Everything Is Pregnant with Its Contrary
China is experiencing modernity in an unprecedented speed, much faster and more dramatic than any western society has experienced. I’d like to use Marshall Berman’s definition of modernity, in which he states “, to be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world – and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are.” In other words, modernity promises us all but destroys everything.
Think of it. The machinery, as Marx says, “gifted with the wonderful power of shortening and fructifying human labor, we behold starving and overworking it.” The information revolution, exploded on the internet, promises us everything we want to know, however, most of the truth now, is hidden beneath the massive waves of the explosion. Think of democracy, it grants us everyone the right and ability to make a change, but now it seems we have little power in our own society. Think of modern architecture, it promises everyone that we would live in a decent condition, healthy and bright. Again, it pushes us toward the contrary at the very same time.
Experience the Contrary
Nankou, a suburban town near Beijing, is now facing the pressure to be developed, to be modernized. Is the life pregnant with contraries inevitable for the future residents of Nankou? Maybe one day people will have the choice, so the project is to visualize the contrary and have people experience it.
There’s the contrary between the heavy concrete and light wood. From the exterior, the heavy concrete roof tries to fly, and the fragile wood is supporting it. In the interior, the concrete walls enclose the room; the wood structure and the shoji system open it. There’s the contrary of walled and wall-less. The wood and concrete also implies the conflict between the traditional (life style and the sense of space) and modern.
The unit plan is designed to be in a gradient of inclosure and disclosure, so the residents are forced to experience the contrary of their needs and wants. In a cold day, they will have to stay in the inner core of the rooms, leaving the air-filled corridor as the thermal insulation. In a nice warm day, they can open up all the space. The layout also stimulates the experience of the contrary between privacy and community lives. It’s the question how you would enclose the space, and at the same time, be able to have interaction with other people.
The system parameters, studied based on the theory of Field Urbanism, are hidden from the form of the architecture, but it’s evident to the residences’ experience, the experience of sunlight, the dimension, the containment and the infrastructure systems. The system parameter is studied at the very beginning of the design process. It’s been done to make sure that whatever form, concept, and design is applied, the architecture will work. For me, the thinking of concepts and thinking of systems is also a contrary between seeing architecture as an single object or a non-object in relation with other things.
This project is not to resolve the contradictions, but to force us feel, experience and think of them, so we can be more clear and honest in facing and working out through the forces that make us what we are and what we are becoming. I am also hoping that this thinking of “recognizing” can pervade in the process of revitalizing Nankou.
[Note] The title is a literal quote from a speech delivered by Karl Marx at an anniversary of the Chartist “People’s Paper“ in April, 1856
In a cold day, residents will have to stay in the inner core of the rooms, leaving the air-filled corridor as the thermal insulation.
Project done in CED, UC Berkeley | Year: 2016 | Instructor: Renee Chow