Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Parallel Vision - Photographic Inner Voices

The photographic work of Lee Yoon-ha (李玧河) has a quiet but absorbing presence in Parallel Vision, an occasion to sample works by contemporary Korean and Japanese photographersNot meant to typecast, the all-female line-up has managed to strike a slightly different cord.

Lee, a housewife turned photographer, combines digital photography and ink work with the aid of graphic software to produce a series of images that speaks out in a male dominated country. The storyboard-format work is not a report nor narrative on an event as traditional photography would embrace.  The black and white inkjet prints, a purist might argue, pertain more to graphic art than photography.  Their compositions are more naïve than sophisticated for a minimalist to appreciate.

The photo-graphic work, in reflection to its hybrid nature, tells an allegory of dried anchovies imagining possible lives at sea or elsewhereThese creatures are small in stature but their presence in the Korean food context is indispensable.  They are the ultimate metaphor of the sexes in the eye of the photographer.

Sonatas of anchovy
(Digital photo-montage with Chinese ink on Korean paper)

(photos Lee Yoon-ha 李玧河)

The Forest, Yi Hyuk-Jun (李赫焌)

It is another digital composition of half hidden temples juxtaposed among heavy foliage for viewers to explore.  The print-out with shiny varnishes is presented as a column of oriental styled scroll paintings.

(photos Yi Hyuk-Jun 李赫焌)

Hamel’s Boat, Kim Ok-Sun (金玉善)

The series of portrait photographs documents the personalities of 70 foreigners in Korea.  Inspired by the innocent story of Hendrick Hamel, who was held in closed quarters in Jeju Island from 1653-66, Kim touches upon the fringes of a seemingly homogeneous population of her country.

Dawn, the dreamer

Rich, the naturist
(photos Kim Ok-Sun 金玉善)

Parallel Vision: Japan and Korea Contemporary Photography Exhibition


(Hong Kong Arts Centre from October 14 to November 4, 2012)

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Now and When if it were Here?

 Hong Kong has a population of 7.3 million (excluding visitors) in a territory of 1104km².  Given this brimming density, the city is already suffering from multi-layered problems in health, environment and development issues.  Most deplorable of all and especially to the underclass, basic human conditions
 are slipping by the day.

Photographic exhibition of poverty in Hong Kong at here.

The roving exhibition in Hong Kong from October 13-21, 2012.

3D animation originally conceived for the 12th 
International Architecture Exhibition, Venice Biennale 2010. 

Urban Cyberspace

Co-created by Ivan Rijavec and John Gollings, “Now and When: Australian Urbanism” toured to Hong Kong featuring an approx. 20-minute cinematic 3D video animation and photography in a makeshift darkroom set-up.  The quality of digital graphics was stunning, comparable to that of Pixar-styled cinematography.  Perhaps due to budgetary or technical reasons, there was no commentary or any sound effect.  The exhibition catalogue was too brief to provide any information concept and design intents either.  Negotiating through the thick curtain on the way out, all was left spinning in the head were endless impressions of phantasmagoric urban landscapes of Australia in future. 

Attention seeking Ivan Rijavec with shocking statements 
that breaks the day - Sunday Morning Post 
October 12, 2012.  (article

Sunday Treat

It was Rijavec who made a blood-curdling statement in the local newspaper that drew me to the exhibition show in the first place.  He suggested that Hong Kong, a well known city with massive population should build twice as dense per capita, based on the high density of inhabitants in the Forbidden City durig Qing dynasty.  Having seen the exhibition I chose to believe that this tiny metropolis foothold, if Rijavec’s suggestion be implemented, would only conjure up bleak imageries from films like Blade Runner and A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

Blade Runner  (images Warner Bros. Pictures)

A.I. Artificial Intelligence  (images DreamWorks)

Machination of Image

I hate to barb on our fellow professionals, but as an architect myself, I hope we should offer at least minimum research studies before making wild statements in public.  This is only common to all other professions.  The reality-free video discourses are imaginative, but they also borderline on being unscientific if not downright nonsensical. Too heavy a dose of sensationalism will only numb the audience as well as architect.  It is a vicious cycle that can only escalate further.

Acceptance has been duly granted to the growing trend that architects are becoming image makers.  Architecture and especially urban planning are art form only if rigorous considerations on subjects like geography, town-planning, economics and other relevant disciplines are met.  We don’t need architects to provide mere visual stimulus if there are already writers and film-makers in the sci-fi markets.

This is already the best clip from YouTube:

Exhibition in Summary 

The stereoscopic visualization is comprised of 2 parts, namely Now and When.

