The Architect Draws His Inspiration Cultural Studies Essay

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Designed by Wang Shu who is a 48 year old Chinese architect, which thinks of himself first as a scholar, then a craftsman, and finally an architect, Ningbo History Museum was opened in 2008 and is an icon of the Chinese architecture. It integrates in its design not only the area's culture, but also a part of the traditions and history of the place. Wang Shu is also the proud winner of the 2012 Pritzker Architecture Prize, an international prize, awarded every year for the significant achievement of a living architect.

The architect draws his inspiration for this building from the "1000 year old Song Dynasty paintings", where a clear similarity to a mountain like structure can be observed. The museum is a reflection of the city's vernacular architecture, incorporating in its walls bits of the structures that were surrounding it, clearly stated by the architect's choice to use reclaimed materials from old demolished buildings, thus managing to capture a part of the Ningbo's history and also the feeling of spaces in Classical China.

In the design, numerous characteristics, carefully gathered throughout the history, since Ancient Egypt (the Temple of Horus) to Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut (where a similarity can be found between its windows and the museum's windows) and Peter Zumthor's Kolumba Art Museum can be observed.

We can also identify some brutalism characteristics where I will talk about Le Corbusier's Unite d'Habitation and one of the principles of classic Modernism, truth-to-materials, strengthened with the help of Henry Moore's principles of art, from the book Primitivism in Modern art (Robert, 1938).

Travelers Among Mountains and Ningbo History Museum,: 'part ship, part mountain, part castle'.(Anon., n.d.)

Streams (Kuan, F., Early 11th Century)

Due to the fact that the architect Wang Shu draws his inspiration from China's ancient history, he uses hills and water in a "harmonious design" that results in landscape poetry (Rochon, 2012). Ningbo History museum has a very strong natural feeling, not only because of the clear similarity to a mountain, which makes the museum even more imposing, but also because of the cave like entrance and the man-made lake (Wohler, 2010). The design of the building is connected to Historic Chinese ink-and-wash landscape paintings (Wohler, 2010), reminding visitors of the mountains from the "1000 year old Song Dynasty paintings" (Flavio, 2010, p.28), executed in ink on silk hanging scrolls.

Ningbo History museum (Baan, I., 2009) Chinese fort (Anon., n.d.)

Clifford Pearson, who is the deputy editor of the Architectural Record, talks about the form of the building as it resembles a Chinese ancient fortress, as seen in the images above, though in a very modern approach. It is very spacious on the inside and the exterior has a collage of masonry work using traditional materials in a very untraditional way (Anon, 2012).

According to Mohsen Mostafavi, the dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design :

It's possible to see Wang Shu's work as a new vernacular…he's actually deeply rooted in modernism. His work is not something that is just a replica of Chinese architecture or just a replica of Western architecture. It's a fusion of different sensibilities. (Mohsen, 2012, p.18).

As Mohsen stated, this building and its architect, along with others such as Kevin Low who has a Masters in Architecture but also minors in Art History and most of his designs draw inspiration from Modernist vocabularies, but also Elemental which is an architecture firm based in New York, started to create the way for a new Modernism (Gokhan, 2012). By combining a traditional system such as the wa pan qiang tiling (Pasternack, 2009), which is an ancient technique of building (Flavio, 2010) used for building walls after typhoons (Wohler,2010), that is a centuries-old way of reusing materials from demolished buildings (Ortells-Nicolau, 2013) and materials with the modern industry, it facilitates the urban vernacular to grow and still keep the area's traditions.

Wang Shu said in a lecture at Harvard Graduate School of design:

If the building is like the body, the materials for the exterior and interior walls are like skin and hair. (Wang,2012)

As the architect stated, this is one of the reasons for using reclaimed materials in order to not waste anything, much like the customs in villages (Rochon, 2012). The vernacular architecture of the building can be seen in the different types of reclaimed materials used. For example, the different shades of grey and red bricks, tiles (Wohler, 2010) and stones that were salvaged from the demolished houses in the area, which had been used to create a reinforced concrete and bamboo structure (Gokhan, 2012).

The style used in the developing of the museum is a different strain of Modernism from the one used in the west, realized by combining sustainable materials with nature and time. By using this more natural system found in the urban vernacular, a new type of modernism was created for the 21st century and beyond (Gokhan, 2012).

One of the principles of classic Modernism, truth to materials, can be used in describing Wang Shu's museum due to the use of raw concrete, bricks and wood as Marti Pawley argues: "without truth to materials, architects are just decorators", thus allowing architects to have unquestionable authority over the construction (Pawley, 1988). "Truth-to-materials" is a phrase that is encountered in the 19th and 20th century writings about designs and arts. For example Henry Moore (1898 - 1986), who is a very influential sculptor of this century, wrote about "truth to materials" in 1941 where he stated that:

One of the first principles of art so clearly seen in primitive work is truth to material; the artist shows an instinctive understanding of his material, its right use and possibilities. (Robert, 1938, p. 243)

As Henry stated, the artist, who in our case is the architect, shows the understanding of the materials and chooses a less conventional way of using them. For example, the arrangement of the materials on the façades, gives a sense of nature creating the impression of hills, water and even clouds.

