Category: Blog

Zhang Ke, hutong

Zhang Ke – beauty in béton brut

A small concrete building, stained black and sculpted into a cosy looking sculptural form, was one of the Arsenale highlights for me at Venice Biennale 2016. The elemental yet subtle use of materials in this building by Chinese architect Zhang Ke seemed to derive from the concrete spaces imagined by Le Corbusier, and on some level from brutalism in the raw handling of the material.

Zhang Ke, Micro Yuan'er
Children’s library and arts centre Micro Yuan’er

Zhang Ke is making work that’s hugely significant now. He has just received the Alvar Aalto Medal, which has been previously given to leading architects such as Tadao Ando, Alvaro Siza and Steven Holl. The award is given to architects who’s work is seen as a continuation of Aalto’s legacy. “Aalto has inspired me for decades already, since I was a student. Two days ago I was again in the Aalto Studio and the House , and I still discover new things. The magic with Aalto’s work is that first you don’t see anything surprising, but the more you look at it, you can discover many small things,” Zhang Ke says.” His House is put together with a lot of inventions, but they are discreet. So I would say ‘discreet innovation’ – that’s why Aalto is becoming increasingly known around the world.”

ZhangKe, Alvar Aalto Medal 2017
Zhang Ke at The Finnish Museum of Architecture at the opening of the new exhibition celebrating the 50 th anniversary of the Alvar Aalto Medal

When Zhang Ke rose to the podium at Aalto’s Finlandia Hall to receive the medal, he first pointed out not being as young as he looks. Born in 1970, he studied in China and later at Harvard and had visited the Aalto Studio and House as a student already previously. He is one of the young generation, with an international outlook, but a great sensitivity towards materials and natural forms.

The small children’s library in rough concrete showcased at Venice, designed without any of the usual ‘fun-and-friendly’ semiotics, felt like the cosiest place to spend time in. It looked inviting and elegant, like a minimalist hut for thinking and reading. Another building project, a cultural centre in Tibet, has been crafted from stone quarried nearby. Using traditional stone building methods, the architecture feels sculpted into its surroundings, nestling on the riverside.

Niyang River Visitor Center, China
Zhang Ke, Niyang River Visitor Center
Niyang River Visitor Center

At the opening of the exhibition, which also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Alvar Aalto Medal, I got a chance to ask Zhang Ke about the use of materials in his buildings. “I’m very interested in materials of the place. Materials carry a lot of information about a place,” he said, “Also a material that ages in the place, creates a connection to the place and to human beings. The craftsmanship that embodies the knowledge of the people, who know how to do it, carries on the culture.” He sees great value in traditions: “You can use this in a surprising way. So in a way it’s extremely traditional, but at same time we know that it’s not.”

Zhang Ke architecture
Zhang Ke, a new layer to to the city fabric, the hutong transformed

Zhang Ke’s buildings sit neatly in the landscape. Or in packed urban environments squashed into the heart of the old city fabric, as in the contemporary hutong extension, where again Zhang Ke moulded sculpted forms out of concrete. “Usually people think new materials represent something new for architecture. I don’t think so. Or it depends… It can be the most humble material that carries the contemporary sense.” Zhang Ke says.

The way in which Zhang Ke uses humble materials is hugely inspiring. Creating something extraordinary from dark stained rough concrete for children, shows how a careful play with material and form can bring beauty into the world. “I don’t think of material as a statement, but something that connects the emotional aspect of people, of the visitor and the people who live there with the place.” he says.

On the meaning of place and local culture Zhang Ke says: “We can always go deeper. Maybe in Finland people are experts in silence, and maybe in China people are experts in the inward space, there are lots of layers in the inside world.”

[mashshare]

Aarhus – Capital of Culture

The power of architecture is embedded in the DNA of Aarhus. Historic buildings are well looked after and new additions are celebrations for new possibilities.

Witnessing the city from the top of ARoS Art Museum inside Your Rainbow Panorama, designed by Olafur Eliasson, you will sense that aesthetic experimentation is conducted in Aarhus with great skill and ambition. Now the museum will also expand under the ground. A €40 million plan was revealed in 2015, where the original museum’s architects Schmidt, Hammer, Lassen are collaborating with American artist James Turrell to create a 1200m2 subterranean gallery – playing with colour and light will continue underground. Director Erlend Høyersten has been the driving force and visionary behind this grand cultural scheme.

