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Prize-Winning Harvard GSD Thesis Questions the Skin-Deep Application of Vernacular Design

Prize-Winning Harvard GSD Thesis Questions the Skin-Deep Application of Vernacular Design
Prize-Winning Harvard GSD Thesis Questions the Skin-Deep Application of Vernacular Design, © Ziwei Song
© Ziwei Song

Each year, the Boston Society of Architects offers the James Templeton Kelley Prize to the best final design project for the MArch degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. This year, the March II recipient was Ziwei Song for their thesis titled “Not so skin deep: vernacularism in XL” for exploring alternative ways of integrating the Chinese vernacular with modern “XL” developments.

Ziwei’s thesis sought to re-approach the typical developer project in China, and demonstrate the capacity of the vernacular image to positively-effect the sequence, perception, and exposure of space. To test this, the project was placed on Chongqing, a typical second-tier city in China with a concentration of XL developer projects.

© Ziwei Song © Ziwei Song © Ziwei Song © Ziwei Song + 19

© Ziwei Song
© Ziwei Song

Ziwei’s critique of existing applications of the vernacular identifies “decorated sheds” which use vernacular roofs to superficially communicate a culture, or “ducks” which wrap buildings in cultural icons to distort a generic program. Both modes are not only skin-deep representations of the vernacular but skin-deep attempts to use the vernacular to create meaningful, comfortable living space. Ziwei speculated: “Isn’t there an alternative way of building XL projects that go beyond the skin-deep nature of image culture, that is woven into the experience of space?”

© Ziwei Song
© Ziwei Song

The resulting scheme returns to the root of cultural icons to experiment with the ability of the vernacular to choreograph space, bringing spatial richness to the XL tower typology. Ziwei translated the horizontal expansion of a traditional courtyard into the expanded exploration of vertical living, generating functional, sophisticated, exciting spaces that “simultaneously reflect the depth of cultural identity and foster distinctive urban atmospheres in China.”

© Ziwei Song
© Ziwei Song

The image of the scheme’s roof profiles and garden walls are associated with place and culture while also choreographing the spatial experience. The roof profile guides the observer’s view to the outer threshold while organizing the circulatory flow into different living spaces. Garden and gable walls confine neighbor boundaries to protect privacy and differentiate between singular and collective spaces.

© Ziwei Song
© Ziwei Song

© Ziwei Song
© Ziwei Song

To sustain a vernacular language across a tall scheme, Ziwei also looked to the vernacular typology of temples and guild halls, which deployed smaller units to construct a range of scales, from small private units to mid-scale social chambers and large scale civic spaces.

© Ziwei Song
© Ziwei Song

The final design of the tower builds both on the spatial flow of vernacular dwelling that supports flexible, adaptive living components and the viable footprint of developer tower plan. The tower alters the conventionally introverted core to four sides, freeing the central space to collective social space known as the event court. The event court houses various types of social program ranging from theater, foot court, co-working space, sports court, gallery, sculpture garden to urban forest, the key to the formation of mini-community.
-Ziwei Song

© Ziwei Song
© Ziwei Song

More information on Ziwei’s proposal can be found on the Harvard GSD website here.

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Cite: Niall Patrick Walsh. "Prize-Winning Harvard GSD Thesis Questions the Skin-Deep Application of Vernacular Design" 24 Jan 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/910118/prize-winning-harvard-gsd-thesis-questions-the-skin-deep-application-of-vernacular-design/> ISSN 0719-8884
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© Ziwei Song

中国留学生获哈佛大学最佳毕业设计奖,重塑房地产巨构尺度下的设计模式

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