December 6, 2008

Fengshui – Science, Superstition or Otherness? A Modern Application in Contemporary Architecture

Nov. 15 2008
ARCH 3711

Originated from ancient China, the theory of Fengshui is often associated with deceitful superstition by Chinese people. Surprisingly, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, Fengshui is treated as a mysterious yet scientific subject and brought into the academic scene for the theory of post-modernism. In the article “Fengshui: Its Application in Contemporary Architecture�, Teh Tien Yong claims that Fengshui is a science that contributes to the understanding of both naturalistic and humanistic environment, through studying the flow of subtle energies in the human body and in the earth respectively. In ancient China, Fengshui theory predominate every architectural choice made by people including interior design, placement of buildings, urban plan, etc. As Yong proceeds in his the article, he points out that Fengshui deals with a certain way to perceive natural landscape and human habitants, both supernatural and radical existence of human beings, and fundamental architectural choices related to people’s everyday life. In a systematic and meticulous way, Fengshui contemplates the relationship within human body, Earth and Heaven, but quietly interesting has nothing to do with religion or faith. The theory of Fengshui shows scrupulous studies of everyday life, creating its own art of the life and environment, is also bringing out a controversy: should we simply apply Fengshui into modern architecture and urban planning or should we regard it as purely exotic and mysteriously superstitious?

fengshui.jpg A diagram that shows the essence of Fengshui Ideology.

For architecture designers, the ability to think critically and creatively is essential. When encounter traditional and cultural concepts, architecture designers should be accepting and curious to know any well-established architecture theories, especially the ones that have fundamentally influenced a civilization. Although appeared about 5,000 years ago, Fengshui suggests a profound comprehension about the correlation among human beings, architecture and nature that is even applicable within contemporary society. The strong emphasis of being ecologically friendly and human centered in the theory of Fengshui, shares with many implications of sustainability and environmental design, which is acclaimed as the future of architecture. Approached by different methodologies, both Fengshui and sustainability design favors giving the priority to any architectural choices that are environmental friendly and human centered, regardless of stylistic or aesthetic aspect of architecture. Many implications of Fengshui theory suggest that a great amount of sustainable design problems could be solved thousands of years ago. However, these implications should be conscientiously modified and critically selected to implement the context of contemporary architecture. This process of applying traditional architecture theories into contemporary profession is also an ideal way for architecture designers to expand their mentalities and inspirations.

Fengshui, like traditional Chinese medicine, Tai Chi and many other body-mind practices, has evolved through 5,000 years of Chinese culture. To some extend, these body-mind practices have set up a sense of hierarchy and superstition. However, many elements of these practices are tangible and applicable to the modern civilization. For instance, the concepts of location, building materials, daylight, structure and humidity in Fengshui can perfectly elaborate and implement modern architecture theories. Nowadays, these traditional practices are facing adverse challenges. On one hand, ignorant people in China laugh at these practices and claim themselves as modernized and civilized while having no clue as to their meanings. On the other hand, unqualified practitioners and misinterpreted lectures are misleading some people within these practices. In the procedure of massive globalization and urbanization, these practices are risking being forgotten. Fortunately, the theory of post-modernism intentionally brought these practices into its scenario as post-modernism favors “otherness�. Nevertheless, there is still a chance for these practices to be misinterpreted since academia generally is lacking good understanding of Chinese culture.

A standardized system of knowledge and supervision mechanism should be introduced to the world of human-body practices to ensure their survivals. A clearer link should be established between traditional practices and architecture or other disciplines. In this way, the canon of human civilization can be preserved.

china-houses.jpg The application of Fengshui idea in Chinese Architecture.

Architects Taking Over the World

Oct. 3rd
ARCH 3711

Please do not be intimidated by my courageous title, my immediate response to Michael Speaks’s article “Design Intelligence and the New Economy� was such an aggressive rethinking about the architecture profession. In this article, Michael Speaks points out the globalization favors intangible and interconnected things. In a way, all the existing disciplines are interlinked and inter-influenced by each other. By highly abstracting the core values of architecture into three key words: design, communication and new technology, Speaks proposes a “network practice� model where design thinking plays a significant role in communicating with people from all the fields. Then Michael Speaks raises some examples that fully expound some attributes of this revolution. The case of UN Studio provides us an experimental method about how architecture firms from all parts of the world use new technology to solve design problems, regardless of the geographical distance. This “network� method is also largely influencing the practices of big architecture firms and prominent academic institutions. Speaks also claims in the article that a “doing knowledge-based� society is taking the place of “being knowledge�. This fundamental transformation resets the order and system of the world and the innovative practices.

Architecture, as an undefined (or not clearly defined) discipline, blurs with almost all the other disciplines, is often misunderstood and mislabeled as a marginal (purely artistic design) profession. Every year, the smartest students get accepted into various architecture programs only aiming to be trained as a practicing architect. Putting almost the same efforts as lawyers and doctors into the profession, today’s architects are receiving low wage and treated unfairly in many ways. In this safe system (undergraduate studies – graduate studies/professional school – registered architect) of today’s profession, architects is limiting and marginalizing themselves away from the other creative disciplines. This unchanging mentality stops most of people in the profession from being innovative in designing their own professional path.

07646architectmag.jpg November 2007 issue of Architect Magazine

Alan Tyle, a product designer in Hertfordshire said, "I started as a product designer, became an architect, and then returned to product design. I came to realize that the architect's training is wonderfully valuable even or especially for a product designer. The architect is trained not to worry is a job is small or large nor what material it is made from or how complex it is." Indeed, there is no denying that architecture is a demanding profession. It deals with many fundamental problems in today's society, for instance exploring new ways of living, investigating new technologies and material and ensuring that what we build is environmentally sustainable. Also, architecture is one of the broader disciplines that offer numerous opportunities. So an architecture degree almost presents you the entire world in front of you. In this human-centered world, everything is about solving people’s problems creatively and critically. Architecture provides a platform where innovative and rigorous thinking take place – we are courageous enough to link all the disciplines together within the context of global technologies, but why don’t we push it a little bit further to overturn and redefine the profession/discipline of architecture?

One of the greatest Chinese contemporary cultural figures, Ai Weiwei, is an artist, architectural designer, social/cultural commentator and curator. His ability to think critically, interlinking intangible things and strong knowledge in both academia and technologies enable him to be successful in every different discipline. Ai Weiwei’s success shows the possibility for both the profession and discipline of architecture to evolve a new form of adaptive design intelligence. The new form of design intelligence can interpreted as a revolution of design thinking being highly valued; design intelligence can be interpreted as architecture professionals free themselves from the existing frames; design intelligence can be interpreted as the first step for architects to take over the world.

After all, to be alive is to think. It is a world about creative ideas. When we finally see through this fundamental principle of how world functions, we will understand the potential for architects to make the world a better place.


