Mutant Installations

The design activism of the Interbreeding Field group in Taiwan recounted by Matteo Vercelloni
Lotus international 124
Installazioni mutanti

In the world of biology, interbreeding signifies exploring the possibility of producing new forms of life, new species, through the stimulation of new elements inserted among those of the original system, triggering significant chemical reactions. This is the approach adopted by the interbreeding Field research group, set up at the Tainan National University of the Arts in 1999 under the direction of Li H. Lu. Its program transfers and translates the biological process into architecture, carrying out a practice of compositional hybridization that finds concrete expression in a process of addition and contamination of “lightweight” and heterogeneous elements within preestablished structures of spaces. “In other words a new object (different from the existing one with which we are dealing) or a new organism inserted in the architectural setting that surrounds us, can change the internal spaces and at the same time alter the general character of the construction subject to the intervention, through the development of a relationship of dependence and comparison between new installation and its preexisting surroundings” (Li H. Lu). This approach diverges from traditional compositional processes of intervention by taking as the point of reference of the work of design not so much a question of form, a typically plastic and volumetric problem, as the result of a relationship of an experimental kind between the new installation, fragmentary and narrative in nature, and the object on which work is being done with the aim of stimulating a new functional and symbolic use of it. The project of alteration contamination, the attempt at interbreeding, tends to achieve and define a new character and purpose of the space, oscillating between the old and new structure. This emphasizes in a synergistic way the emergence of a new environmental dimension, produced by an insertion of “lightweight,” floating and almost “temporary” elements based on a reinvented memory of construction and on the direct participation of the designers-in this case the students. They are called on to build the different installations with their own hands, and thus to “experience” the mutation/interrelation of the spaces in which they find themselves operating in an explicit and collective manner, favoring “ the spiritual experience and modes of perception of a space.” It is the work group’s conviction that “without interaction with the life of human beings architecture could not be architecture. Architecture is a way of connecting space and the individual. In this sense the main act of “hybridization”¬—underpinning the design philosophy of the interbreeding Field—aims to create new types of architectural structures, to investigate a different conception of space and to give rise to a new generation of architects, linking together the past, the present and what is highly speculative in order to move toward the future. “It is interesting to observe how this lively and youthful workgroup has chosen in many of its interventions to reappraise, from the viewpoint of material and construction, the age-old tradition of wooden architecture, which has characterized the history and the essentially “conservative” development of Chinese architecture, which has characterized the history and the essentially “conservative” development of Chinese architecture down the centuries. The persistence over time of models and techniques, the repetition of joints, mortises and trusses and above all the predilection for wood. All these have been brought back in the projects of the interbreeding Field in a contemporary key. The choice of natural wood as a construction material can be traced back historically to motives linked to the philosophical and symbolic correlations of Chinese thought. In fact wood is one of the five principal elements of the universe (along with water, metal, fire and earth), and by its very nature occupies the intermediate space between earth and sky. In addition, wood is a living material and expresses the vital energy of a construction. Indeed Taoism suggests that homes should be built of wood since it is a material that has “lived” and that like human beings aspires to being “reborn.” The archetypal elements of Chinese architecture define the structural module at the base of every building: the jian, the standard unit of habitable space which consist of a floor divided into quadrangular bays marked at the top by four columns linked together by a system of transverse beams and longitudinal purlins, all made entirely of wood. The basic structural module-space gives rise in turn to various kinds of typological structure: the tailing (where five beams of decreasing length support a roof with longitudinal purlins) and the chuandou, an evolution of the former, in which the purlins find a direct correspondence with the vertical supports, discharging the load of the roof directly onto the ground. Both typological-structural variants contain a series of different tenon-and –mortise joints handed down overtime that are clearly present in the image of construction employed by the interbreeding Field. The value of “permanence,” so important in the history of Chinese architecture, has essentially led to a cyclic repetition of the same tradition of construction down the centuries. A tradition that in the experimental practice of the Taiwanese group appears to have been reappraised and at the same time “confirmed,” not so much from the philological and stylistic viewpoint, but in an effort to evoke the “memory of a space,” “breaking down customary ways of thinking and almost obliging the observer to reconsider the related themes of space, the body, memory and nature.”It is from this perspective that we must see the project presented in the Palazzo delle Prigioni at the last Biennale of Architecture in Venice, where a calibrated structure-route of natural wood (designed, constructed and tested in Taiwan inside and actual-size mockup of the space for which it was intended). Designed to traverse, occupy and invade the three exhibition rooms, it took the form of “a route studded with interrelationships and interpenetrations capable of creating a tangible architectural space that allowed visitor to move around, explore and investigate,” The insertion, full of symbolic allusions, transformed the rooms of the Palazzo delle Prigioni into a new space and place, fruit of the confrontation between historic location and installation: the direct product of a hybrid and temporary contamination of design. In the first entrance hall the intention was to create a landscape with a lower level, the foot of the hills,, above which was suspended and accessible floor—representing a blanket of clouds—surrounded by three mountains, symbolized by wooden towers reaching all the way to the ceilings. Passing under the stone arches “transformed” into narrow passages, visitors came to the other two, more intimate rooms with accessible structures on superimposed levels, in which they found a more meditative dimension capable of changing the sense and function of the original space. The effort of contamination and hybridization that underpins the interventions of the interbreeding Field can also be discerned in the projects related to the natural landscape carried out in Taiwan. Alongside the design of its seat, a sort of biologically grown work of architecture set under a large aluminum vault (Tainan, 1999), a series of projects have been realized over the years. These are arranged lightly amidst the greenery like small pavilions composed of a metal framework and sheets of corrugated iron, with plastic surfaces and wooden joints (Liberation Toilet Rooms, 2002). Then there are the habitable structures of bamboo suspended in the trees for children to relax and play in (The Squirrel’s Home, 2003), constructed on the occasion of the Folklore and Folk Game Festival at Lo-tung Sports Park in I-lan County. The projects range from hybrid architecture to that of a reinvented landscape produced by the grafting of an artificial nature onto the natural world and their confrontation. A sort of propensity for the dimension of Land Art that the great shell of the project for a removable and temporary theater (Magic Egg Removable 3D Theater, 2004), a kind of architectural airship floating above the meadows in which I is set, seems to underline and define as program for an architecture devoid of certainties: an empirical and experimental architecture of the transitive type, which ferries memories and traditions into a contemporary future under the sign of a continuity filtered by modification.