The Monthly European Architectural Newsletter - Dec 2012 - Jan 2013
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Vernacular architecture in the 21-st century

Vernacular architecture means unconscious work of craftsmen based on their knowledge accumulated over the generations, probably the contrary of architecture often considered as involving a premeditated conception process calling on conscious intelligence. Abandoned because of the standardization of the contemporary construction techniques, it is finally treated like action strategies in answer to our time’s challenges. It deserves a contemporary proofreading. According to the Consulting and Research Agency Nomadéis, the vernacular construction is meant to be in harmony with its environment, in relation with it’s own geographical area, land and inhabitants. And which also promotes the competence of proximity fields. However it’s development comes up against the city rhythm, quite far from the long and progressive rooting of the construction. Facing the verticality of buildings in the heart of cities, it offers few concrete applications. The rehabilitation of traditional know-how is only opportune if they present suitable answers adapted to the contemporary challenges of sustainable development. It is important not to idealize these techniques and to admit what modernity brings in terms of daily life quality. Vernacular building adapts itself to the social and environmental constraints to which the societies are confronted. In a way, it is in perpetual renewal. It is more the spirit and train of thought which has to be recovered and not only the techniques themselves. The lessons resulting from the vernacular construction methods deserve to be studied, selected and integrated in today’s projects, but not identically. This new language offers a potential based on the development of formal strategies keeping their essential qualities. Just like the creations of Peter Zumthor, of Eduardo Souto de Moura, of Glenn Murcutt or of the Chinese Wang Shu. Their work illustrates the capacity of contemporary architecture to take root in the local cultural context and to integrate the deep echo of a specific tradition. With power and pertinence.

The Archi-Europe team

Portrait of the month

1) Wang Shu

2) Library of Wenzheng College

3) Xiangshan Campus - Phase I

4) Ceramic House

5) Ceramic House

6) Five Scattered Houses

7) Xiangshan Campus - Phase II

8) Xiangshan Campus - Phase II

9) Ningbo History Museum

10) Vertical Courtyard Apartments
Wang Shu

Winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize 2012, the Chinese Wang Shu relentlessly explores the ways of life in his country, poetically transferring the traditional know-how in a contemporary language. His architecture is thus exemplary in its acute respect of the cultural continuity.

Wang Shu (°1963) belongs to the first generation of architects having studied after Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms at the end of the seventies. He completes his architecture studies in 1988 at the Nanjing Institute of Technology. Appearing for the first time on the European scene in 2001 at an exhibition in Berlin (Aedes) presenting the young Chinese architecture, Wang Shu really draws attention to himself five years later at the 10th Venice Architecture Biennial. His Tiles Garden displays 66.000 Chinese tiles recuperated from a demolition site and presented on a bamboo structure. Rather than taking inspiration from occidental ideas like many of his contemporary colleagues, the architect implants his work in the Chinese history and culture.

Amateur Architecture Studio, his agency founded in 1997 in Hangzhou with his wife Lu Wenyu as partner, is involved in a programme quite distant from the one proposed by the typical official architect agencies. On one hand, the name refers to a precise interest for the Chinese vernacular architecture and to the amateur builders’ approach with spontaneity, craft industry competences and cultural traditions. On the other hand, he refers to an approach based on a critical vision of the profession of architect in China and, in a context of city and rural transformations, he regrets the massive destructions and the Chinese cities reconstruction without any real architectural reflection. Wang Shu thinks of another way to conceive projects as per today’s criteria whilst respecting a traditional conception: the interdependence of architecture and landscape. The exhibition dedicated to him in Brussels in 2009 (Bozar) was named « Architecture as Resistance »

During the last ten years, Amateur Architecture Studio has developed an innovating and even experimental method. Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu have associated their researches on the local rural Chinese traditions with architectural experiences first tested on a small scale, then on important housing complexes and finally at the city level. This unique combination of traditional conception, experimental construction and intensive researches is the heart of all the projects. Wang Shu often explains that for him « architecture is spontaneous simply because it is related to our everyday life ». One unique characteristic of his buildings: their ability to recall the past without directly referring to History. His work is able to transcend the debate proposing a timeless architecture, deeply rooted in its context and however universal. In all his work the past is really offered a new life. The question of the relation between present and past is quite opportune in order to know if the architecture implemented in China in the recent urbanization process must be anchored to tradition or only turned towards the future.