Thoughts on Australian Aborigines - A Fundamental Rethinking of "Place"

Sep. 15 2008
ARCH 3711

Australian aborigines would probably never think that their definition of place could be so provocative to highly modernized, well-educated and presumptuous human beings. They probably do not even know how to spell the word “place�. The simplicity and the sensitivity in their ways of perceiving things are regarded as primitive and brutish based on Western materialistic values. However, by interpreting nature intuitively and mythologically, Australian aborigines teach us the essence to grasp the context of nature and place.

aboriginals18.jpg (Picture from "Aborigines And White Settlers: The Breaking Down of Aboriginal Society")

As inborn hunters and gatherers, Australian aborigines are always on the road, moving from one place to another, tearing down one shelter and building up another. This sense of constant movement gives them the opportunity to regard the entire environment as their homeland rather than having explicit boundaries that disconnect them with nature or other people. Their demographic mobility also allows them to create a fair amount of dwellings with various styles applying all kinds of natural materials. Nonetheless, Australian aborigines care the least about the physical and architectural aspect of the dwellings they made. It is the ritual symbolism that is of great significance to them, in terms of positioning the dwellings in a larger architectural concern.

Since symbolism of places is determinant to site and directions of Australian aborigines dwellings, the boundaries are not defined physically but fixed by mythology and ritual meanings. Their faiths, beliefs and inner desires provide an emotional tie with the land per se – they are full of respects, sensations and imaginations towards the land, which claims them “a timeless and inextinguishable relationship to their land�. Whereas, a lot of Europeans cannot understand the symbolic meanings of the land other than see the landscape as plain and vain.

Australian aborigines are enthusiastic about nature. They first approach and study nature respectively; then they create their own spontaneous and mythical explanations and responses to landscape; also they humanize the realm between man-made world and landscape through myths of the Dreamtime; finally they define the conception of “place� through re-enactments that make the unseen world visible. Sacred and ceremonial lifestyle is the central link between their Dreamtime creatures/heroes and land. However, Westerners isolate themselves from nature by building unnecessary barriers and invisible walls. They are losing their abilities to understand the beauty and phenomena of nature.

The Australian aborigines create their own Utopian world, in terms of dwelling and faith. Their worship towards nature and landscape make this ritual symbolism pure, mythical, as well as beautiful. This whole cultural lingo might be too profound for some people to understand nowadays. Ever since materialism and utilitarianism attacked the world, human beings tend to lose interests in learning about nature and their own cultural identity. Then industrialization conquered the world, forcing everyone to be part of the physical revolution. When technology truly becomes boundless, our emotional attachment to the land will eventually extinct. Pessimistically speaking, our planet is going to become a futuristic, mechanical and cold place where is full of robotic non-believers in the near future.

Coming from China, I witness massive construction taking place everyday, repeatedly and constantly. It is like a war of urbanization in our post-industrialization era. Having gained a new glamorous look with all the modernized architecture recently designed by star architects, China is trying to give a sense of power through its architectural revolution. But when I look at these dazzling architecture, I feel nothing but indifference. I begin to question myself “who we are?� We are becoming those “Europeans� who are losing cultural context, and creating a sense of Neo-orientalism in our own country.

Artist Andy Goldsworthy once said, “A stone is ingrained with geological and historical memories.� When he said it, he meant it by dealing with natural materials to produce works of art referring social and cultural meanings. Indeed, the existential purpose of architecture is to make the balance between natural and urban environments, and to uncover the potential meanings of the urban architecture presented in the given natural environment. Only in this way can the spirit of the place be conserved, can the culture be ceaseless, and finally can we overcome the pains of trading the past with the present.

e1-modaa.jpg (Picture from

May 15, 2008

Freebie? "My Architect"


My Architect by Nathaniel Kahn is that ancient story, the search for a man's father. Nathaniel was the illegitimate son, the `bastard,' of Louis Kahn, the architect who died in Penn Station, New York, in 1974 coming back from Bangladesh. Kahn had three children, but only one by his wife; the second daughter and only son were by two other women. The architect was a nomad and a man obsessed with his work. He saw Nathaniel and his mother once a week, but Nathaniel never got to know his father well. Lou Kahn died when his son was only eleven, and the secret children and their mothers weren't supposed to come to Lou Kahn's funeral, though they did.

So 25 years after his father's death, at the age of 36, Nathaniel set out to make this film to find out who his father was - and he has done an amazing and triumphant job. He begins with a sketch of Kahn's origins, the fire that disfigured his face (it looked pock-marked), and his early displacement to America. We learn about Kahn's development over time and the sources of his style. They look back to the archaic and the monumental, not to anything his contemporaries did.

Nathaniel visits all the significant people and places in his father's life as well as a number of important architects. He starts out with `the man with the glasses,' Philip Johnson. Johnson talks about what a `nice guy' Kahn was. `All the rest of us were bastards,' he says. Johnson's point is there was a lack of jealousies or rivalry, a selflessness: that focus on the work; it's also clear Kahn is a member of the Johnson pantheon.. I.M. Pei makes one thing emphatically clear: he considers Kahn his superior. `It's quality, not quantity, that matters,' he says rapidly and bluntly when Nathaniel suggests Pei was more `successful.' Kahn may only have completed a few buildings, Pei says, but they are great masterpieces. Later in the film Frank Gehry says Kahn was his original inspiration, that without Lou Kahn, he would not be. It's plain that the most famous architectural figures of our day are all in awe of this man. A failure morally, a man who couldn't do right by the people closest to him in his life, Louis Kahn is perhaps the greatest American architect. That fact emerges as powerfully as do his personal shortcomings.

Nathaniel `interviews' the great buildings, too, most beautifully and movingly. His camera scans their spaces. It peers at them far and near in different lights and shadows. We even see him from far above, roller blading around the space encompassed by the Salk Center in La Jolla, casually making friends with and taking possession of it after an interview with the man Kahn worked with when the center was designed. These viewings of the buildings, a revelation of the man's achievement, presented for the most part without commentary, are deeply moving both in and of themselves and in the context of the searching portrait of the man behind them.

To skip forward to the end: in the film's final segment Nathaniel Kahn tells Shulyar Wares, the Bangladeshi architect, that his three days of photographing the government building at Dhakka, Kahn's last great project, will only yield at most ten minutes of film. `Ten minutes!' Wares exclaims. `You would try to do justice to this building in ten minutes! To its spirit, its power, the ambiguities of its spaces!' Wares then speaks about Kahn's achievement and character. It's not unusual for a great artist to fall short as a man, he says: the one failure may be necessary for the other success. It's an eloquent, seemingly spontaneous speech, and a perfect finale to the portrait.

It's hard to do justice to this film without summarizing it scene by scene. It's the cumulative effect of the interviews, plus the fine photography and the brilliant editing, that all add up to an extraordinary portrait of a great artist and a flawed but complex man. Nathaniel Kahn's simple bravery before the camera leads to a series of intensely revealing, often moving scenes with the people in Kahn's life. There are quite searching conversations with the two other women, including the filmmaker's mother. Nathaniel Kahn never falters or spoils the tone: he isn't confrontational, but neither does he avoid hard questions. He's serious, but without an ounce of self-importance.

