The Vitality of Building Art

Han Pao-teh
Ex-Director of Museum of World Religions
Ex-President of Tainan National College of the Arts

When I was preparing the establishment of the Graduate Institute of Architecture in 1996, I racked my brains to figure out its position. Should we establish a Graduate Institute of Architecture in an arts school set for artistic creations, especially at the level of its graduate schools? And if it was to be established, how would it differentiate itself from other graduate schools of architecture or Colleges of Engineering in institutes of technology?

Institutes of technology, colleges of technology, or departments of architecture in colleges of design, aim to provide vocational training and nurture engineers. In keeping with the international trend, architectural education in Taiwan has shifted from the engineering education headed by colleges of engineering, to design education led by colleges of design. From this viewpoint, it was not necessary for the Tainan National College of the Arts to follow in the steps of others. Yet, why was I determined to set up this Graduate Institute of Architecture? I feel that to play a crucial part in the world of art, architecture must break through the cage of traditional professionalism and follow the currents of our new age. The art of architecture does not necessarily equal architecture. Architecture is about design, not the art of spiritual expression. In the future, the art of architecture can emancipate from its traditional principle of "Firmness, Commodity and Delight? to become a powerful form of art expression. I pondered on the position of the Institute for quite a while and finally decided on this direction, selecting "Building Art" as the institute's English name.

What does this mean? The reason for me not to use the term "architecture" is my effort to try to break away from tradition. "Building" as a noun is a concrete construction, but in this context it means "to build" and redefines architecture as a means of construction used to achieve artistic expression, similar to painting and sculpture. Through this redefinition the true colors of architecture as an art form are restored.

Regarding architecture as a building art also means that the talents we educate and train are not professional architects, but building artists. Many architects in the world are busy building houses for people. A building artist also builds houses, however, he or she has the freedom of expressing his or her own mind. The work he or she makes perhaps is not a building, but he or she uses the building space as material and constructional techniques as means to create a piece of art. In our present world such artworks are rarities.

Mr. Lu is a perfect candidate to teach in an institute like this. When he arrived at the school, he asked us to build him a factory to provide students with practical training in construction. At that time, we had no funding for such construction anymore. Since he did not ask for much money, I appropriated equipment funding to satisfy his needs. I was not sure what he had in mind, but my feeling at that time was that his idea of including the students in the building process was the initial step. If the students were not involved in construction, how could they experience the building process and the art of creating buildings? Instead of designing on the drawing board and then have them finished by workers or building contractors, he solicited the students?personal involvement in the constructing process, which is exactly what building art is all about.

Mr. Lu named this constructive process the Interbreeding Field. I am not sure where the term comes from, but I think it is an inspiring designation. For a long time architecture has been deemed a silent and finished form in which all complicated processes are simply a means to get the ultimate facade. Once it is finished, the process disappears. However, in the name "interbreeding" we can sense a vital energy seeking for artistic expression, a representation of a life journey. In one corner of the College Mr. Lu led his students to build up the building space they imagined using their own hands. Each student had his or her own spiritual hinterland, but they have worked together to cultivate the space inside the factory to express themselves the best they could. This piece of art has become the convergence of their spirituality.

"Interbreeding" in English means "hybrid" a vital means of reproduction in the natural evolution to promote the birth of new species. The life force of interbreeding is much stronger than cleavage. But how can we utilize this kind of architecture? How can it pass the inspection of safety regulations? How does it juxtapose with general buildings? The answer is that it cannot, because it is a piece of art.

Professor Lu has his own interpretation about reproduction, which he himself translated as "nterbreeding" and "colonizing"."interbreeding" refers to a life form entering a new environment, whereas "nterfering" refers to organisms developing their own living environment. I think this is an inevitable development for the reproduction of life. Organisms with strong life forces reproduce themselves quickly, so they have to fight for new space in order to survive. They are everywhere, and they need to constantly adjust to the new environment and try to fit in. Professor Lu applied the concept of reproduction to the making of the environment, which is truly a philosophical spatial discourse of the building art.

What is the difference between this form of artistic expression and the public art that is popular on the street? In essence it is a building, a construction made for people to live in. Let us go back to the early period of human civilization and imagine what motives humans could have had to build nests in trees. Perhaps that is the first seed of human building spirituality. They constantly built shelters in order to survive and reproduce their seed. The pattern of nesting was altered to fit in trees, adding the fun of spiel to their survival conditions, and thus building art was born.

I'm delighted to see that Professor Lu has spent years in Tainan to bring a group of young people to develop this interesting artistic field that comes straight from the heart. It is something fresh in the utilitarian world of professional architects. I believe that returning the true meaning of architecture education will greatly inspire young people's ability for introspection. An architect who doesn't think is simply an artificer. In the Interbreeding Field Professor Lu leads generations of creative young people to dedicate themselves to experiencing spatial building and coming up with many new ideas. They are all willing to learn, think and practice. It is my pleasure to see that the Tainan National College of the Arts has become a cradle nurturing architecture philosophy and concepts.