Wang Su knows how to take up challenges. By using recycled materials, he is able to send many messages on the resources careful management and the context’s respect, as well as giving a frank evaluation of today’s technology especially in China. Recycled building materials, like tiles and bricks from dismantled walls, create architectural collages of rich and tactile textures. He shows his capacity to successfully work on large projects – The Hangzhou Academy of Arts Campus is a small town - but also his ability to create intimate buildings like the small exhibition hall in the historical centre of Hangzhou. The Pritzker Architecture Prize confirms the exceptional character and the quality of the achieved work, and also a continuous commitment to an architecture without compromise, coming from his feeling for culture and place. Today, as dean of the Architecture Department of the China Academy of Art, Wang Shu likes to recall that before being an architect he was a writer and that architecture is only part of his work. « Humanity is more important than architecture, he repeats, and craft is more important than technology »

1) Wang Shu
© Zhu Chenzhou

2) Library of Wenzheng College, Suzhou (1999-2000)
Almost half of the three level building is underground. The main building is a rectangle floating on water, facing south. Four detached houses are integrated in the complex to keep the balance between man and nature.
© Lu Wenyu

3) Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Phase I, Hangzhou (2002-2004)
The campus is situated on the south of the Xiangshan hill. Made of concrete, bamboo, bricks and recycled tiles, the buildings are regularly established. Following the example of traditional houses built around a courtyard, they are set up in a U plan with gardens allowing calm and concentration. The roofs, as well as the canopies, are covered with local grey tiles.
© Lu Wenyu

4 & 5) Ceramic House, Jinhua (2003-2006)
Presented in all the shades of the Chinese porcelain, Zhou Wu’s ceramics cover the inside and outside walls of this café. Taking advantage of the slope, the space opens on the south side. On the north side, a large ramp protects the building from the nearby street. With doors breaking through, the space is crossed by a public way.
© Lv Hengzhong

6) Five Scattered Houses, Ningbo (2003-2006)
Spread on a 26-hectare park in the city center, these houses are qualified as « traditional concepts of modernized buildings »: roofs with double curve, clay and bamboo walls, etc. One of the « Teahouses » reflects a Zen spirit through its twisted plan. The Café’s curved roof and floor follow the lotus leaf’s shape. The offices’ geometry, built with recycled bricks twists with the site’s gradient.
© Lang Shuilong

7 & 8) Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Phase II, Hangzhou (2004-2007)
Established on the other side of the Xiangshan hill, the composition seems to adopt the complexity of its environment. The architecture becomes in this case a landscape in itself. Irregularly shaped bays break through some of the concrete buildings, whilst others are simply covered by white coating, but long sinuous gangways break their volumetry’s sobriety and simplicity.
© Lv Hengzhong

9) Ningbo History Museum, Ningbo (2003-2008)
Situated in a very low-density new town, the museum is conceived, in reaction to this environment, like a town in itself, able to break away from the great empty areas. One must note the materials, recuperated from the old city’s demolitions, decorating the façades at random.
© Lv Hengzhong

10) Vertical Courtyard Apartments, Hangzhou (2002-2007)
These 26 level buildings are part of the single commercial real estate development made by Amateur Architecture Studio. Wang Shu’s own feeling is that the housing buildings should also be close to the earth.
© Lu Wenyu
Project of the month

Peoples Meeting Dome, Denmark (2012)
Architects: Kristoffer Tejlgaard & Benny Jepsen

This original geodesic dome aims to create a debate on the future of housing.

The debate taking place this year in Bornholm (Denmark) had the ambition to demonstrate that architecture had to be as site-specific as possible. In view of its importance, this debate couldn’t be organized in a standard fleeting exhibition space. This is the reason why the architects designed a deconstructed geodesic dome with a frame composed of triangles largely open to the outside. The building envelope consists of translucent greenhouse membranes on the sphere surfaces and transparent PVC film as windows on the perpendicular surfaces. The geodesic dome is one of the most optimal methods of constructing generated by mathematics, but it is sadly lacking many qualities associated with good architecture.

