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Case studies emphasise context, productive aesthetics

Published on Friday, 07 Dec 2012
Kongjian Yu
Photo: CUHK
Thomas Daniell
Photo: CUHK
Colin Fournier
Photo: CUHK

Today's architects face new and contentious issues such as future urbanism, social ecologies and sustainability. Architectural schools confronting these challenges are pursuing different teaching methods that could reshape the profession itself.

Professor Thomas Daniell, head of the new architecture programme at the University of Saint Joseph in Macau, told the audience at the CUHK School of Architecture conference that he was constructing a pedagogy specific to his current location.

He said he was focusing on Macau's ultra-high-density housing, iconography linked to the city's dependence on gambling tourism, preservation and conservation.

Before moving to Macau, Daniell lived in Japan as an architect and teacher for over 20 years. At the Kyoto Seika University, he let his design students experiment with materials and construction techniques, and took them out into the community.

"In Kyoto, every spring, all of the riverside restaurants build balconies out over the river for evening dining. The balconies are taken down again in the summer. I took a group of my third-year students there to work with carpenters in assembling a balcony," he said.

But Daniell's method wasn't popular with some of his colleagues at the university. "I was seen as overly pragmatic. In Japan ... students were encouraged to be very poetic [in their designs], at the expense of structure, construction and functionality. It's partly because the Japanese construction industry is so incredibly skilled and inventive that unlikely ideas can actually be built in Japan," he said.

Another conference speaker, Professor Colin Fournier of University College London, stressed the importance of understanding the context of an architectural project and of being brave enough to depart from it.

Currently a visiting professor at CUHK, Fournier came to Hong Kong wanting to start an urban-design study on the theme of the ideal city. "It's rather a difficult theme. What is it? What shape could it take? Surely it's not going to be the shape of a renaissance notion of the ideal city. It can be a multiplicity of ideas," he said.

"As a teacher here in Hong Kong, I want to be working both at the urban scale, encouraging students to think about what the new city might be, and in terms of professional practice, working on smaller projects that touch on the identity of Asian and Western cultures coming together," he added.

Meanwhile, Professor Kongjian Yu, founder and dean of the College of Architecture and Landscape at Peking University, said he was trying to promote a new value in China where aesthetics were a religion.

"Aesthetics should be productive. In dealing with the problem of storing water in the city, for instance, we developed a strategy of design as a solution and research tool," he said.

"Instead of the engineering approach of using pipes and pumps, we used the landscape to deal with storm water. We got our students to test how the water could be collected, managed and cleaned, while at the same time helping to make the city beautiful," he added.

"In Tianjin, we created a series of solar-collecting power systems of different sizes. People saw how the new aesthetics actually changed the environment. It was a new way of designing the landscape that more people actually preferred."

Yu added that practice itself is research. "We have to adopt this model, but the practice is not market-driven. We have the vision and ideas. We must be radical, but we must also be accepted by clients and decision-makers in China," he said.

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