Saturday, November 7, 2009
I went to the Mass Studies lecture at Columbia on Wednesday. I was surprised by Mark Wigley's introduction when he said, "If there are five, six, or seven, no more than eight emerging architects in the current world who you should keep an eye on, this is one of them. What we see here tonight are not just some random projects, but a redesign of architects as a species." I feel this may be a little bit of an overstatement, but the lecture turned out to be a pretty brilliant one.
One of the most valuable things I saw in Minsuk Cho, founder of Mass Studies, is that he's very conscious and rigorous about his practice. This is not common nowadays, especially among young architects. They do 12 projects a year in average. Instead of throwing out impulsive schemes that come from random "inspirations," they structure the projects within a systematic framework. The result, as Mark commented, is not a loose collection of shocking forms, but a deliberate repertoire of heterogeneous solutions in response to an insightful speculation of the over-populated urban conditions and other contemporary cultural and social phenomena.
"Systematic heterogeneity" is a goal that Mass Studies wants to achieve. It's something between a rigid corporate and a chaotic atelier. It has the rationality of the Hong Kong high-rise housing and also the vitality of the old streets and markets in that same city.
"Systematic heterogeneity" is also a framework that Mass Studies' practice is based upon. Cho divides that into two categories:
- BIGGER: Mass Matrix Studies / Vertical / Spatial / Hilberseimer's Dream
- FASTER: Mass Movement Studies / Horizontal / Temporal / Digital Age Flaneur
Except for the vertical/horizontal part, i think this list makes a lot of sense.
Mass matrix studies lead to "spatial decompression." Projects in this category are various manipulations of a basic spatial structure: the matrix. They are systematically named as "Skipped Matrix", "Missing Matrix", "Eroded Matrix", "Cracked Matrix", "Wave Matrix", "Bundle Matrix", etc. These different actions are not merely variations of a formal exploration. Rather, they are reactions to problems specific in each project.
"Missing Matrix" is a residential tower with sky gardens as the "missing" voids. The structure transfers at the communal clubhouse levels through trusses and sits on pilotis that create a more open ground floor.
Mass movement studies lead to "temporal decompression." When architecture is trying to map out the intimate experience of urban life, the interaction between user and space becomes analogous to a Korean meal (I guess also Chinese meal). Throughout the entire process, you would be able to choose and navigate between all the different dishes as you wish. This experience is very different from the linearity of a western multi-course meal.
The spatial relationships in the Xi Gallery encourage diverse movements. Private and public spheres start to merge and invade each other. Purposefully disorienting...
Mass Studies' agenda is clear and consistent. But when it comes to formal expression, there seems to be some inconsistency. Sometimes I feel they still can't resist the flamboyant extravagance of our time. Some projects are just too much (like the 2010 Expo Korean Pavilion)... and some are even gross. (I have to use this word to describe the Seoul 2026 project...) But I believe they can improve over time. As Mark said, they are definitely worth "keeping an eye on."