Now is a 3D photographic study by John Gollings on existing Australian urban conditions juxtaposed with mining landscapes.

(photos John Gollings)

When is emerged from an ideas competition on exploring Australian urban planning and architecture of the future.  17 selected entries vary from private practices to academics.  The resulting animation was developed jointly by John Gollings and Ivan Rijavec, with visual production by Floodslicer.

(all below images and write-ups

[1] Multiplicity - John Wardle Architects and Stefano Boscutti
Growth is no longer on its periphery but at our heart. Melbourne has grown not out, but up and down. In the future our city will tell multiple stories. A building of narratives and possibilities. 

[2] Symbiotic City - Steve Whitford (U of Melbourne) and James Brearley (BAU Brearley Architects and Urbanists) 
Layered networks of urban and rural systems allow nature and the city to combine in a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit.

[3] Mould City - Colony Collective 
An urban system that reconfigures the relationship between humans, shelter and collective settlements. Mould will not save us, but if we learn how to tend it, new and rich possibilities will emerge.

[4] Terra Form Australis - Hassell, Holopoint and 
The Environment Institute
Asks what strategic moves Australia would have to make to accommodate a population of 50 million people in the year 2100.

[5] The Fear Free City - Justyna Karakiewicz, 
Tom Kvan and Steve Hatzellis 
Seven desperate dreams are followed by seven desiring 
dreams in a project that attempts to flush away fear and reveal the opportunities for a rewarding, sustainable city.

[6] Survival vs. Resilience - BKK Architects and Village Well
From an assumption that cities have to be planned before they are formed, this project explores the conventional wisdom of the multi-centred city.

[7] Ocean City - Arup Biomimetics
Tackling the large-scale migration of the Australian population from land to sea, necessitating a rise in biomimetic practices. 

[8] -41+41 - Peck Dunin Simpson Architects and 
Eckersley Garden Architecture
Looking at how ideas recycle and morph over time, this project looks 41 years into the past to see 41 years into the future.

[9] Sydney 2050: Fraying Ground - Richard Goodwin Art/Architecture and Terroir
Urban strategies of fraying, knotting and parasitism are realized through a process of remapping and drawing across all scales.

[10] Island Proposition 2100 - Room 11
Embodying hyper-connectivity, the IP2100 spine contains a looped system of hybrid infrastructures, initiating a new symbiotic relationship between the urban centres and their supporting territories.

[11] Aquatown - NH Architecture 
As water and resources diminish the need for a new kind of infrastructure increases, bringing new urban forms with it. Australia’s growth cities respond like tree roots searching for nourishment, spreading into new borders and territories.

[12] A City of Hope - Edmond and Corrigan
A specialist city of 50,000 located on the boundary of Little Desert National Park in the Wimmera region of Victoria.

[13] A Tale of Two Cities - Billard Leece Partnership 
Excess consumption has bankrupted cradle-to-grave industrial economies and cities have contracted, condensed and multiplied. Visible as a holographic projection, the city’s doppelganger audits and guides the city’s development far below.

[14] Implementing the Rhetoric - Harrison and 
White with Nano Langenheim 
Optimistically imagines that by 2050 politicians and planning authorities will have the power, conviction and know-how to decisively address critical urban issues. Using de-fragmented design techniques we visualize a literal, undiluted sustainable urbanism – solar amenity, strategic density increase and walkable cities.

[15] Sedimentary City - Brit Andresen and Mara Francis 
The sedimentary city of Brisbane is layered city-on-city, its layers existing in time and in space. New layers carry the trace of past cities with potential to draw in missed fragment catalysts.

[16] Loop-Pool / Saturation City - McGauran Giannini Soon, 
Bild + Dyskors and Material Thinking
A manufactured crisis – a 20-metre rise in sea level – enables an exploration of the future of Australian urbanism through four distinct typologies.

[17] How Does it Make You Feel? - Statkus Architecture
Based on the premise that gravity is able to be controlled, fundamentally changing the way structures are realized and opening up the possibility of floating cities.

此時,彼時,在這裡  〈中文摘要〉


這次參觀原於星期天南華早報裡報道雷雅維克 (Ivan Rijavec)的展覽。但他的驚人發表確實令人感覺不寒而慄,原因他建議香港參照清代紫禁城人口之高密度情况,建築發展大可比現今提高一倍。這言論除了譁眾取寵,確實荒誕不經。我恐怕若按雷氏的方案,電影2020(Blade Runner)及人工智能(A.I. Artificial Intelligence)的末世蒼涼絕境將充斥於本城角落。




Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Zaha Hadid sings Guangzhou Opera House

Visit without Spotlights

Two years after opening, with plenty of accolades on the design and unanimous criticisms on the workmanship, I went to Guangzhou to visit the opera house with relative cool head.  The public attention has gone but the review with less hype would only do justice to all.

