The Material Respond to Social Transformation: Experimental Architecture Production in Contemporary China
Mr Lu Yanheng PhD Student, Department of Geography, HKU
A prominent feature in the social transformation of contemporary China is the production and renewal of the architectural landscape. Since the new millennium, China has witnessed the emergence of a large number of transnational architectures, flagship projects and avant-garde architectural creations, with the result that Chinese cities have become a world-renowned testing ground for architecture. Similarly, the sheer scale and speed at which China is building up its countryside imply that the vast rural area will become another experimental plot for architects and designers. There have been concerted voices among some architects, artists and grassroots actors, who advocate that the social problems should be addressed by trial practices of architecture. These initiatives seem to encapsulate multiple aspirations that go beyond pure capital operation--policymaker, architects and third sector organisation are seeking alternative future visions of economic development, social cohesion, culture preservation, sustainable growth, and more by initiating experimental production of architecture. Existing literature on the intersection of architecture and society extensively examined the linkage between the architecture and political economy, while there have been limited efforts that analyse the plural motivations in architectural practices as a response mechanism to social transformation. This research will scrutinise the role of experimental architecture in China’s transition era, especially bringing the architectural experiments in rural areas hitherto undiscussed into the horizon. The research is situated within the larger literature of architectural geography and science and technology studies (STS). Previous research on architectural geography regarded architecture as a spatial story-telling and an active intervention that can solve social problems. This epistemology has revealed that architecture is not a static, inert, and bounded space, but a dynamic, continuously constructed, and vibrant material combination. Engaging with the laboratory theory from STS, this research further proposes that the architecture is not a laboratory isolated from the outside world, but a privileged place with situatedness and contextuality for production of knowledge. Echoing with a recent turn in laboratory theory, this research holds forth that there is a high-intensity exchange between knowledge produced in the laboratory and society. Experimental architecture, on the one hand, is a hypothesis put forward by individuals in order to solve practical problems. On the other hand, the knowledge produced in the "laboratory" will diffuse to the entire society and become a catalyst for social reconstruction. This research intends to contribute to the reconstruction of the interface between architecture and geography by rethinking the social-material-human relationship.