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Evan Chakroff

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Material Masters: The Traditional Tiles of Wang Shu & Lu Wenyu

Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu of Amateur Architecture Studio are known for their distinctly contextual attitudes towards design which prize tradition and timelessness above anything else. In many cases, their use of materials is governed by local availability of salvaged building elements. Tiles, in particular, represent a material used repeatedly by Amateur Architecture studio and for Wang Shu, who won the 2012 Pritzker Prize, they offer a political as well as an architectural message.

An Interview with Lu Wenyu, Amateur Architecture Studio

Hangzhou Xiangshan Campus Phase 2. Image © Evan Chakroff
Hangzhou Xiangshan Campus Phase 2. Image © Evan Chakroff

“Every couple of years a new manifesto appears, but how long can it last? We need more people doing instead of talking. [At Amateur Architecture Studio] we spend an enormous amount of time experimenting, trying to resurrect the craftsmanship that is almost lost. We use a method that is passed on, hand-to-hand, to re-establish tradition instead of talking about abstract but empty concepts.”
- Lu Wenyu, Hangzhou, 2013

Pier Alessio Rizzardi: “A house instead of a building” is a really famous phrase of Amateur Architecture Studio. What is the meaning behind this concept?

Lu Wenyu: Once, Wang Shu said: “we only make houses, we don’t make architecture.” The house and architecture here have their own meanings. Making a house means making it for the people, making it more tranquil, or closer to nature, more humanized. Instead, architecture is an abstract concept, so many designs nowadays are actually architecture. So this sentence, from almost 20 years ago, “making houses, not architecture”, is about not making that abstract concept, but to make something really concrete and tangible, something that you can touch or that is made with your own hands… so when you see this house, you feel differently.

Ningbo Historic Museum. Image © Evan Chakroff Zhongshan Road. Image © Evan Chakroff CIPEA Villa, Nanjing. Image © Evan Chakroff Hangzhou Xiangshan Campus. Image © Evan Chakroff

Urban Fragment: Jose Oubrerie’s Miller House

This article was written by Seattle-based designer and critic Evan Chakroff

Lexington Kentucky’s Miller House is a built manifesto: an ambitious proposal for the future of suburbia in an age of unprecedented urbanization. Despite its pedigree – designed and built by Le Corbusier protégé José Oubrerie – and despite its (appropriate) selection as a “masterwork” by Kenneth Frampton, the project remains somewhat unknown and the architect underappreciated.

The house should absolutely occupy a place in the canon of great residential architecture. The complex composition alone should inspire myriad formal readings, but more importantly the house represents a model for communal life amid continuously-shifting family structures. It’s a radical rejection of a suburban lifestyle that has become socially, economically, and culturally unsustainable. 

Ruins of an Alternate Future (Jinhua Architecture Park)

Courtesy of Chakroff
Courtesy of Chakroff

Originally published on the author’s website and blog on Archinect, 'Ruins of an Alternate Future (Jinhua Architecture Park)' was written by Shanghai-based architectural designer and theorist Evan Chakroff

One of the great, if seldom realized, promises of architecture is its capacity to affect change. The best architects seem to have this potential in mind constantly as they structure career-length narratives around the social impact that good design can achieve. While this is often hyperbole, and most projects are driven by functional or economic considerations, there is the occasional opportunity for artists and architects to create purely speculative work, where radical departures from established typologies suggest alternatives to the status quo. In these rare cases, novelty is embraced not for its own sake, but for its potential to generate new archetypes, to provide a glimpse into a parallel world where architecture truly has agency: where design can change society for the better. 

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