Monday, 16 March 2015

Real parametrics

Sometimes you come across a project that re-establishes your faith in the purpose of architecture, while it also accommodates the architects' in-group preoccupation with interesting forms which dominates the mainstream literature. This little project is one of those classic NGO interventions – in a place where almost anything is valued, but where something good adds immeasurably more value. 
I can’t really do better than to quote from the Architectural Record article:
Devastated by a major earthquake in September 2012, the Chinese village of Shuanghe in the southwestern province of Yunnan suffered neglect and then misguided governmental attention. After living in tents for up to 12 months following the disaster, residents were moved into mostly poured-in-place concrete houses, charmless structures that eschewed the region's traditional mud-brick-and-timber-roof architecture. Realizing that the new village lacked much in the way of social spaces, the government built a large public plaza, but made it a barren concrete surface with nary a tree or a bench to soften its impact.
Olivier Ottevaere and John Lin, professors at the University of Hong Kong who had studied together at Cooper Union in New York, came to Shuanghe at the request of Habitat for Humanity China, which has been active in Yunnan since 2002. On their first visit, Ottevaere and Lin spoke with villagers and learned of the need for a library. They also realized that the soulless plaza offered an opportunity: a free site with a 13-foot-high retaining wall that could serve as part of the library structure and reduce the cost of construction. “We're always asking ourselves, 'What's the minimum we can do?'” says Lin, who worked on this project separately from his on-going collaborations with Joshua Bolchover and their firm Rural Urban Framework. “The minimum here was to use what existed—the retaining wall and the plaza—and just put a roof on it,” explains Lin.

Read the rest here.
There is also an excellent slide show here.

But what a wonderful roof!  A virtuoso exercise in creating double curvature with straight lines, obscuring the distinction between wall and roof. Enough to satisfy the structurally determinative parametrics for those who are bent that way.  

Alternatively, read it as a great deal of good sense, keeping the individual pieces of timber short, in both the trussed structure, and the planked cladding.  Practising as I do in Australia, I can just imagine the paranoia about safety (and therefore professional indemnity liability) that would be induced by the suggestion that this is a terrific surface for kids to play on. But it is.  Sooner or later some kid will break an arm, and be proud of it.

It occurs to me that architecture like this meets the test of both Occam’s Razor and Hickam's Dictum.  It is both the simplest solution to the problem, and gratuitously complex enough to anticipate the many and varied activities and aspirations (both known and unknown), that it might have to serve.

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