A comforting reassurance to able architects, I have had the experience most of them would love to hear - that is the concept of the project is manifest visually before the eye through its architecture. The subversive thought of unreadable architectural concepts in most buildings does not apply in this occasion.

To be fair with Zaha Hadid’s efforts, the above observation is pure incidental.  I have never read any critique on this project prior to the visit.  At the same time, I must declare to be a non-believer of deconstruction architecture and even after writing this article, I am not a particular fan of her.   

Aerial view with an array of landmarks and 
the Pearl River bank towards the south.

A Visual Concept

According to its architect, the opera house had its inspiration from the Pearl River, which is the source of drinking water and a host of activities for the inhabitants of Guangzhou.  With the biomorphic forms akin to two giant pebbles drifting ashore along its bank, the two expressive looking performance venues incite comparison with scholar rocks, which are much adored by the locals.

Almost imprinted in the psyche, the appreciation of 
unusually shaped rocks in China, or suiseki 
in Japan, has a long tradition in the Orient. 

From top to bottom: Level One, Level Two, High level plan 
and Section through the grand auditorium. 

Formalistic layout of the new Guangzhou CBD centred along 
the grand boulevard that is terminated with 
two iconic buildings towards the south.

Given that the Guangdong Museum, strategically located with the opera house as a pair of new cultural icons perpendicular to the central axis, has the same plateau-cum-main building arrangement.  It can only be deduced that the setting was a predetermined criterion for both competition briefs.  All said, the analogy of prized stones rested above a river bank is conceptually viable as an installation.  In the eyes of the Cantonese, it easily make image associations pertinent to the school of Lingnan still life wash paintings.

Luxembourg Opera House in 1997.  Though not materialized,
 it might have laid foundation for the more mature 
Guangzhou project in 2003-2010.

Nudging Tensions

Daunting to view at first instance with the low lying concrete masses, the opera house is surprisingly easy to orientate and navigate.  As the site faces south and the main approach comes from the north, Hadid did a skillful job of channeling pedestrians either from east and west via underpasses, steps or ramps.  People are easily directed to the foyers where the solid stone shells are punctuated with irregular stripes of glazing and entrances.

The two performance buildings of grey and white, their volumes reflecting the programme of housing a formal auditorium of opera and small scaled experimental theatre, are raised on a platform of circulation routes, entrance foyers and ponds.  The two “pebbles” create interesting solid and void relationship, the resultant tension are compelling.  Apart from the main cast, other public facilities especially the catering venues and exhibition space are though too dispersed and not strategically located.

A photographer may find it hard to shoot 
the Guangzhou Opera House.  The building has one of 
the most unusual building expressions to be captured but 
the result seems to be far from desirable.

Disconcerted neighbours

On another sour note, the relative tight plot for a grand project of this scale has one particular drawback – the amoebic buildings with interesting nooks and crannies are blocked by the high plateau ground floor at certain angles.  Worse still, the nearby tall buildings incongruously standing among themselves, are in complete discordance with it.  Their close proximity leads to the unspeakable thought that the opera house might be better built somewhere else. 

Glimmering Inside

Interiors of two performance buildings provide fluid flow of spaces that are breathtaking but somehow expected of.

Public galleries with triangular shaped fenestrations 
cast different shades of light and 
darkness depending on the time of day. 

Perhaps due to the triangulated structure that captivates 
the eye, the glazing does not induce view out of the building envelope.  It generates certain introverted countenance. 

In stark contrast to the monochromatic exterior, the grand theatre is painted with gold on walls and ceilings.  Together with the velvety red chairs, they suggest that the architect is determined to appease local tastes.  It is a pleasant encouragement to find a bold enough architect like Hadid to consciously apply colour to architecture, inside or out.  While the public foyers are fragmentary and angular, the voluminous auditorium is fluid and cavorting with streamlined plastering.

Views of the Grand Theatre

The scaled walls, apart from fulfilling acoustic needs, reinforce the idea of triangulation on the structure.  The interior, as remarked by the tour guide, further hints at the presence of the carcass of a giant fish.  The metaphors of pebbles, fish scales and carcass can be tied together under the tradition of the maritime theme.  Both methodologically and thematically speaking, this radical stream of architecture, no matter how progressive it appears, cannot shake away inherently from the language of Modern Movement.