The ambition of Kristoffer Tejlgaard and Benny Jepsen (in cooperation with the engineer Henrik Almegaard) was to understand the geodesic dome, and then to deconstruct its sacred geometry in a way not to oppose but to respect its properties, so that the dome is shaped by the local surroundings and the projects’ functionalities. By splitting the dome, the designers have created niches at the entrance that are orientated towards the access to the site, the niches providing the framework for the various internal functions and indirect lighting. The closed curved surfaces alternating with the transparent perpendicular surfaces offered a great sense of intimacy for the meetings with a nice entrance of natural light.

Regarding the construction process, a system of nodes of steel connected with wood can build a complex lattice structure. The system is designed so that it is possible to vary the skeleton and adapt to given parameters. The column-free lattice structure without interior walls allows a great freedom for interior and façade design. Windows and openings can be placed freely.

Technologically, the 3D modelling of the entire skeleton, and the laser cut and robot-welded nodes are in conformity with the highest precision requirements. The nodes are designed as steel shoes so they can accommodate the family of standard rafters. The dome uses construction timber of 2x4 inches and 2x6 inches and the same size plywood-beams, a total of four different strength classes to minimize material consumption. All the wood, used for the exterior, flooring and interior is local grown Douglas pine. Because the project was temporary, the façade was made of old boards. Seen here as a tent, this type of building could also be the load-bearing structure of a completely insulated house.

© Kristoffer Tejlgaard & Benny Jepsen
Product of the month

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Competitions in the spotlight

The first worldwide architecture contest for students in architecture Archi-World® Academy Award (AWA) 2011/2013: "Energy-saving projects and ideas for the future of architecture and urbanism".

The awarding ceremony will take place on Wednesday 16th of January 2013 in Munich - Forum C2, Hall C2/309 at 15.30 - during the construction fair BAU 2013.

Click here to see the invitation for the Ceremony

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MosBuild (2-5 and 16-19 April 2013) is proud to launch the second edition of this international contest for architects and students in architecture in order to select the best projects in two categories:

• Best architectural solutions for a barrier-free environment
• Best sustainable architecture projects

Click here to register!
Event in the spotlight
Do not miss the opportunity to come to Munich when BAU 2013 – the World's Leading Trade Fair for Architecture, Materials and Systems – opens its gates to the world of the building industry from 14 to 19 January 2013.

Come and visit Archi-Europe hall C2 stand 515

BAU 2013
(14 – 19/01/2013) Munich (DE)
Toegepast 17
(17/11/2012 – 17/02/2013) Hasselt (BE)
(18 – 22/01/2013) Paris (FR)
(24 - 27/01/2013) Milan (IT)
Louisiana Contemporary - Anri Sala
(2/11/2012 – 3/02/2013) Humlebæk (DK)
(05 – 07/03/2013) London (UK)
>> read more

2013 Mock Firms International Skyscraper Competition
Deadline: 11/01/2013
d3 Housing Tomorrow 2013
Deadline: 15/01/2013
eVolo 2013 Skyscraper Competition
Deadline: 15/01/2013
MADA - Mosbuild Architecture and Design Awards
Deadline: 07/03/2013
>> read more

Parking Facilities
Construction and Design Manual
Ilja Irmscher

556 pages
€ 98.00
DOM Publishers
German ISBN: 978-3-938666-08-1
English ISBN: 978-3-938666-95-1
>> read more
Archi paysagiste
Régis Guignard

128 pages
€ 35.00
Editions PC – Philippe Chauveau
ISBN: 979-1090148307
>> read more
The Globalisation of Modern Architecture: The Impact of Politics, Economics and Social Change on Architecture and Urban Design since 1990 / Robert Adam

360 pages - £ 44.88
ISBN 978-1-4438-3905-1
>> read more

© 2012 Archi-Europe
Responsible Editor: Jacques Allard
Chief Editor: Marie-Claire Regniers

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