Wednesday, September 17, 2008

UPDATE: Relic of the Ancient Future

As a follow up to the previous Relic of the Ancient Future post/photo essay I am adding some new images of the bulding to my flickr page and the already existing set.

Since last time I focused on the project's imagery this time I thought I would supplement it with some general analysis. Part of this stems from my desire to finally see the project from the sky. I tried and tried to find someone to let me into their apartment to get a bird's eye view but for some reason I kept scaring them away. So, alas, Google Earth images will have to suffice. I think you can see from the following image the general scale and complexity of the building. It's almost 3 football fields in length! I figure it's roughly half a mile long, maybe reaching the full 900' if you straighten it out a little bit.

Previously I had compared this project to the hutong, saying that this might be seen as a contemporary version of the vernacular type scaled up for contemporary programs and more flexibility. I suggested it might be an interesting way to think about rehabilitation of the hutong. In order to demonstrate the difference in scale and nature of the hutong and this new structure see the comparison below (all of the aerials are shown at the same scale). For kicks and giggles I thought it would be interesting to also show the Forbidden City also at the same scale. The differences are immediately striking - the homogenous web of the hutong compared to the singularity of Pingod compared to the rigid, regal geometry of the Forbidden City. However, it is interesting to note they are all basically riffing on the courtyard typology. In a way I like to think of the courtyard as one of the basic DNA of Chinese architecture. This might be one of the reasons why the relatively recent explosion of towers in Chinese cities is such an anachronism. The apartments at Pingod represent another oft used typology of recent Chinese architecture--the wall building.
Below is a preview of a few of the photos I added to the Relic of the Ancient Future set. In the set you can see how complex the structure's geometry is (also in the figure ground above). There are virtually no right angles in the entire project! Yet the building is rather crude in its construction and displays a lot of craftsmanship and handiwork. It makes me wonder how all of it was communicated from the architect and translated from drawing to building.
I'd like to think that maybe the architect put together not a drawing set but a set of general rules and guidelines. Maybe there was only a few typical details and some basic urban and geometric parameters to follow--maintain XX distance from the adjacent building, use only these three angles, never use the same geometric relationship twice in a row, for example. The rest would be left to the craftsman. The result would be completely unexpected but strangely familiar. "Emergent," you might say, using the parlance of our time, or "self-organized." Could this also be a strategy for design in undeveloped areas or in disaster relief areas?
There was a discussion on Flickr about my previous comments on the beauty of the uninhabitated building and how I was worried that it would not be as beautiful or interesting once it was inhabited. Part of it was I really enjoyed seeing how the structure was appropriated by squatters. I would love to hear what all of you out there in Cyberspace think about it!
Without further adieu, the photos:

No comments: