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Prototypes and Materials

Atelier Zhang Lei Architects

Prototypes and Materials
By Li Xiangning -

Any analysis of Zhang Lei’s practice must consider his educational background. While 90% of the members of contemporary Chinese architecture practices studied in the US, Zhang Lei is one of the few who trained in Europe, at Zürich’s Polytechnic (ETH). Some of his early work - the students’ dormitory in Nanking University and the teacher’s dormitory at the Dongguan University of Technology - display features typical of the detached rational architectural tradition of both ETH and German-speaking Switzerland: a single material, a single color and one prototype. In contrast, his most recent work while tending towards minimalism reflects his own highly poetic language and personal vision.

Zhang Lei’s first project to blend prototype and architectural narrative by means of a building’s materiality is a brick residential construction on the outskirts of Nanjing. The interior and inner court form a single living environment in a simple, essential program. From a distance, the façades appear compact and uniform. On approaching, however, the intricate layout of the bricks becomes apparent. Designed in the same period, the Concrete Slit House is a cement structure with distinctive slashes and apertures. From the outside, the building appears solidly massive. Once inside, the space proves to be divided by a steep narrow staircase leading to the upper level. The slit in the façade follows the sinuous interior circulation, allowing natural daylight to penetrate both portions of the building. The apertures and the vertical gash coursing from top to bottom of the building give surprising glimpses of the internal domestic space, prompting curiosity. At the same time, the façade presents as a coherent whole.

Zhang Lei curated the Chinese International Practical Exhibition of Architecture (CIPEA), bringing together projects of internationally renowned architects like Wang Shu, Ai Weiwei, Chang Yung...

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