In mid-December, during the opening weekend of the 7th Shenzhen/Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture (UABB), the three former factory buildings hosting the main exhibitions are bursting at the seams. Outside, in pockets of the Nantou Old Town, which the biennale has effectively colonized for its duration, architectural installations occupy empty lots and ground-floor shopfronts. Visitors inspect installations such as WEGO, by The Why Factory and MVRDV, a 9-meter-high architectural folly transplanted from an Eindhoven square where it debuted during last year’s Dutch Design Week, or Pingheng, Understanding Chinese Reality, a mural by Spanish collective Boa Mistura that adorns the wall of one of the main exhibition venues. The 7th UABB is curated by Meng Yan and Lu Xiaodu, both partners at architecture and urbanism office URBANUS, with offices in Shenzhen and Beijing, and by curator and critic Hou Hanru, based in San Francisco, Rome and Paris, who self-identifies as the “outsider” on the team. The biennale is divided into three main exhibitions: Global South, an exploration of countries in the global south and their “informal” urban strategies; Art Making City, a trove of contemporary art exhibits prominently featuring urban environments; and Urban Village, which puts the urban typology of the same name center stage. But, as Yan says to a packed auditorium, “The real exhibition is the vibrant city life.” Much in sync with the biennale’s theme, “Cities Grow in Difference,” the auditorium where Yan is speaking is filled with an audience that ranges from architectural experts to local inhabitants of Nantou Old Town, the majority of whom are Chinese migrant workers. For the curatorial team, the urban village is a model for the future. Against what Yan calls the “globalized, standardized, capitalized city” that has expanded to the global scale, the urban village is a hybrid, a wetland, a “breeding ground for a new city.” The biennale seeks to learn from it, and to emulate it in its search for possibilities. The location of the biennale is a case in point. One of the oldest parts of Shenzhen, Nantou is an urban village, a specific Chinese typology of low-rise housing in the center or outskirts of the city, serving mostly migrant workers and temporary dwellers. Nantou is lively, crowded, and seems to be a place where everything is possible. This central focus on the urban village generates an exhibition that, according to Yan, seeks to have a “rhythm like an old Chinese novel or opera.” In practice, this rhythm materializes in a disorienting sequence of exhibition spaces, where art installations merge with urban studies and architectural drawings and models. Sometimes, components of the urban village find their way inside the exhibition, in the display of windows or wall segments; in others, performance takes over, mimicking the rhythms of urban public space, with an extensive array of video projections and performances by dance and music groups, who during the opening days performed everything from classical ballet to contemporary dance. This overwhelming ensemble proves challenging to digest, and the visitor is left with no clear takeaway. To a certain extent, this is caused by the abundance of artworks present, which are a refreshing if disorienting addition to a biennial of architecture and urbanism. Some of the artworks are fascinating, such as Cao Fei’s video work Rumba II: Nomad, where several vacuuming robots are released in an urban fringe of Beijing in an absurd invasion and impossible task; others feel out of place, such as Lin Rui’s An Anniversary Present: For the Love of Sailor Moon & Eiffel Tower, which cryptically combines a model of the Eiffel Tower with a skeleton dressed in a Sailor Moon costume and pictures of the artist’s friends. On the other side of the spectrum are installations by young design studios that actively engage with the dynamics of Shenzhen, like the ethereal Notch, by Berlin-based alt ctrl and SOLUTION, built on site exclusively with components sourced from Huaqiangbei electronics market, or the whimsical Urban Village Furniture Exchange Program, by Huang Heshan and Jiang Fan, where Chinese copy tropes meet several vernacular examples of stools and chairs found everywhere in Nantou, and used by street sellers and inhabitants alike. All are named after famous architects and architecture studios. Architectural luminaries are also present, such as Atelier Bow-Wow, with the The Fire Foodies Club installation, and Yona Friedman, who presents two instances of his Street Museum in Nantou and Shekou. Additionally, the UABB features a strong presence by architecture schools, whose installations occupy a whole floor of the main venue, even if they do dissect the urban village typology to exhaustion. Overall, despite its convoluted nature, the biennale is surprising and fascinating, much of it is due to its location and the overwhelming participation of the local inhabitants. Walking through the crowds of local residents and international participants, one is unsure where the exhibition ends and life begins. And yet, the unique ambiance of Nantou itself might be as temporary as the biennial. In a rapidly changing context like Shenzhen, which grew from a fishing village to a megacity in under half a century, the UABB is at the center of large-scale transformation. This is true for Nantou Old Town itself, where the biennale is the first step in a regeneration plan for the whole area–a process in which URBANUS is a consultant and will undoubtedly play a part. Here’s to hoping that the urban village inspires the planned regeneration, so that Nantou can be preserved and continue to be an inspiration and testing ground for the future of the city.