And while the interviews are powerful, they are paced by visits to the few but great buildings, whose effect at times is transcendent, and needs no inflated commentary from Nathaniel or anyone else.

It's astonishing how the film modulates from some rather petty remarks by men who worked with Lou in Fort Worth (who considered the architect impractical and airy-fairy) to the building that resulted, backed up by Beethoven's Ninth. If you can look at a building with Beethoven's Ninth as background and the music seems right, you know it's a great building. And this is the revelation of My Architect: that Louis Kahn's buildings are magnificent, radiant visions of serenity, vastness, and beauty: that they're among the artistic masterpieces of the twentieth century and we're fools not to go see them. I for one plan to make the pilgrimage to La Jolla for the Salk Center as soon as I can.

The triumph of Nathaniel Kahn's documentary is its balance. While the exploration of the buildings and the processes behind them goes along, so also the search for the secrets of Kahn's life continues through the course of the film. We realize that indeed as Wares says, Kahn's weaknesses and his virtues are inseparable. If he was a bit of a Don Juan, it's because he was a man of great personal charm, a man without poses or pretenses whom everyone liked - though sometimes they had to give up working with him to save their health and sanity, because he worked so relentlessly. Neither of the `other women' would have had it any other way. The first found working with him tremendously rewarding despite the painful secrecy (she was an architect too), and the second, the filmmaker's mother, still believes that Lou was about to come and live with them when he died. And if Kahn was irresponsible toward women, he was passionately committed to his work, and the result is a lasting monument of triumphant buildings.

There is a surprising amount of footage of Kahn himself, so that his face, his stature, even the way he looked walking in and out of his offices in Philadelphia, are always a reality to us. It's appropriate that Kahn died in the huge train station, his address mysteriously obliterated from his passport. He died as a nomad, exhausted from his great final project in Bangladesh, driven, isolated. Nathaniel even managed to find and interview - in California! - the railroad employee who found his father's body in Penn Station 25 years before. The whole film seems a combination of diligence and serendipity. It's a homage with equal measures of passion and restraint. Though a search for self in a way, it's selfless and compassionate.


Salk Institute

May 7, 2008

The Renewal of Minneapolis - Critical Response 2

MDG Goal 7 Ensure Environmental Sustainabily: Honors Section

This group investigated Minneapolis as their region to respond and they chose "Achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020" to be the approach of their understanding for this goal. Ranking among the top three most sustainable cities, Minneapolis is well-known for its cleanness and life quality. However, the environmental sustainability situation in Minneapolis still needs to be improved in some aspects. This group proposed some really solvements such as using renewable energy, develop downtown transportation alternative, homelessness and more specifically the Riverside Plaza.

minneapolis 1.jpg

Renewable Energy
Nearly 90 percent of the electricity we use in Minnesota comes from coal, natural gas, oil and nuclear power: nonrenewable energy sources that pose serious environmental risks. Burning fossil fuels such as coal, for example, releases nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and mercury. This can create acid rain that makes our lakes unsafe for fishing and swimming, as well as lingering air pollutants that cause breathing difficulties and contribute to the looming disastrous consequences of climate change.
In addition to pollution issues, our energy consumption makes us dependent on distant and unstable regions around the globe as we compete for ever-dwindling energy sources. By using new, renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower, biomass and waste-to-energy, we not only stave off pollution but we strengthen our own regional economy. Minnesota's tremendous potential for wind power and surprisingly good solar potential make it all the more attractive to support local economic development by choosing local, sustainable sources.

The City of Minneapolis is a national leader around sustainability and strives to set a good example, urging the state and federal government, industry and residents to do their part. The City seeks clean energy sources for City operations and facilitates implementation of renewable energy solutions within the community as a whole, and has already installed solar panels on three of its buildings. Further, in 2008, the City of Minneapolis plans to build the largest solar array system in the Upper Midwest.

While solar panels, wind turbines and biofuels can command attention, the efficient use of energy -- together with new renewable sources -- promises great returns in the near and long-term. The City also works to reduce overall energy use by eliminating unnecessary usage and developing energy-efficient facilities.


Homelessness is a problem that affects every sector of our community; from business owners to law enforcement and public schools to the homeless themselves, everyone benefits from ending homelessness in our community. The city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County have recently passed a plan to end homelessness in our community by the year 2016. This 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, also known as Heading Home Hennepin, was developed by business and civic leaders, advocates, community members and individuals who have experienced homelessness. It was created to help address the growing problem of homelessness, and change the paradigm from managing it to ending it.

The Office to End Homelessness was is a city/county partnership created with support from Mayor R.T. Rybak and Commissioner Gail Dorfman, as well as extensive support from both the Minneapolis City Council and the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners.

minneapolis homelessness.jpg

Downtown Transportation Alternatives
Reaping benefits for our hearts, lungs and pocketbooks, we gain enormously when we can get ourselves around without getting into our cars. Whether riding light-rail and bus transit or bicycling and walking, Minneapolitans have access to a growing variety of transportation options. The City plays an important role in making transit affordable and convenient, promoting its use and creating dynamic urban corridors that are safe and convenient for pedestrians and bicyclists. Maximizing walking, biking, and transit within the downtown area, as well as between the high-density downtown with its surrounding areas, is of crucial importance.

In 2007, the City passed a new downtown Transportation Action Plan in partnership with Metro Transit, Hennepin County, Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), the downtown business community and downtown neighborhoods. Elements of the plan include:

* Consolidating bus service onto priority streets
* Reducing bus congestion
* Expanding and completing bike routes and bike racks
* Improving sidewalks

The Renewal of Riverside Plaza
Riverside Plaza is a modernist and brutalist apartment complex designed by Ralph Rapson that opened in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1973. Today, the imposing concrete structures are usually considered to be visually unappealing[attribution needed], particularly with their multi-colored panels (attempting to emulate Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation design) which strongly date the period of construction. Interstate 94 and I-35W both pass nearby, giving good highway transportation options for occupants, but the corridors also act as barriers to pedestrians. Despite these drawbacks, the complex has been successful in maintaining a high occupancy rate, rarely dipping below 90% in three decades.

Among all the methods the group raised to improve the environmental sustainability condition of Riverside Plaza, the combined sewer overflows is the most effective way. Heavy rains or melting snow can fill sanitary sewers beyond capacity and make them overflow into adjoining stormwater pipes. This allows sewage to mix with runoff from buildings, parking lots and streets and flow, untreated, into the Mississippi River. Called a combined sewer overflow (CSO), it can cause serious health and environmental problems that affect City residents and all who live, work or play downstream.Compared to many other cities, CSOs are relatively rare in Minneapolis. The City has been actively working on sewer separation, a key strategy for preventing CSOs, since the 1960s. More than 95 percent of the City's sewer systems have been separated thus far. An ordinance has been passed which requires disconnection of all roof and area drains, or other stormwater or clearwater connections to the City’s sanitary sewer system. Inspections of public and private property and buildings are being conducted to verify compliance.

As part of the sustainability plan, the City’s goal is to eliminate combined sewer overflows by 2014, and meet or exceed the EPA’s sewer overflow control policy.


Minneapolis Riverside_Plaza.jpg

May 6, 2008

Is China Ready to Embrace Sustainability? - Critical respond 1

MDG: Ensure Environmental Sustainability - Section 7

According to UN, to achieve this MDG, integrating the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reversing loss of environmental resources are essential. The problem of environmental sustainability commonly takes place in developing countries without awaring the severe the situations are. My country - China, is one of the problematic countries and I am one of the ignorant citizens of China. I feel ashamed of that.

A group in my discussion did a good job in this MDG project, in which they investigated the situations in eastern China. They sucessfully pointed out the many serious environmental problems such as overpopulation, massive pollutions in some area, energy abuse, chaotic urban planning etc. The whole presentation is such a shocking education process for me because I grew up in a fairly nice area in eastern China and I've never seen a massive trash mountain or yellow dusty skies. I began to doubt what my eyes have seen and what is the truth of China.


Over the next two decades, China’s urban population is projected to increase by 250 million people; these city dwellers use up to 3.5 times more energy than rural denizens. Yet China has relatively few fuel resources, and burning coal—its most plentiful fossil fuel—has polluted the country and contributed to the acid rain that falls in one-third of Chinese cities.

In the group's realm of response section, they investigated the Chinese governmental policies resonding to the existing environmental issues. China announced a plan in 2006 to combat widespread pollution and leave a better environment for future generations. The plan, approved by the State Council, or cabinet, focuses on pollution controls and calls for the country to clean up heavily polluted regions and reverse degradation of water, air and land by 2010. The government has previously responded to environmental crises largely on a piecemeal basis. The latest plan appears to be a broader strategy in keeping with the government's newly stated emphasis on seeking sustainable development after years of breakneck growth. Among the most urgent problems cited by the its report were acid rain, soil pollution, organic pollutants, potential risks from nuclear facilities and a decline in biodiversity. Evidence of the negative effects of years of rapid industrialization, uncontrolled construction and widespread use of farm chemicals can be seen everywhere in China, from the biggest cities to the deep countryside.

china dustbin.jpg

The other thing this group pointed out is that these policies/plans toward resolving the environmental problems are sometimes deactivated by governors for some unkown reason. If China follows these sustainability plans, the country will essentially commit itself to reconstructing a sizable portion of its built environment. In fact, China would embark on one of the largest rebuilding projects in world history. But there are some who doubt the extent to which the former Communist country will carry through with its green intentions. Like many other developing countries, China needs time to grow to be mature. So please be patient.

I'm not one of those blind nationalists but I feel innately responsible toward my country. I'm glad that I had the chance to understand my country's current situation more fully and thoroughly from different perspective, and finally construct a fairly true one on my own. So thank you group7 for choosing China as your region to respond. The last thing I want to say is that we don't really wear masks in eastern China or China in general.


April 10, 2008

Community Service Reflection

I know it's been a while since I started to do my community service but the unfortunate part is I keep forgetting about documenting my experiences. I finally realize that it is part of the grade and I hope it is not too late as my memories are still fresh enough to recall.

Contradictory is the word I've been looking for to sum up my first impression for my community service. It was a snowing February afternoon, I was not quite in mood because I just pulled out all-nighter on Thursday. And it was Friday. I just felt exhausted - I thought I would fall apart any moment back then. To make it seemingly worse, I have to go to Richfield and it literally took me one hour and half to get.

At the PA, I’m helping Arminda and Teresa with the after school program on Fridays. Basically, bring art and essential common sense to kids is the main goal of this after school program. The situation at PA is a little bit unique as almost all the kids are Mexican/Latino and they started learning English at PA, so during talking to them, I need to correct their grammar mistakes all the time. I am in charge of the art project group and we have done several interesting projects.

The first project we did is a game board. It took these smart kids two weeks to first draw a game board and then play with it. I was impressed by the creativities of these kids. Someone made a “Family Guy� game board and my favorite character must die in the middle of the game; someone made an “Aliens vs. Predicators� game board and whoever plays this game should solve several puzzles, math problems and quizzes. Otherwise, that person will be eaten by either Aliens or Predicators. A boy name Roberto made a Mexican Immigration game board. He told me that one day his mom was telling him many stories about Mexican Immigration moving from Spain and Latin America to United States, so he was inspired to make a game board to display their immigration routes. I was amazed by how smart this boy is.

The next project we did is to paint pots to thank volunteers. Painting at that point became a total “disaster� when everyone was trying to finish the task as fast as they could. Some kids just painted the pots into one single color and handed them in. Everything became a little bit too messy. Then, I began to paint my pot, drawing colorful bubbles. Roberto was very curious about what I was doing and he began to imitate my way of painting the pot. It turned out that he did a pretty good job and he gave the pot to me to thank me. That’s only reward I have got from the volunteer work but I felt everything was worthwhile at that moment.

For the next Friday after school program, we invited a music band to school and give the kids a small concert. Everyone is excited about the mini music-fest. They were four musicians coming from West Bank Music School. They have done many free concerts for elementary school kids. They taught the kids some fundamental knowledge about musicology and instruments. The best part is that everyone has a chance to play with those instruments. It was a pleasant afternoon, enjoying music and watching them freak out about music. It was very nice. However, they are always so noisy.

I began to be a lunch buddy last Friday. My lunch buddy is Shaccaria , a 5th grader. She is probably the coolest girl in her age I have ever seen. Shaccaria is polite, humorous and very caring. She is not Mexican but black. She told me that sometimes it is weird to fit in another group of people. I said, I feel exactly the same way. After lunch, I began to help Mrs. Smith with the children’s library. Rearranging the children’s library is really tiring because it is always at a mess. Then in the after school program, the kids learned how to write blogs and basic rules on how to protect privacy on internet. I just think, why we didn’t have such great activities when I was little?

April 3, 2008

Title Design

Title Design 1

TermProject-title-1.jpg Download file

Title Design 2

TermProject-Title-2.jpg Download file

Title Design 3

TermProject-Title-3.jpg Download file

March 12, 2008

Nicely Documented Architecture Blogs

A Daily Dose of Architecture

"2 Sites"

Here's a couple cool sites worth sharing.
gaaleriie.jpg The third installment on features SANAA's Zollverein School of Management and Design (2007) in Essen, Germany. The documentation of the project includes 42 1/2 minutes of video, many images, and some clever navigation.

archiculturefilm.jpg "Archiculture is a feature length documentary that examines contemporary issues surrounding the realm of architecture through the perspective of university students during their final thesis semester." This Friday the Center for Architecture will host a trailer debut party, from 6-8pm.

"AE2: Highway Noise Barrier"

One product of the two main components of sprawl -- dispersed living patterns and the high-speed roads that allow access to them -- is all too often relegated to engineers and manufacturers instead of designers, and therefore is all too often an eyesore. I'm talking about highway noise barriers, those walls erected along the sides of highways where development occurs, and where those in the development do not want to hear (or see) the cars speeding by.

Here's an example of a barrier frequently found along North American highways, basically steel piers with precast infill, the latter in this case treated to resemble a stone wall:
AE002a.jpg [A small portion of the 7 million square feet of noise barriers installed by Durisol | image source]

This wall surely won't be winning any design awards, but it will continue to be installed by developers and jurisdictions that don't want to pay too much for what's becoming more and more required, as highways and dwellings creep ever closer together.

A couple projects previously featured on my weekly page show that the best case for raising the bar on the design of these barriers is to make them part of a building; in other words bring the architecture to the road, don't use the barrier to separate the two.
oosterhuis1.jpg [Acoustical Barrier + Hessing Cockpit by ONL | image source]

The Acoustical Barrier + Hessing Cockpit by ONL is easily the most high-profile recent project to tackle such a proposition. The one-mile stretch of highway that the wall parallels is treated to a lattice-work of steel structure holding up glass panels in a concave section, reflecting sound back to the highway. The "Cockpit" of the project's name -- a car showroom -- inhabits the center of the barrier's one-mile distance, a suitable use for a structure so wedded to its merchandise's favorite surface.
oosterhuis2.jpg [Acoustical Barrier + Hessing Cockpit by ONL | image source]

A few years before ONL pulled off that feat in the Netherlands, Jean Nouvel proposed a similar solution in Italy for Brembo, a manufacturer of automobile brakes. The Brembo Research Office, for good reason, also goes by the monicker "the Red Kilometer."
brembo1.jpg [Brembo Research Office by Jean Nouvel | image source]

Completed last year, the facility's long red wall is an even stronger statement than the Dutch lattice-work, something appropriate to the land of Ferrari. Like the ONL design, Nouvel's barrier has a presence on both sides, in effect making something that is usually an afterthought the most important element of a building...and perhaps even the most important element of a highway.
AE002b.jpg [Brembo Research Office by Jean Nouvel | image source]


BLDGBLOG in Baltimore

2312281349_2a7c1699b2_o.jpg With the BLDGBLOG Book still on my plate here, it might be another slow week on the blog – maybe not – but I do want to announce something else before it's too late: and that's that I will be giving an hour-long lecture next week in Baltimore, hosted by the American Institute of Architects.

2313090474_37d88eee9f_o.jpg Specifically, it's this year's Michael F. Trostel Lecture, sponsored by Preservation Maryland.
I'll be speaking about everything from the historical preservation of American highway infrastructure north of Baltimore to the curatorial problems associated with underwater archaeological sites in the Mediterranean Sea.
There will be stabilized ruins, abandoned prisons, a post-human Detroit, the architectural reuse of war debris, gene banks, epoxy-sealed Utah arches, and the slow fossilization of cities over eons of geological time. There will be liquid silicone, plaster casts of famous statuary, and old Hollywood film sets preserved by the desert sand.
You have to pay to get in, unfortunately – it's $15 – but I think it's free for students, and there might be some kind of discount if you are a member of the AIA. It's on Wednesday, March 19, at 6pm. It's in this building, which is located here.
So please come out! Keep me on my toes. Look at weird images. Laugh at bad jokes.
Somewhat incredibly, meanwhile, the lecture series only includes myself, Gregg Pasquarelli, Teddy Cruz, and Daniel Libeskind.

2313090306_1f700bc2d3_o.jpg 2313090412_7a16ac911a_o.jpg 2312281235_a5e77d34f7_o.jpg Finally, the AIA-Baltimore webpage says, incorrectly, that I am the founder and editor of Archinect – but that is Paul Petrunia, who founded Archinect nearly 11 years ago, in the fall of 1997. I am just one editor among more than a dozen there – and I'm not a very active one, at that! Apologies to Paul for the confusion.
Hope to see some of you next week in Baltimore! Seriously – it should be fun.

March 11, 2008

Who Am I?

Maybe I am an Escapist

wuhn crowds.jpg

I was born and growing up in Wuhan, a gigantic city upon the Yangtze River, which is divided by two huge rivers into three districts. The population of Wuhan is as big as the population of entire Minnesota but it is only as big as the Twin Cities area. Feeling lost in the crowds is the most common sense you are going to get in Wuhan - there are just so many people everywhere cramped, rushed and stuffed. I remembered when I was little, my family hasn't got a car. So every time when we are going out, we have to call it a "journey" - the whole city transit system could confuse a intelligent economist like my mother. I would always be worried about getting lost in those days. The crowd of innumerable people truly scared me like a monster. As a matter of fact, people, even sophisticated Wuhanese get lost in transportation, all kinds of places within Wuhan due to the chaotic urban plan. The situation is much harsher than the Tokyo in Lost in Translation.

Maybe it is the the hustle and bustle of Wuhan that shapes Wuhan citizens' temper - Wuhaneses are famous for being easily irritable. The other part is, the strong sense of getting lost in Wuhan also has given birth to many artists, poets, underground filmmakers, sentimentalists and of course, illegal arty movie-DVD dealers. My father is one of the "arty" people, who is an installation artist and smokes five packs of cigarettes every day. He is never happy and my mother says she thought that was my father's charm. Throughout my adolescence, Wuhan provides me more sentimentalism than optimism or maybe I was deeply influenced by my father. Unlike when I was little, I was not afraid but got sick of the rushy crowd in Wuhan. Many times, I would lock myself in my room, blocking out the real world - indeed, I was anti-society as a young adolescent.

The whole city rolls like a permanent mechanic rotation and that frightened me.

Definitely, I am a Naturalist?

wuhan morning.jpg "Morning, Wuhan" taken by me in 2006

Wuhan is a city of blaze and glaze. In the summer, it is like a gigantic steamer, in which millions of people are burned with the temperature of 100 F. As the extremely hot weather last for the entire summer, Wuhaneses' bad temper could be worse. People tend to hide in there air-conditioned room and everyone becomes irascible. It is also a season of crime and rapists because too many impulses have no place to release.

When the summer comes, I would flee away. I know Wuhan's summer has the power to change a person's temper. And, summer is the only chance for me to get away from the city scene. But unfortunately, I was still remained some rushy and short-tempered side in me, which emerges out when I feel hot or anxious. For many years, I have been seeking ways to clam me down and eventually I found God.

Wuhan Fire.jpg

Chutian Golden Paper 2006-08-05
Failing in stealing, a thirteen-year-old girl set fire to classmate's flat, Xiao Qian (an anonym), a thirteen-year-old girl, copied the house key of her classmate, LinYu (an anonym) and stole in the flat many times. On April first, Xiao Qian entered into Lin's flat again and stole nothing. Getting irritated, she actually set fire to the bedroom. Yesterday, the two families came to terms. Xiao Qian's family paid Lin Yu's family ¥30,000.

When it comes to Wuhan' winter, everything is doomed to die and the weather will be cruelly cold. People say, the winter of Wuhan is the season of mythicism. I'm pretty sure that the mythicism of the winter in Wuhan comes from millions of massacres from ancient time till WWII. Wuhan used to be a huge burial site, where tons and tons of dead people were buried. When I was little, mother always warned me about ghosts and spirit might appear suddenly and I was once in deep fear. Later, I grow up to be a skeptical person and I still respect ghosts.

wuhan iceeees.jpg "Wuhan, winter" taken by me

My City Forced Me to Hear Absurd Stories

yangzte river.jpg

Absurd Story 1:
A young girl drowned in Yangtze River Bank
A young girl walked slowly into the Yangtze river at Dadikou, 6:30 p.m. last night. And she's already drowned when people found her. The reporters were soon on the scene after the accident. She looked about seventeen years old. Subsequently, the policemen found out cellphone and keys from the body. At present, the identity of the dead and the cause of death are under investigation.

wuhan 0622.jpg

Absurd Story 2:
A scientist's statue sawed in Wuhan Optical Valley Square
Three masked men were found sawing the famous mathematician, Li Guoping's statue in Wuhan Optical Valley Square at 3:00 a.m. yesterday. The security man went to stop them and was wounded by the steel tube but the statue's left hand and the equation in its hand have been sawed off. Soon, other security men came to help and the three men fled away.


Absurd Story 3:
Alike in face, Unlike in weight
It’s hardly to tell apart the twin sisters at first sight for they are alike in face but unlike in weight. One is plump while the other is slim. This startling change dates from March when the younger sister was sent to Beijing for two-month advanced study. She took Paiyousu diet pills and lost 14 kg in the staying.

Honestly, part of me enjoy reading these ridiculous stories, almost like jokes for me. Being absurd, weird and ridiculous might be an obvious cultural characteristic of Wuhanese. I used to feel horrible about these nonsense things but later I figured the satirical meaning and the propaganda context in them. Then being weird and satirical becomes my quote and life philosophy that I should not and could not do pretend to believe or compromise. I have to be sharp, tough and conscious. Do art, but not for art's sake; being weird, but not for weirdo's sake.

chairman meow.jpg

March 3, 2008

life on the plain


Minneapolis, USA.

Like I said before, I'm never a optimistic person. Fear is part of me, and probably the best thing inside me. Henry Moore said, "to be an architect is to is believe in life." But sadly, I don't. I don't quite believe in anything. I almost drowned myself in a world of idealism before, by avoiding the reality. So I simply could never be a good architect. That hurts.

I have a room of my own, it is a cave only belongs to me, where I sit is a small oasis in a desert of
darkness. And eerily quiet. But that is what I like after the hard classes, in which I give willingly and unsparingly of myself with no apparent return. I love this tranquility, this quiet, following the strain of the long hours spent on faking myself. This is my rest, this intentional isolation for a while in the evenings, this little time in my room with my pencils, brushes, camera plus tipsy craziness and honesty - all pretense brushed aside, the dominant one, I suspect, is relief.

Then I decide to quit, to escape the constraints of architecture school program.

0048 ć‹·č´?.jpg "Blue is the color I wanna bring to my room 2008" by me

P1010398.jpg "To the Lighthouse 2008" by me in my room


Duesseldorf, Germany.

There is a voice within me telling me that I should flee away from the American scene, the Chinese scene or whatever life style that I'm familiar with. A long moment I lie puzzling under the sun streaming in a golden flow through the blue curtains in my room. I have made my mind to leave and to start out everything in Europe. That's it.

I like it, this new life in Germany. I have a studio underground, where is my refuge to survive with my art, design and architecture. Not like United States, Germany is a country in which art is more tolerated, fantastic dreams of designing could be fulfilled and exoticism is celebrated. In this sense, I thought I could set free all my imaginations and finally realize all my dreams about art, architecture; I thought I could make an impact on the enigmatic sky of Germany; I thought I could do whatever I want to do. The reality is I failed. I failed to make a different with anyone's life. Nobody appreciates my artistic design and profound dream of architecture. I was turned down by thousands of architecture firms by a simple same reason - "It is impossible to be built". Of course, it is impossible to be built because all you care about is how to save money, all you want to get is profit. Compromise, maybe you can give up your dream and design ugly commercial skyscrapers. But, compromise for me is to kill my soul and live like a corpse ever after. My life will be meaningless without creativity and fantasy.

Finally 2016, in the midst of speculation and frustration, I determined to leave again. I packed everything and emptied my studio, I used to call my studio "my shell". At the same, I packed my dream away again. This is the last time I look around my doomed studio. I was once colorful when I was enthusiastic about future. But now, it is dead, dark and gloomy.

If there is anything I change and adopted with my own persona, that is my studio. That comforts me because after all I influenced something. For me, my studio is not micro then - it became all my memories about Germany and Europe.

germany arch 2.jpg "Der Neue Zollhof, Duesseldorf" by braesikalla on flickr

n67900022_30301909_8723.jpg "My studio in Duesseldorf, Germany 2010"

empty studio.jpg "My studio in Duesseldorf, Germany 2016"


Osaka, Japan.

Jade is my name now, believe or not. I have spent years on planting seeds of grasses in Osaka, green and peaceful grasses. Years later, these seeds came out and grow into a green ocean, waving, roaring and flowing. My body is almost receded in this green ocean. Like Claude Debussy's impressionist piano music, lonely and pure. I really enjoy standing in the midst of the grass, listening to the wind plus Debussy, feeling the nature. Many years later, when people walk through the grass, they see a jade statue and that is me.

But why Osaka? Why nature?

Listen, after years of drifting all around the world, I still could not find a place where I belong and I could make an influence. I accidentally stopped in Osaka, Japan, a deserted city. My imagination was brought back to life when I saw the decaying desert and heard the roaring wind. So, my passion to create came in bad nature and white books. Not picture nature in a dozen bird names, but road kills, white pine in eagle nests, fleas in rabbit ears, the last green flies in late autumn, and moths that whisper, whisper at the mirror. That's the truth of nature, brutal truth. Nature voices, crows in the poplars, not plastic bird mobiles over a baby crib. So, nature becomes my big book, imagination is still my teacher.

Then I planted the entire grassland and I built a tower. A steel-made tower in pure nature? You'd better take that as my satirical, almost biased hatred towards urbanism.

Listen, there are words almost everywhere. I realize that in a chance moment. Words are in the air, in the green ocean, in my blood. Words are in snow, trees, leaves, wind, birds, beavers, the sound of ice cracking; words are in fish and mongrels, where they've been since we came to this place with the animals. My breathe is a word, we are words, real words.

For the first time of my life, I feel free. I feel my soul is pure. I feel I could talk to the nature. I feel I am truly released and relieved.

grass.jpg "I planted the grassland in Osaka 2021"

tower.jpg "My tower 2023"


Hong Kong, China

I die in the year of 2046. I'm glad that I'm able to come back to my hometown. Nobody knows me and I'm nobody to everyone. I always believe that I was an artist, architect, naturalist and dreamer.

2046 3.jpg "2046"

February 26, 2008

Boy with a Coin: Children Living in the Shades of Famine

children of a.jpg "Children of Admiral" by jagerBB on flickr

Download file
"Boy with a coin he found in the weeds
With bullets and pages of trade magazines
Close to a car that flipped on the turn
When God left the ground to circle the world

A girl with a bird she found in the snow
Then flew up her gown and that's how she knows
That God made her eyes for crying at birth
Then left the ground to circle the Earth

A boy with a coin he crammed in his jeans
Then making a wish he tossed in the sea
Walked to a town that all of us burn
When God left the ground to circle the world."

-- Iron & Wine "Boy with a Coin"


Download file
"Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries,
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will live as one"

-- John Lennon "Imagine"


30&6,000,000,000&1 -- "More than 30 per cent of children in developing countries – about 600 million – live on
less than US $1 a day."

3.6&5 -- "Every 3.6 seconds one person dies of starvation. Usually it is a child under the age of 5."

100,000,000 -- "One than 1 billion children are severely deprived of at least one of the essential goods and services they require to survive, grow and develop."

13,000,000&17&39 -- "Nearly 13 million children in the United States—17% of all children—live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level. Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, 39% of children live in low-income families."

?,000,000 -- "In China, millions of children are out of school for a wide variety of reasons.

23,650,000 -- "At the end of 2007, China had 23.65 million Children living below the poverty line."

? -- But the Children in China are only a small percentage of the children who are suffering from poverty and hunger across the world.

hunber.jpg "Poverty in Canada" by Su Bee on flickr


Poverty hits children hardest. Most of the people living in poverty are children. Poverty denies children their rights. It weakens a child's protective environment, as much abuse and exploitation of children is linked to widespread and deeply entrenched poverty. It blights their lives with ill health, malnutrition, and impaired physical and mental development. It saps their energy and undermines their confidence in the future. No society has ever seen a broad-based reduction in poverty without major and sustained investments in the rights of its people to health, nutrition and basic education.

143 million children under five in the developing world continue to suffer from inadequate nutrition. The highest numbers are in south Asia, where over half the under-fives (54%) were underweight in 1990, but there is progress in this region, with the proportion falling to 46% by 2006. Asia, the second poorest part of the globe, has seen a drop from 41.1% living below the poverty line to 29.5% by 2004. However there have been no such gains in sub-Saharan Africa. If progress continues to be this slow and patchy, the 2015 target will be missed by a margin of 30 million children.


According to the UNICEF report, more than 85% of primary school-age children are now receiving a basic education, although the figure drops to 70% in eastern and southern Africa and just 62% in west and central Africa. Between 2002 and 2005, the number of children out of school dropped from 115 million to 93 million, and of those still without a school place 41 million live in sub-Saharan Africa and a further 31.5 million live in south Asia.

Actual attendance rates tend to be lower than enrollment rates. In eastern Africa, for example, fewer than three out of five children attend primary school, and UNICEF says that some of those are pupils of secondary school age who have started their education late or are retaking grades. For countries nearing universal primary education, UNICEF says that reaching the last 10% of children out of school is a "particular challenge".

project hope.jpg

Many people mistakenly assume that child poverty is a challenge only people in developing countries are facing. This is sadly untrue. In Canada, the situation of child poverty has gone from bad to worse. UNICEF’s report on Child Poverty in developed countries ranks Canada near the bottom for children’s well-being, at 17 out of 23 countries. This is unacceptable for a country that prides itself on being consistently chosen as the best place in the world to live.

“Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain.�In 2006, 17.4 percent of children in America lived below the poverty line, substantially more than in 1969. And even this measure probably understates the true depth of many children’s misery. Living in or near poverty has always been a form of exile, of being cut off from the larger society. But the distance between the poor and the rest of us is much greater than it was 40 years ago, because most American incomes have risen in real terms while the official poverty line has not. To be poor in America today, even more than in the past, is to be an outcast in your own country. And that, the neuroscientists tell us, is what poisons a child’s brain.


Beginning prior to birth, poor children experience more health problems than their non-poor counterparts, even after adjusting for potentially confounding factors. Controlling for mothers' age, education, marital status, and smoking status, women with incomes below the federally established poverty line were found to be 80 percent more likely to bear an infant at low birth weight (2500 grams or less) than women whose incomes remained above the poverty line. Children born at a low birth weight are at risk for negative outcomes well into their childhoods. Compared to full-term children, neurologically intact very-low-birth-weight children (1500 grams or less) present more impairments in arithmetic, motor and spatial skills, language, and memory, and perform worse on measures of achievement. Children with birth weights of less than 1000 grams are at the highest risk. One study revealed that 34 percent of low-birth-weight children were either repeating grades or placed in special education classrooms in school; only 14 percent of normal-birth-weight children experienced the same outcomes.

"Central Station"

central station 2.jpg

"Central Station" is one of my favorite films all the time. In this Brazilian film, Dora is a retired schoolteacher who makes ends meet by sitting at the station writing letters for illiterate people. Suddenly she has an opportunity to pocket $1,000. All she has to do is persuade a homeless 9-year-old boy to follow her to an address she has been given. (She is told he will be adopted by wealthy foreigners.) She delivers the boy, gets the money, spends some of it on a television set and settles down to enjoy her new acquisition. Her neighbor spoils the fun, however, by telling her that the boy was too old to be adopted —he will be killed and his organs sold for transplantation. Perhaps Dora knew this all along, but after her neighbor's plain speaking, she spends a troubled night. In the morning Dora resolves to take the boy back.

Suppose Dora had told her neighbor that it is a tough world, other people have nice new TV's too, and if selling the kid is the only way she can get one, well, he was only a street kid. She would then have become, in the eyes of the audience, a monster. She redeems herself only by being prepared to bear considerable risks to save the boy.

At the end of the movie, in cinemas in the affluent nations of the world, people who would have been quick to condemn Dora if she had not rescued the boy go home to places far more comfortable than her apartment. In fact, the average family in the United States spends almost one-third of its income on things that are no more necessary to them than Dora's new TV was to her. Going out to nice restaurants, buying new clothes because the old ones are no longer stylish, vacationing at beach resorts —so much of our income is spent on things not essential to the preservation of our lives and health. Donated to one of a number of charitable agencies, that money could mean the difference between life and death for children in need.

This film tells me: whenever a kid needs you, you can never ever say no.

Why Should We Care

“Every child deserves a chance. A kid who is living in poverty does not get a fair chance� – Free The Children

When children grow up in poverty, they pay a heavy price. Research shows that they have more illnesses, perform poorly in school, have more mental health problems, and earn less when they are adults.

Research shows that for every $1 that a country invests in giving children a good start in life, the country saves $7 in costs for health and other problems that arise when kids' basic needs are not met. Helping children out of poverty is therefore morally, socially and economically productive.

Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action. More often we focus on our little self-centered world but ignore the boy with a coin sitting in the corner. Everyone of us should find a boy with a coin in the dark corner; then give him hope, let him dare to dream his dream and make him smile like an angel.


