturally-sensitive and contextually responsive as it is aesthetically stunning.

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Ruins of an Alternate Future: Jinhua Architecture Park

One of the great, if seldom realized, promises of architecture is its capacity to affect change. The best architects seem to have this potential in mind constantly as they structure career-length narratives around the social impact that good design can achieve. While this is often hyperbole, and most projects are driven by functional or economic considerations, there is the occasional opportunity for artists and architects to create purely speculative work, where radical departures from established typologies suggest alternatives to the status quo. In these rare cases, novelty is embraced not for its own sake, but for its potential to generate new archetypes, to provide a glimpse into a parallel world where architecture truly has agency: where design can change society for the better.

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Guangzhou: Diverse-City


[Guangdong Museum, Rocco Yim]

[In December, I helped lead a tour of Architecture students through eastern China. The following posts will be my brief impressions of the cities we visited. Today: Guangzhou.]

Shamian Island

Guangzhou, perhaps more than any other city, represents the diversity of urban form present in China’s post-colonial cities. From the well-preserved Old Town, the colonial Shamian Island, to the “hanging gardens” of Guangzhou’s elevated highways (which soften the brutal infrastructure of the city, and provide shade for informal businesses below) and the lifeless modernism of Futian, Guangzhou is nothing if not a collection of diverse urban ideas, a kind of living museum of urbanism.

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Kaiping “Dialou”

[In December, I helped lead a tour of Architecture students through eastern China. The following few posts will be my brief impressions of the cities we visited. Today: Kaiping.]

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Miracle City

[In December, I helped lead a tour of Architecture students through eastern China. The following few posts will be my brief impressions of the cities we visited. Today: Shenzhen.]

Shenzhen’s short history is well known: In the accepted mythology, China’s Economic Miracle began here, with the establishment of the Special Economic Zone, that grand urban experiment with market capitalism. This auspicious tabula rasa – not even labeled on maps prior to the 1980s – was surely selected as much for its lack of historical baggage as for as its adjacency to booming Hong Kong. What better place to demonstrate the potential of the new China, free, finally, from imperialist aggressors, war, and the insanity of the Mao era? With no dynastic, imperial, republican, or communist fabric, Shenzhen was essentially a blank slate, free to be shaped into a modern – and specifically Chinese – city.

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