Posts tagged with "Atelier Bow-Wow":
In the age of glass curtain walls, the notion of a ‘window‘ may seem a quaint relic of stone and wood framed structures, yet it is still a basic conceptual building block of architecture. In Elements of Architecture, the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, Rem Koolhaas installed a large display of glazed windows (pointed arches, wood frames and divided lights) taken from buildings that form the Brooking National Collection of historic building components. Across the room was a display of advanced contemporary windows cut away to show their internal structures, gauges for testing window strength and a machine for making window parts. The idea of these fragments and the 2014 biennale was to suggest they represented advanced “research” into the basic components of contemporary production. But at least with windows it was little more than a formal display of objects, rather than an outline of current academic research or technical sophistication. But now there is an institute in Tokyo devoting itself solely to the history, meaning and future of the window. Founded by the Japanese fastener (and yes zipper) company YKK AP Inc. in 2007, the Window Research Institute or as they term it “Windowology,” is hoping to become the world–class center for research on glazed openings and an archive of research for scholars. They have, under their director Kinuko Yamamoto, created an institute based on the belief that "windows represent civilization and culture." It approaches the subject of windows in a serious, academic way that brings in architects, cultural historians, and artists. It is fascinating that Japan, only a few centuries ago, did not even have framed windows in their buildings but instead utilized paneled Shoji screens that emitted light though the entire wall rather than simple glazed openings. Windows were not introduced into Japan on a large scale until the arrival of Europeans in the 18th century. The YKK AP–sponsored institute just conducted a day–long symposium on Windowology at the Fumihiko Maki–designed Spiral Hall in conjunction with an exhibition Windows Represent Civilization and Culture, that focuses on the meaning as well as the architectural and urban effects of the window. The exhibition has been organized with the aim of comprehensively examining the knowledge and sensibilities surrounding the window “as a universal cultural phenomena” as described by artists and architects. Many of the images in the exhibit are based on the institute's research and highlight the window's urban effect on the street or as cultural frames for viewing out through and onto the landscape. One large installation, "Window and Ladder–Leaning into History," by Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich, set the stage by presenting a large gravity–defying window with a ladder in a large double height circular space. In addition, artists Takashi Homma and Yusuke Kamata each presented new window-themed artwork that they created for the exhibition. Finally, Italian architect Michele De Lucchi produced several of his signature pictograms of windows that serve as a poster image of the exhibit. The symposium presented research by scholars and architects who in their practice consider the importance of the window. Iwan Baan, the architectural photographer, presented a series of windows from refuges camps that are part of a research project he has been developing for ten years. One image showed the mud wall of a camp that had the side of an automobile embedded in it for structural support and used the car's window opening of the interior space. Yoshiharu Tsukamoto of Atelier Bow-Wow spoke about windows as adaptations of local cultural norms and environments, arguing that architects must consider these functions as pro forma realities while working with new and advanced technological window design. Tsukamoto also spoke about energy efficiency in new windows and how they will change our architecture. He described technologically–sophisticated new windows being developed that “pull” heat from the outside into the interior. Fumihiko Maki also focused on the future of technologically–engineered apertures as he spoke about his latest housing projects to create a sustainable society. Three Tokyo–based designers of small residential projects that Tokyo is known for: Yuichiro Kodama, Toshiharu Ikaga and Tetsu Kubota (moderated by Toshiharu Ikaga) discussed wall openings not simply as places for egress or controlled ventilation but as key design elements of each building, like the Steel house, which has an elegant continuous opening on each wall. Finally, historian–designer Terunobu Fujimori showed his wildly expressionistic Mosaic Tile Museum that uses windows as random and odd–shaped small openings splayed across his façade. The ten–hour symposium also considered the historic legacy of windows in literature, art and regional cultures. Vittorio Lampugnani, who has worked with the YKK AP Institute since it was founded, highlighted Roman paintings of windows found in excavation sites and in the paintings of Caravaggio, where the window became a sign of regional culture but does not emit light in order to emphasize that light comes down from God, not the wall apertures on his painted architecture. Lampugnani also showed his Zurich housing development, where windows serve as traditional markers for European urbanism and historical context. The YKK AP Institute that created the window event and exhibit is creating an online archive of windows for scholars that makes it the most important repository on window research in the world. Windows may be new to Japanese culture but this Institute is quickly becoming the most important repository of their history, meaning, and development. If you need to know about windows, an important but often overlooked aspect of architecture. you need to go to Windowology.
Groundswell: Guerilla Architecture in Response to the Great East Japan Earthquake MAK Center 835 North Kings Road West Hollywood, California Through January 4, 2015 The Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 devastated the island nation, setting off a tsunami that destroyed over 300 miles of coastline, causing the failure of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and leaving more than 20,000 people dead and 470,000 without homes. The severe damage from the catastrophe propelled architects to take action, swiftly and creatively, as illustrated in a new exhibit, Groundswell: Guerilla Architecture in Response to the Great East Japan Earthquake. Faced with the slow moving bureaucracy of the government response, a number of architects—including Manabu Chiba, Momoyo Kaijima and Yoshiharu Tsukamoto (of Atelier Bow-Wow), Senhiko Nakata, Osamu Tsukhashi, and Riken Yamamoto—decided to take matters into their own hands and work with local communities to rebuild, using a myriad of design solutions. Through this grassroots movement, the show explores how architects can jumpstart and participate in recovery efforts following a natural disaster.