Aldo Rossi writes in his book “The Architecture of the City”: It is a general characteristic of urban artifacts that they return us to certain major themes: individuality, locus, design, memory. Would remaking the urban artifacts (fatti urbani) by means of analogy save the urban context from the unprecedented urbanization in China? This is an urban project we carried out from planning to execution.
It is like a pocket space where an alley opens to a street. It is tiny, messy and trivial, yet it matters to those who live here. This urban design project aims at those small spaces that are always neglected by planners, but actually so important in making urban living worthwhile.
Zhongshan St. is a typical main street with mixed used of small blocks of commercial and residential in downtown Lishui, a small city that is surviving in the trend of rapid urbanization in China. The urban texture here somehow remains the look of twenty years ago, with alleys opening to the street with a pleasant scale. Local urban renewal company was eager to upgrade this street to keep pace with the dramatic change of urban landscape nearby, and called for proposals.
An unconventional measure was suggested in this proposal to focus on these intermittent tiny pocket spaces that had been abandoned mostly for illegal random parking, and to bring back the once lively outdoor alley life, as opposed to most urban planners’ vision on overall landscape.
The precedent case of this spatial typology, so called “pavilion of wind&rain”, can still be found in nearby rural area, with rough wooden roof and long benches on both sides. Regardless of wind or rain, villagers loved to gather here at the neck of the alley, exchanging tabloids, playing with caged birds, or watching chess play. This experience of living environment is the exact “genius loci” that needs to be reclaimed.
This very concept of “pavilion of wind&rain” is reintroduced into pocket spaces in a contemporary way by marriage with public art. Different forms of art installations were chosen based on the size and proportion of a pocket space. The vernacular cultural symbols were reinterpreted and transformed by an abstract language. There is a well known large house in an ancient village in this area. The corridor inside has two round doorways with overhead wall inscribed by calligraphy – “mirroring the moon”. Traditional dwellings may be hard to find nowadays, but spatial forms like “mirroring the moon” may still allow locals to find some traces of past living memories. The artworks hanging on both sides of the wall are made of layers of stainless steel and corten steel. The different textures and cuts compose an image of full moon reflected in the water ripples. On the full moon night, the bright moon in the sky and the "moon" on the wall complement each other. Another example is the kiln-shaped installation at a street corner. This area is famous for firing celadon. People love porcelain, but pay little attention to the kiln that fires it. Glazed bricks were used to form a special transmutation of glaze effect on the skin of this kiln. At night, young couple light candles inside. Through holes between bricks, it looks as if thousand year old kiln fire had added a layer of shiny gloss to the outside enamel. This contemporary installation of kiln freezes a moment of flambé glaze on site that reminds the locals of their long history of firing celedon pottery.
Carving out of the somehow chaotic background, the remodeled pocket spaces have managed to inspire nostalgia and reclaim the urban life in a more dramatized way, by turning into small open-air art galleries for people relaxing, chatting, and getting involved in all kinds of civic activities.
Prof. Min Zhuo has been Director of the Department of Urban Design, China Academy of Arts, since 2012. China Academy of Arts is the leading art and design college in China. The Department of Urban Design is known for its focus on urban and rural issues in the background of recent unprecedented urbanization in China. Prof. Min Zhuo has been leading cross-disciplinary research that covers architecture, urban or rural place, landscape, as well as public art. He has authored two books, “History of Western Cities” and “Urban Residential Community”.
Prof. Min Zhuo is also a Class 1 Registered Architect in China. He and his team have strived to help both urban and rural communities to improve the built environment and achieve sustainable development.