Views of the Rehearsal Room

Tokenistic design of lavatory in black and white that 
do not aspire to much quality.

Worse still is this door design that would be 
better off with conventional detailing.

Awkward-looking stonework at front corner.  It is the 
setting-out by the designers not the resulting 
workmanship that calls for improvement.

Analyzing Charges

The construction quality of this project is laden with criticism, in my understanding, many of which are unjustified against the contractors.  With a highly irregular shape on the exteriors, the segmentation of cladding into triangular pieces did not resolve properly all the geometrical surfaces of the enclosures.  It is often noticed at pointed protrusions and awkward indentations that the stone cladding patterns seem to stray.  This has to do more with the setting-out by the design team rather than the workmen. 

Restaurant spaces in the form of paddy fields 
according to the designers.

There was apparently a misunderstood intent between the architect and the client.  A restaurant space outside theatre could be a success in other projects.  However with performance not scheduled on a daily basis, any dining facility high above in the building would be a challenge to customers.  The purpose design space has thus been left vacant since the building was open in 2010.

Black box theatre interior is unassumingly lacking in design and size compared with other high-profiled interior spaces.

Interesting space and light sources that are not 
used to the fullest.

There is the creeping issue of maintenance that seems to be overlooked by the designers such as the replacement of defunct LED lights at the high ceiling of the grand theatre, broken exterior glazing at unreachable surface and water seepage with no control of where water might flow.

Unacceptably bad craftsmanship and installations that 
the three-party-relationship of architect, 
contractors and client must share criticism.

Of course there are the badly applied sealant joints, haphazard cladding and missing finishes at odd corners that could have been prevented by the contractors.  The fledgling property management of this building and those in other parts of China, all the more, exacerbates its inadequacies especially related to the venues’ unique features and construction technology.

Artworks at a Glance

No doubt the best artwork at the opera house.   “Dreams of the White Collars” (白領之夢) by Ma Han (馬晗) uses white shirts to ignite both thoughts and sensations.  It is fragile and temporal, two values that interact well with the triangulated curtain wall of the background. 

We were told during the architectural tour that 
the origins of some artworks from overseas could not be traced.  Besides having no titles and attributions, 
some of them are real oddities in the context.

Deconstructing Architecture

The exhibition of “Deconstructivist Architecture” at MoMA, 1988 marked the beginning of massive attention from students, architects and the public on the new expressions.

Time has proven itself that the movement of Deconstruction Architecture has crumbled; and its protagonism is an event of the past.  The theoretical basis of semiotic analysis under the philosophy of Deconstruction applied to architecture has demonstrated to be unsustainable.  The operators of the two disciplines can hardly be transcribed.  If it was a disapproval against Post-Modern Classicism of the 1980s, the exercise has succeeded in making a stance and the pastiche architectural movement had itself run out of steam.  If it was a reaction against the modernist dogmas like functionalism and other dead-end parameters, the revolt sparked many debates.

When looking at Deconstruction under a condensed time span, it may be better merited as an architectural development process rather than an end in itself.  The loosely connected characteristics of its architects in play of fragmentation, distortion and controlled chaos defy tradition for the sake of anti-tradition.  Their disdain for form-making only results in another version of form-making.

With projects consuming much more than others, these architects do not aspire to lofty ideals or clear goals.  Since the budgets of such buildings are many times their conventional counterparts, they are often seen as elitist.  For public buildings including the Guangzhou Opera House, these high-profiled developments might help serve social and political intents by means of glorifying the ruling regimes.

In my opinion, the Guangzhou Opera House as a stand-alone piece of work is undoubtedly a success.  It has the lyrical simplicity and abstraction other heavily contrived works under the name of deconstruction do not possess.  However, beauty is not the only virtue, we do not live in an era of isolated values.  Far from this case, architecture today are often exploited to serve social, economic and even political ends, none more so than these deconstruction buildings.  The glamorous architectural profession has been developed into an operation of money-can-buy existence.  Most of these high-profile buildings are relegated as consumables and its architects as mere tools.

哈廸唱和廣州大劇院  〈中文摘要〉


啓用已兩年的大劇院聚焦了以下標準反應:一,對哈廸(Zaha Hadid)的設計高度讚譽、二,對施工質素強烈評擊。我不是哈廸的追隨者,亦非傾慕於解構建築。沒有這些包袱,我抱着平常心檢視這建築。