Monday, October 6, 2008

CAA Phase 1 by Amateur Architecture Studio

Part 1 of 2


The night before I went to look at the China Academy of Art’s new campus in Zhuangtang near Hangzhou, China, I reflected on my personal memories of architectural pilgrimages and noted, with a little irony considering I maintain a blog about urbanism, that all of my favorite architecture experiences thus far in life have been in visiting buildings that are either in small towns or completely in the countryside. With the exception of a few notable structures the best personal reactions I have had to architecture have been buildings that have been off the beaten path, difficult to find, in countries whose native tongues I do not speak; therefore making the journey itself often as memorable as the building itself. These have included the Brion Cemetery by Scarpa, Palladio’s Villa Rotonda, Gropius’ house in Lincoln MA (an exception to the language barrier, but try getting a career disco studio lost in the woods trying to find this place and you will understand), and of course Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Ronchamp and La Tourette.
With these thoughts in my mind the next day I set off to visit the new Xianshang campus of the CAA, a relatively new campus designed and built in two phases by the architecture firm Amateur Architects, led by Wang Shu. And I have to say I was not let down—it was a wonderful campus, a beautiful place, and although I am reticent to place it fully in the ranks of those previously mentioned projects (it does owe some obvious debts to Corb’s work, which I will discuss), I think it is a very special project. I would venture to say it is an extra special project for today, as it exists on the periphery of architecture's standard modes of production while exploring themes firmly entrenched in the center of contemporary architecture debate--ecology and sustainability; culture, tradition, and history; urban-rural dichotomy, etc.
Oh, and thanks to the insane traffic caused by China’s national holiday, it took the two hour trip and 4 non air conditioned buses required to give it official pilgrimage status!
In the next post I will show images from Phase 2 and discuss the project more in depth.
Below is the location of the campus on Google maps:

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