Shenzhen-Hong Kong Architecture Biennale

I’ve just got back from a very productive research trip to China. In addition to meetings with architects and designers in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing, I spent a day at the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Architecture Biennale. Shenzhen is emblematic of China’s recent urban development, being the very first city to be given special economic zone status (in 1979). Located at the far northern end of the Hong Kong MTR train system, Shenzhen is also one of the main gateways into mainland China. Making the trip to Shenzhen was particularly relevant for the ‘1:1’ exhibition as four of the architects invited to submit concept designs for the exhibition have built installations for this year’s Biennale. It was fantastic to be offered this rare opportunity to see examples of built works by these architects that we’re collaborating with – and more importantly, to have the chance to see how their built commissions work in a quasi-exhibition context.

One of the most dramatic interventions was the Bug Dome project (above) by Marco Casagrande and C-Laboratory. The building has been constructed on the wasteland of a building site inbetween the Shenzhen City Hall and an illegal workers’ camp. For the ‘1:1’ exhibition Marco and C-Lab submitted a proposal entitled Ultra Ruin (model shown left) which would operate as a work/live space – one which would be assembled first in Finland – inhabited for a few weeks – and then re-assembled at the V&A for the duration of the exhibition, and possibly to be used as a site for writing and editing a newspaper which would be distributed around the V&A.

Triptyque Architecture, a practice based in Paris and São Paulo, have built a structure in Shenzhen (below) which is a distillation of their proposal submitted for the ‘1:1’ exhibition: a dramatically thatched cave-like form which makes reference to traditional vernacular building techniques.

Occupying the same site as Triptyque (Shenzhen Civic Square), Maurer United Architects have built a structure entitled the Medular Pavilion, which consists of a number of giant lampshade tree-forms arranged in a series of rows, creating a gathering space which functions as a cafe during the day and an events space in the evenings. It really does looks quite stunning at night. For the ‘1:1’ exhibition they submitted a proposal for the V&A John Madejski Garden which explored notions of childhood memory and playspace – a commission which they named Playtime Intergalactic Style.

I was very fortunate to be in Shenzhen the same afternoon that Sou Fujimoto (having travelled from his Tokyo office) was giving a lecture at the cafe next door to the Biennale office. Sou Fujimoto is one of the seven architects selected to build a structure for the exhibition; he is currently developing his Outside/Inside Tree for the V&A Architecture Gallery Landing. For the Biennale in Shenzhen he has created a series of ‘walking chairs’ which provide a dramatic and quirky foreground set against the backdrop of the Shenzhen Library and Concert Hall (designed by Arata Isozaki).

He gave a fascinating lecture: ‘Primitive Future’ – summarising a philosophy which imbues much of his work – examining notions of the ‘cave’ and the ‘nest’, which according to him represent the two embryonic states of architecture. It was a very brief ‘hello’ but certainly very nice to see him again, after his visit to the V&A last November for the scheme design presentations.

One of my favourite slides in his presentation was when he was discussing his current Tokyo Apartments project, and he showed us an image of a whole pile of architectural models that have been stacked up in his office (see below). It’s great to know that there are still architects out there embracing the physicality of model-making with the same sense of instinctive exploration and play that one might apply when sketching on a piece of paper.

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