February 13, 2008

Beneath the Façade of Minneapolis

old-building282x367.gif " The Vendome Hotel, Minneapolis, MN"

On a mild December day in 1959, a group of Minneapolis officials gathered beneath the ornamented façade of the Hotel Vedome, at the edge of the city's skid row. They were to celebrate hotel's destruction - and to inaugurate a complete remaking of the city's downtown. The Vendome had been landmark enough in 1917 to merit its own page in the Golden Jubilee fifth anniversary history of the city, where it was hailed as "the center of commercial activities of Minneapolis." This illustrious past had been all but forgotten by the late 1950s, however. The Vendome's architectural flourishes - its richly decorated, faux French façade; its columns and carved filigree; its stone crown with the likeness of Lady Liberty carved into it - offended postwar tastes. The Vendome, shabby and unfashionable, had become a worn-out reminder of a past not worth preserving, a relic of the city's olden days.

During the next four years, the rest of skid row followed the Vendome into oblivion. Known commonly as the Gateway district, or Lower Loop, this neighborhood comprised nearly twenty-five blocks centering on the intersection of Hennepin, Washington, and Nicollet Avenues. Like Vendome, the entire district had fallen on hard times. It was a neighborhood of bars, flophouses, pawnshops, and second-hand stores; charity missions and social service agencies; small-time wholesalers and manufacturers; and office buildings that had aged past their prime.

The old men who lived on skid row had served an important role in the region's industrial history. They accounted for the majority of the city's public drunken reality back then. Like the buildings of skid row, they were relics. But by the 1950s, the city planning office commissioned the "Beautiful Entrance to a Beautiful City", in which the slum was ordered to be cleared at the Gateway area. Nevertheless, like the city planning department's earlier plan, the Housing and Redevelopment Authority's included a public component. The relocation committee proposed a special housing project north of Hennepin that would re-create the single-occupancy rooms the men had lived in on skid row. It ws designed to be a safer, cleaner version of skid row, without bars and missions. By April 1961, nearly hlf of the cage hotels and flophouses had been obliterated, accompanied bu an exodus from the Gateway. Some fifteen hundred men collected their scant belongings and left skid row during the first year of demolition. Most of them found housing in nearby downtown neighborhood. By 1962, with 80 percent of the Gateway buildings demolished, the population had shrunk to almost nothing.

While material housing conditions improved for those displaced by the land clearance, relocation officials found that in many cases, the men missed their old life. One man, who had lived in a cage hotel for ten years, complained that although he enjoyed the windows and closets of his new apartment, he couldn't find roast park and applesauce like he'd had on skid row. Indeed, skid row had grown and developed quite specifically to fulfill the needs of this culture. But the workingmen, pensioners, drunkards, and thieves of skid row - their lifestyles and livelihood were inextricably tied to skid row.

"We disturbed their way of life. We were destroying whatever culture existed there: the ability of people to make do."

1409168.40.jpg "There's a part of me that's very sympathetic to drinking too much and pissing on walls"

SkidRow.jpg "Skid row residents look on as their homes and haunts gradually disappear before the wrecking crew."

February 4, 2008

Motions Full of Lives, Memories and Sensations: A Painful Realization of Past, Present and Future

MTL_lastcall_curve.jpg "A Conceptual Representation of Our Inner Energy"

"The energy in me is tangible, growing..., time changed and reshaped the flows..., both trees and I found shelters in the space..." -- Andy Goldsworthy

Minimalism is already Andy Goldsworthy's choice. His outdoor conceptual art is ephemeral, often consisting of simple and fragile materials such as twigs, leaves, ferns, or ice placed in natural settings with no attempt to protect them from decay and disruption. Each work of him grows, stays and decays. He says, “process and decay are implicit". The energy involved in his works is always melodramatic and sentimental. In his "beehive-like structure of stone" project, the stone was over lapped by the ocean; when the tide of the sea receded, the stone re-emerged to be more isolated and imperfect. The energy of the tides changed both color and shape of the stone, and therefore left a scar during a certain period of time: as a proof of passing on pains from the past to the present, ending at a closure in the future.

As beautiful as many of Mr. Goldsworthy's works are, torture is part of his authentic "character" of works that he wants to bring to his environmental art. But why there are so many pains in the magnificent world of nature in terms of Mr. Goldsworthy's meditation? Those twisted and isolated natural flows are the shelters for him, where he escaped from the greatly urbanized world. However, maybe he could flee the space of floors and ceilings to the space of the ground and horizon; he is never able to overcome the eternity of time. Time changes the existential importance of everything. The flow of time never pauses. That is the reason why we fear the aging, death, and the transformation of the things we've already known by hearts.

I regard myself as the same kind of person as Andy Goldsworthy, who tends to be very conservative to accept rapid changes. Urbanization haters. Totally idealistic and artistic. I lived in Beijing, China for a long when I was little. The only thing I could remember about that gigantic city is the constant noises produced by the constructions of new buildings and tearing down old streets. The sky was forever gray and yellow – they are the colors of steel and clay. Father said to me one day, “We have to get out this disrespectful and murderous city.� Then he told me a story: when the new China was just founded at the year of 1949, there was a nationwide argument about the re-planning of Beijing. Some “leftists� strongly suggested that the new re-planned Beijing should preserve all the ancient architecture and old streets, meanwhile some “rightists� simply wanted to tear down anything “old� to create a “new� Beijing. Liang Sicheng, a famous Chinese architect was one of the leftists, who presented a perfect plan creating a functional and old-fashioned new Beijing without damaging the ancient architecture at all. But his idealistic blueprint was never commissioned by the government. On the day the ancient Forbidden City was tore down, Liang sited at the gateway of Forbidden City, crying helplessly when the monstrous machinery was destroying the 2000-year-old buildings. Pathetically, he could not protect the best architecture of ancient China. It was not only a tragedy of an architect, but also a tragedy of an ancient civilization. This ignorant destruction can be seen as a devastating transformation of a city, which ruined most of the memories and sensations of this old city. I can only imagine the pains Liang was going through. It was a pain caused by the industrialization. It was a pain of the changing time.

No matter how naturalistic I am, I still cannot prevent the natural environment from being urbanized. Nor can Andy Goldsworthy. Urbanism in many ancient cities is inevitable so that the reconstruction of much architecture is unavoidable. Almost all the old cities have suffered or are suffering the rapid transformation like Beijing, Tehran and Istanbul. Compromises have to be made. To concretize the essence of "genius loci" in ever new historical contexts, in terms of architecture and urban plan, is becoming a significant issue. The existential purpose of architecture is therefore to make the balance between natural and urban environments, and to uncover the potential meanings of the urban architecture presented in the given natural environment. Only in this way can "the spirit of the place" be conserved, can the ancient culture be ceaseless, and finally can we overcome the pains of trading the past with the present.

I believe that both architecture and city celebrate the joy of retrieving their lost cultural spirits and natural roots. The energy of architecture and city will be carried on throughout the lives, memories and sensations contained in them. Then their motions will grow humane and permanent.

forbcity-1.jpg "The Old Forbidden City, Beijing, China"

Bavinger.jpg "Bavinger House by Bruce Goff, expressed the sense of amalgamation of natural and urban environment"