Wednesday, September 15, 2004

That Preceding Cultural Identification

It was said to be superficial, yet, I find, directional on the future of Asian architecture through IAA. On the whole, IAA symposium was never too bold an attempt to push architects of this part of the world to be aware of their role at the threshold of a new era. It fully reminds me of the collective effort behind CIAM in the early 20's. Those European architects, facing the transition to new society, decided to build in a different manner by expanding social responsibilities, elevating autonomy, and proposing design strategies under new production method for the better­ment of human life. Within those signed the La Sarraz Declaration, there were apparent conceptual conflicts, and their works were not with one accord. However, Modern architec­ture emerged onto the ground when action taken. And, I would say that Asian architecture became a meaningful category after IAA.

As anticipated, we discovered things beyond "function xeconomy" bio‑formula, that is, reworking on the vernacular, transformation of cultural form and object, combination of locality and modern design and construction, oriental aesthetics of space, and more idiosyn­cratic approaches. In general, it appeared that the innovative endeavor was mostly prconceived around the issue of the continuation of cultural identity, and lesser attention to new technology and social-behavioral change.

Since many countries in Asia were colonies of other race and power, Asian history was not a simple story to tell, in which people are constantly seeking their authenticities in conjunction with bewilderment within culturalpolitical dominance. Hong Kong, for example, is a place being cut off cultural ties for operational efficiency in which architects used to look more to their dynamic physicalities rather than racial issues. Place like Taiwan and Singapore are more conditioned by Chinese culture, at the same time, consisting of determinant Japanese, British or American and native cultural facets, where some architects want to redefine themselves through selected cultural symbols, often from Chinese tradition as in C.Y.Lee's case. Continental countries like China, India and Korea seem to have no problem of cultural orientations. However, architects from China showed seriours concern about the manifestation of their racial-cultural legacy, for the fact that inland cultural diversities coexisting in China aroused the cry for national unification policy.

Being culturally composite in reality, quite a few architects had expressed anxieties on how to elongate their tradition perse, While, from their works, we could see vivid British influences coming out of AA graduates, and American and Japanese precedency leading the way of other architects with such connections. The semantic configuration was one of the main topic, and few designers went beyond imageries into structural analysis as in Y.H. Chang's pictographical study and K.N.Tan's calligraphical simulation. Gerard da Cunha, on the other hand, took the pass leading to the persistence of the essential of local constructioti. However, there won't be simple solutions for better representations of culture when the problem at hand is of changing and complex nature.

Unlike CIAM, we saw comparatively less thoughts put on urbanism, though the prescribed topics were about city. Asian cities are now mostly under late 19 century modes of planning, in which architects are vulnerably impotent or just blindly optimistic. In order to avoid former mistakes and to iginite creative explosion, Asian architects should move gallantly to the shaping of the future environment. For people in Mongolia, the decison to embrace urbanization means to abandon normadic living once for all. This is a crucial point of departure for us to reconsider our unban life. When railroad in Bangkok could also be the pedestrian route for the market along each side, we really need much greater imaginations to cope with any easy and habitual judgement. As Rocco Yim commented that architecture is related to what we are and shall be, Asian identities could be more reflected in its living settlements rather than found cultural motifs.

At the last section, Shin Muramatsu mentioned about the new model for Asian architecture, which sets this symposium on the teleological racetrack. My quick response is that we need a much more sophisticate and genuine approaches to respond to many levels of our consciousness, to the frail nature, and to chaotic cities. The innovative model might exist in the process of production, therefore, a sort of methodological theory then leads the way to the end product. Cultural identity is something to be generated simultaneously during rapid societal growth by architectonic talents. It is certainly not a frozen composition, not necessarily a genealogical fetishism, and not the objective set beforehand for the design task.

Fumihiko Maki began his lecture with indication of the possiblities of 100 kinds of modernism and ended with his youth dream of making a vessel, which is illuminating in term of the innovative direction for Asian architecture. I believe we, Asian architects, will testify the alternative modernities and share the spiritual pursuit of space and time in grasping our fantasy within each defferent local condition. As Otto Wagner stated in his writing of late 19 century: "The question 'how should we build?' can not really be answered in a strict sense. Yet today our senses must already tell us that...", in deed, we have to ask ourselves the same question over and over again!

Ti-Nan Chi
( SD 9702, Kajima Publication, 1997, pp 97-98 )