Tuesday, October 7, 2008

CAA Phase 2 by Amateur Architecture Studio

Part 2 of 2

::text continued from previous post::
The campus has been written about in Domus China by Bert de Muynck, and other places, (see here for a good set of model shots and construction images) so I’ll just quickly point out what I find really interesting about it from my own visit:
i) Regionalism – Wang Shu & co. do fantastic work that is firmly rooted in the amazing history of architecture and landscape of the Hangzhou region and nearby Suzhou. Amateur Architects take this tradition of form, material, and relationship between building and landscape but make it contemporary—it does not reek of the pastiche of postmodernism.
ii) Architecture Promenade – Whether this is derived from the seamless circulation among building and landscape along zig-zag paths found in traditional Suzhou gardens or from the work of Le Corbusier I’m not sure but gathering from the material references to both I imagine you can not point your finger to one precedent very easily. Regardless, Wang Shu & Co. are able to take these references and transform them into something fresh—I would liken the experience of walking along the CAA’s many bridges, ramps, and corridors that slice through and connect each building, creating a seemingly endless amalgamation, to running countless laps deliriously through and around Corb’s Carpenter Center in Cambridge, MA.
iii) Sustainability – part of what AA have learned from the past is a way of making architecture that responds to climate—much of the buildings that I visited were open-air, using corridors and other circulation in creative ways as thermal buffers and shading devices (phase 1 uses more of the former while phase 2 uses more of the latter). Traditional elements such as operable screens also help. But one of the most interesting things is the campus’ use of recycled materials—according to the Domus article an estimated 7 million old tiles and bricks were recycled for phase 2 alone!! The resulting textures can be seen in the photos.
iv) Ecology – The buildings are sited in a way that reduces their footprint and subsequent damage to the campus nature reserve. In addition to that, much of the land around the buildings has been given over to agricultural use for local farmers. Water features and irrigation systems provide both water for the crops and also become beautiful systems of infrastructure in the landscape. This gives the project a much different atmosphere than the manicured lawns of the quadrangles of most campuses in the US—it feels more organic, productive, and raw. Additionally this creates an interesting overlap of students and farmers on the campus. Seeing this contrast along with the influence the campus has had on local business (better art supply shops and design bookstores have sprung up organically on the dirt streets just outside the campus than I have seen in the bustling metropolis of Beijing) makes you realize the new campus is having a positive (in my view) impact on the human ecology of Zhuangtang as well.

So that pretty much does it. If you want to visit the project yourself, just take the 308 bus from the east side of Hangzhou’s West Lake south away from the city center. Continue past the 6 Harmony Pagoda another 10-15 minutes and you will arrive directly at the front door of the campus.
See also: CAA Phase 1

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