Your Rainbow Panorama by Olafur Eliasson, ARoS Museum
Your Rainbow Panorama by Olafur Eliasson, ARoS Museum
James Turrell at Aros Museum, photo ©Morten Fauerby
James Turrell at Aros Museum,
photo ©Morten Fauerby

The city’s creative flair is linked to Aarhus architecture school, which is one the highly esteemed ones in Europe. Stephen Willacy, a Brit who used to teach there and now works as Chief Architect for the city, says there is a special approach with great attention to detail in the Danish way of thinking and working. We walked around his office, the Arne Jacobsen designed town hall with beautiful interiors crafted by Hans Wegner, who started his career working for Jacobsen. In the main hall, which now hosts weekly events and exhibitions, I found rows of tables, each one showcasing a small installation by a local designer – so simple and elegant.

Aarhus City Hall, designed by Arne Jacobsen
Aarhus City Hall, designed by Arne Jacobsen

Over the summer the seafront has been transformed with art installations. There is the massive balloon-like bar canopy by Bjarke Ingels, and an absurdist fountain by Pulkkinen & Rautiainen, consisting of a crane, a car and a screen grab from Google Earth. The industrial harbour buildings have been converted to galleries, where you’ll find works by both emerging artists alongside superstars, such as Doug Aitken, whose ‘anger room’ has proved a hit. All these works are part of the ARoS Triennial exhibition ‘Garden’, which is one of the main events of the European Capital of Culture program. Inside the museum, the show extends to more traditional approaches around the same theme.

Moesgaard Museum, designed by Henning Larsen
Moesgaard Museum, designed by Henning Larsen

A short drive outside the city, surrounded by meadows and fields, you’ll find the stunning Moesgaard Museum, designed by Henning Larssen Architects, which opened in 2014. Following its sloping site, the building’s grass-topped ceiling provides another level for admiring the countryside, while the museum spaces are carved into the hill below. Another example of Danish design, where you can see the foundation of brave and clear thought. Inside there is another highlight of this year’s art programme, a cinematic installation titled The Journey, directed by Christoffer Boe.

Den Gamle By
Den Gamle By

Aarhus is easy to explore, a compact city with plenty of cultural events this year and a strong architectural legacy. In contrast to the cutting edge art, architecture and design, Den Gamle By is a step into the past, an entire neighbourhood and open air museum dedicated to Danish architectural history of past centuries – yet another well-designed and executed site to explore.

 

 

 

[mashshare]

New Serpentine Pavilion by Francis Kéré

Serpentine Pavilion 2017 , designed by Francis Kéré, photo: ©IwanBaan
Serpentine Pavilion 2017 , designed by Francis Kéré, photo: ©IwanBaan

Architectural highlight of the summer – the new Serpentine Pavilion in London

By Harri Närhi and Marianna Wahlsten

The Serpentine Pavilion marks one of the most anticipated events in the architectural calendar. Designed this year by Berlin-based Francis Kéré, the Pavilion is an open structure, beautifully crafted out of wood and steel into ornamental patterns.

Video clip from press launch, © Glen Travis

Read more

[mashshare]
Alvar Aalto, Riihitie home, Helsinki

Alvar Aalto – art and formal innovations

Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki now hosts a touring exhibition on Alvar Aalto, produced in collaboration with the Vitra Design Museum. Artworks by key artists, including Hans Arp, Calder and Léger are showcased alongside Aalto’s designs.

Read more

[mashshare]

All about context – new museums in Lisbon and Tartu

On the edges of EU, two museums opened in the fall of 2016, both designed as a continuation to the surrounding landscape. In Tartu, the Estonian National Museum was designed by Paris-based firm Dorell Ghotmet Tane. Near the Atlantic coast in Lisbon, a new addition to the MAAT museum was designed by Amanda Levete’s London firm AL_A Architects.

Read more

[mashshare]