Michael Sorkin has been selected as the American Academy in China’s inaugural research fellow. The urbanist, designer, and critic will begin work this summer. Dubbed the “Made For China” project, Sorkin’s research aims to look inwardly at his own firm’s recent Chinese work in search of an “urbanism with Chinese characteristics.” His research will also analyze the work of other western architects working in China and delve into the firm’s interactions with local regulations and stakeholders so as to digest their effects on these Chinese particularities. Clifford Pearson, Director of the AAC, remarking upon Sokrin’s selection in a press release, said “As a writer and critic, Michael has often challenged established perspectives, offering a penetrating and often witty take on what is really happening in architecture and design. And as an architect, he is fully engaged with the realities of building in China.” When asked about the academy’s selection process for the fellowship, Pearson remarked to The Architect's Newspaper via email, “Because this was the inaugural fellowship, an internal group of advisors—including Dean Ma (and) myself—selected Michael Sorkin. In the future, we will have a call for submissions and make our selection from people applying for the fellowship.” The AAC was established in 2007 by USC School of Architecture dean Qingyun Ma as a base for researchers and students from around the globe to study China’s arts and architecture. Among its chief tasks are conducting research on contemporary Chinese urbanism with a focus on what China’s contribution to global urbanism might be. The USC School of Architecture has operated a six week summer studio out of the institute and aims for the program to eventually have a global draw. In line with this goal, Pearson, himself recently named AAC director, launched the annual research fellowship in order to establish AAC’s role as a year-round, China-focused research institution. Regarding the AAC’s reinvigorated expansion, Dean Ma told AN via email, “AAC has developed a long trajectory through creative cultures between the US and China. This trajectory can only be enhanced and extended by scholars and designers alike. Sorkin meets the expectation perfectly—he has always been able to bring cultural and social discussion into design and reexamine them by the future of human expectations.” AAC’s upcoming programs include a symposium examining the changing nature between China’s cities and countryside and a design competition focused on napping pavilions with full scale versions of these “napavillions” commissioned from Noreen Liu, Gary Paige, Larry Scarpa, and Tiantian Xu.
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Clifford Pearson, deputy editor at Architectural Record, will direct USC's American Academy in China
Clifford Pearson, deputy editor at Architectural Record, is leaving his post to join the University of Southern California's (USC) School of Architecture as Director of the American Academy in China (AAC). The AAC was founded in 2007 by USC School of Architecture Dean Qingyun Ma. The program uses the humanities, art, and architecture to understand contemporary China. In addition to directing the AAC, Pearson will teach a class on architectural journalism at the academy. He will assume his new role in January 2016, though he will continue at Architectural Record as a contributing editor. Why China now? Pearson explains that, because China's building boom is slowing down, this is an ideal time to "catch our breath and examine what's happened over the past 25 years." Currently, the AAC is a six-week summer program open to U.S. and Chinese students. Its programs are geographically far-reaching and immersive: this past summer, students from 12 universities traveled to Shenzhen, Beijing, Xi’an, and Lushan to study how the mass migration from the countryside to the city has influenced the rural-urban dynamics across China. Pearson would like to enhance AAC's profile among university students in these two countries by expanding the academy into a year-round series of seminars, lectures, and events in Los Angeles and cities throughout China. Pearson envisions the AAC as China's answer to the American Academy in Rome. Similar to the AAR, there will be fellows living on site and working on China-focused research projects. Pearson was tapped for the role because of his expertise in the culture and development of China. From 2005 to 2013, he was editor-in-charge of Architectural Record China, and he is currently co-director of the Asia Design Forum, a think tank that fosters debate around the built environment. He intends to use his "journalist's eye" to create programming that contextualizes and critically examines China today.
Reimagining traditional Chinese gardens with parametric geometryFor MoCA Shanghai’s exhibition MoCA Mock-ups: The Architecture of Spatial Art, USC American Academy of China (AAC) Summer Studio 2012 spent six weeks designing, fabricating and constructing “Minimal Relaxation,” a parametric canopy and undulating, LED-lit landscape that creates prime skyline viewing locations on the museum’s rooftop terrace. Inspired by Frei Otto, an architect and structural engineer famous for his complex canopy structures, “Minimal Relaxation” extends his body of design research into physical and digital form-finding processes for minimal surface structure through “dynamic relaxation techniques.” Faculty advisor, Alvin Huang of Synthesis Design + Architecture, explained that dynamic mesh relaxation is a digital simulation process in which the net, in this case, “is placed into continuous tension through the combination of the organization of its mesh network (the net), and the position of its fixed edges (the perimeter) and points (the poles) to find a stable force equilibrium. This results in a minimal surface, where each node within the surface has zero mean curvature.” The students then manipulated funicular form parametrically to accommodate the canopy’s holes, or viewing portals, and reverse engineer the construction process. For a 2,000 square foot rooftop, the students ordered a custom made 55’ x 55’ net with a 3,025 square foot reach that allows for the undulations in the design. The viewing portals were positioned to frame points of interest for viewers, such as the surrounding high rises. Once the students derived a geometry that incorporated these elements they were able to design an internal tension in the net so precise that its bamboo support poles didn’t require any additional attachments or securing. The canopy was so taut, in fact, that since its installment in early August it has already outlasted multiple monsoons. Though the construction of the net is basic (nylon string knotted into diamond shapes, much like a soccer net), the play between the parametric geometry and the net is what lends the materially basic structure such strength and staying power. The same idea of minimal surface for maximum impact was applied to the shrink-wrapped MDF landscape furniture, “where the plastic membrane is constantly trying to minimize itself over its rigid constraints.” Justin Kang, the Landscape Team Leader, explained how the landscape forms were designed to emulate the ripple effect of water droplets. “Wherever the canopy feature drops down the landscape feature dips up to meet the canopy.” Kang also positioned the forms “where the canopy opens so patrons can look through these apertures and see the framed Shanghai skyline.” The furniture does double duty as a lighting element, too. Each form is lit from within by 20V LED strips linked to motion sensors attached to an Arduino board that, ideally, would be programmed to produce light patterns in waves, but due to time constraints the lighting is controlled by a remote, allowing the museum to decided on the kind of lighting to play on the surface of the landscape. Even if visitors aren’t aware of the complicated geometry at work above their heads, the experience underneath the canopy and the view it provides, as well as the light show on the ground, have turned MoCA Shanghai’s previously underutilized and seldom visited rooftop into a nighttime destination. “Minimal Relaxation” was only scheduled to be on view for two weeks, but now the museum has announced that due to its popularity it will remain up indefinitely. Faculty: Neil Leach (USC/AAC Program Director), Wendy Fok (Univ. of Houston/We Designs), Alvin Huang (USC/Synthesis Design + Architecture) Canopy Team Leader: Ty Harrison Landscape Team Leader: Justin Kang Photography by Wandile Kraai