Temple of Horus (Anon., n.d.) Chinese: Ningbo Museum of South Gate (Siyuwj, 2012)

In the museum's design there are some similarities with the main gate or the pylon of the Temple of Horus at Edfu (the pylon being a monumental gateway to Ancient Egyptian temple, which is formed from two truncated pyramidal towers). The museum's South part is as dramatic as the temple with its monumental appearance, being reminiscent to a pylon but more untraditional (for example, the two towers seem like two upside down truncated pyramids with a wider entrance).

Ningbo History Museum (25) (Chakroff, E. 2012) Wood grain texture in the concrete (Anon., n.d.)

The bamboo imprints are very similar to "beton brut" or brutalist concrete, that can be seen in Le Corbusier's (1887 - 1965) work Unite d'Habitation in France, which was the precedent for a lot of architects, but also for the forming of the style named Brutalism (Blumenson, 2001). Ningbo History Museum has some Brutalist characteristics like the use of textured concrete as a result of the wooden formwork casting, but instead, the architect used bamboo castings obtaining a bamboo texture to the concrete.

Notre Dame du Haut (Yusheng, L. 2010) The Parthenon: The audacity of the square mouldings; austerity and nobility. (Anon., 1988)

The windows have a random pattern that resembles hollow eyes (Rochon, 2012). The random placement of the windows is reminiscent to Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut treatment of the solids and voids façade. Le Corbusier is probably one of the most famous 20th century architects and a pioneer of modern architecture. Through his judicious Ningbo History Museum (Baan, I. 2009) placement of the windows, Le Corbusier played with the depth (Samuel, 2007), which is a reinterpretation of details from the Greek famous building, the Pharthenon (Le Corbusier, 1946), entitled "the audacity of the square mouldings" where depth is created by the use of shadows. Another example for the use of irregular placed windows can be seen in Henri Cartier-Bresson's (1908-2004) photograph entitled "Madrid" (1933). He was a French photographer very recognizable due to his black-and-white Madrid (Cartier-Bresson, H. 1933) snapshots.

The museum's roof terrace is very similar to Josep Triay Tuduri's image of the Pedreres de s'Hostal in Minorca, Spain, which is an out of use stone quarry that was closed in 1994 but has been transformed into a post-industrial heritage park. The access alley is surrounded by tall monolithic walls, textured from machine incisions, just like the lanes created on the museum's roof.

 Pedreres de s'Hostal ( Tuduri, T.J, n.d.)

Ningbo History Museum aan, I. 2009) Ninghai Bund and Xuxiake Road (Anon., n.d.)

The roof deck is also a reminiscence of a traditional Chinese village in human scale; the voids created through the building are very similar to pitched roofs, while the cuts create the impression of pedestrian lanes. Also, the architect plays with the solids and voids on the roof level, which is similar to an urban plan, so visitors can experience the feeling of the spaces in Classical China (Chakroff, 2012).

Ningbo Historical Museum (15) Qiantong Ancient Town (Chacn, H. n.d.)

(Chakroff, E., 2011)

Kolumba Museum (Anon., n.d.) Ningbo History Museum (Anon., n.d.)

In Archipelagoes's blog, Archipelagoes (2009) discusses about the massiveness of the building and how, together with the texture and the monolithic, solid and heavy look, Wang Shu's museum is reminiscent to Peter Zumthor's Kolumba Art Museum in Cologne, Germany. Peter Zumthor is a Swiss architect and a Pritzker Prize laureate. Zumthor built his museum incorporating the ruins of a Gothic church and stones from ruins of the Roman and medieval periods, in order to incorporate part of the history of the place into the museum's walls (Cilento, 2010) and so did Wang by building with reclaimed materials from demolished buildings in the area.

Both buildings are contemporary and articulated with perforations to allow the light to shine into the museum without revealing the interior. Much like Zumyhor's, Wang Shu's work is deeply grounded, with a very good understanding of the context and a minute attention to detail.

In architecture, every building has a conglomerate of precedents and characteristics similar to other works of art in or outside the field. Ningbo History museum is no exception. Architect Wang Shu's design of the museum combines superbly the vernacular architecture together with one of the first principles of modernism 'truth to materials' and characteristics from brutalism that result in a massive sculptural structure. This museum is strongly connected with Chinese history, for example, by choosing to use reclaimed materials on the façades the architect achieved his goal of incorporating part of the area's history in his museum. Wang drew his inspiration primarily from Song Dynasty paintings which gave the finish design a mountain like feeling that seemed to have been there for years.

The strongest element is the roof deck that is similar to an urban plan of a Chinese traditional village as a result of the solids and voids that are present on the terrace.

Within the Ningbo History Museum, by Wang, numerous similarities such as the windows from Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut, the 'pylon' from Temple of Horus and Peter Zumthor's Kolumba Art Museum, where the massiveness and the desire to incorporate part of the history is very similar.

Wang's museum is more than just a building designed to store the history of Ningbo. The structure itself is telling the story of the area, beginning with the natural landscape that was once there and ending with the feeling of the spaces from the villages before demolition.