Latent Architecture: On Interbreeding Field

Jow-Jiun GONG
Associate Professor/Director,
Doctoral Program in Art Creation and Theory (ACT)
Tainan National University of the Arts (TNNUA)

Ten years ago, the September 21 Taiwan Earthquake in the end of 20th century has given a violent shake to our thinking of architecture. It happened on the midnight of September 21 1999, which registered in Richter magnitude scale as 7 points 3. During 102 seconds, the violent shake made 2,434 persons death, 54 persons missing, 11,306 persons wounded and nearly 110,000 buildings collapsed or half toppled. As Heidegger said in discussing the essence of thinking and dwelling, thinking is always an Ereignis, an Event, in a sudden crisis and dwelling is a Gestell, a Framing, after an eventual thinking. Thus, the real thinking is constantly situated in a deviated spatial-temporal structure in need of eventual thinking.

After the events of Japanese Aum Doomsday Cult terrorism, Hanshin Earthquake in Japan and the September 11, 2001, Japanese architect Kengo Kuma stated in his preface of his book Defeated Architecture (2004), “Earthquake has revealed the weak side of the buildings.” Though the weakness that Kengo Kuma mentioned is mainly about the private ownership of architecture, it is still a strong formulation effective for the architecture of Taiwan. For no matter the physical, material or structural attributions, the relations among architecture, environment and history, or the extreme private ownership of Taiwanese buildings, everything was involved into this emergent event and became a problematic that has to be rethink over.

For Taiwanese architect Li H. LU, graduated from SCI-ARC in 1992, the Interbreeding Field organized by him in the pedagogical notion of “Making in Action,” is the aftermath of the emergent status after the September 21 Earthquake.

It is ironic here to cite the Marxist phrase “All that is solid melts into air,” but how truly it is! In the nearly 110,000 buildings collapsed or half toppled, the majority of them were constructed by reinforced concrete and functioned as the collective residences or buildings of school, as the case of Sichuan Earthquake 2008. They looked very strong and got a cheap price to establish all over the territories of mountains, forests, villages and cities, belonging either to the hard-working salary classes who invested all their savings or granted a loan in these houses or to the government that built these school for the working classes' children. Through the reinforced concrete, the Taiwanese architectural field has represented the western modernist thinking of architecture after the period of Japanese colonization in 1895-1945. This way of architectural thinking insisted the architecture of gigantic volume, multiple building materials, long-term duration and its background of economic-political power sustaining by the institution of residence loaning and free market trading of capitalizing buildings. After Earthquake, people do not take this kind of architectural modernism for granted and start to question the ideology of neglecting the limitation of usage of natural environments and the broken consciousness of local spatial history. During the 10 years action of building, Interbreeding Field has put these propositions into brackets which seldom being questioned before in Taiwan architecture.

The grandiose systematic thinking of western modernism often puts the emphasis on a way of upwards building. But is there any different possible way of escaping? If the architecture does not intentionally search for a reinforced, strengthened structure, for symbolic meanings, for visual expressions and for satisfying the desire of private ownership, the action of “Making,” building and its production will have any alternatives?

In the perspective of Interbreeding Field, the problematic cannot be detached from the process of latency and interbreeding. The aim of this article is focused on the notion of “Latent Architecture” and elaborates the philosophical significance of this notion from the praxis experience of Interbreeding Field in this decade.

Latency of Materials: Molecular repetition and difference

The matrix of Interbreeding Field is constructed in the steel structure and metal wave plates. And this form of building has repeated the omnipresence of Taiwanese light industry's factory architecture. This type of structure and materials, though not adopted by the majority of residence houses, represented chiefly the construction of productive space during 1960s, which was a period of import/export trading and processing industries in the economic history of Taiwan. The factory buildings constructed by steel structure and metal wave plates, for their structures and roofs, were spread on the marginal regions of metropolitans and harbors. They worked as agencies for processing the toys, umbrellas, electric components, shoes, screws, ready-made clothes and tools of the first world states. These productive spaces were divergent from familial scale to factory scale and therefore their installations were more latent than realized. Their latencies came from the works of productions being always labor-intensive and reproductive which deprived the subjectivity of the working subjects in the process of agency. In this sense, the fundamental characteristic of the matrix space (1999-2002) of Interbreeding Field is its lurking gesture in relative with its natural environment. In contrast to the general western modernist gigantic and solid residences and bureaus, for Li H. LU, the mode of production of Interbreeding Field are interbreeding and interfering in modernizing spaces instead of keeping the mode of agency and reproduction.

‘Interbreeding' means the active confrontations of the given world structure and experimenting different ways of transplanting, crossbreeding and hybridizing the new hybrids and materials of architecture. In this way, the matrix of Interbreeding Field has transplanted an anti-modernist, anti-loaned-building, anti-spatial-capitalizing interweaved place into the given modernist architectural atelier, residence and agent factories. It is an action of promoting the ‘chemical change' in modernist architectural aesthetics and refuting the formal post-modernism at the same time. The ‘chemical change' in respect of materials and building process is firstly expressed in the series interweaving action of redwood pine.

We would consider specifically the redwood pine interweaving and overlapping of Taiwan Pavilion of the 9th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2004. When the audience entered into the interior of Palazzo delle Prigioni that constructed by the Renaissance rationale of perspective geometry, passed by the dedication to Italian architect Carlo Scarpa presented in the entrance, they would feel the metamorphoses in the spatial-temporal structure of this building. LU and Interbreeding Field chose latency in place of transparency; that is to say, they chose the motivations of bodily orientation and motility as their building focuses in place of visual representations and transparency of rational design. The audience was invited to a molecular syncopation of becoming-architecture that the natural modulated, warming, flexible redwood pine becoming a porous interface of the flesh. As a gravity-reflective and weight-flexible material, the redwood pine became an interface of different assemblages: wood flooring, armrests, sloping path, wallboards, wood ladders, towers, seat, deck chairs, passages, footrests, handrails, tables, frameworks for screens, symbolic bamboo bushes and ponds, etc.. It is an extreme actualization of the latency of the redwood pine in place of reinforced concrete as the element of building. In the second place, the temporality of redwood pine is characteristic of maturing, temporal and vulnerable.

So to speak, it is a flexible, weak and negative architecture which continuously transforming the spatial latency in a way of “becoming-place.” Palazzo delle Prigioni was transformed into a playground for spatial interrogation, an auto-responding field of the gravity movement of the audience, a reformulated Chinese garden pregnant of multiple visual syncopations. The body of audience was guided by the becoming of redwood pine to change its focuses and to notify the possible pause points. In the same time, the redwood pine was used in molding the atmosphere of the place according to the model of different bodily motility. In this way, redwood pine became a matrix as ‘chora' formulated in Kristeva's thought which being pregnant with the overlapping space among multiple bodily affects and regards. Sometimes the audience seemed walk upwards on a sloping path to a temple; sometimes they seemed climb upon a tower and look far away; sometimes they seemed repose besides a pond or a bamboo bush for meditations; sometimes they seemed lean against the wall on a corner or a handrail to have a pause. There were three redwood pine towers stretching upwards to the arching and the vaults which supporting the audience to touch the arching and vaults with their fingers. It would have been a Bachelardian surprise when they found the arching and vaults were timber structure corresponding with the timber towers and the whole redwood pine interweaving. And such a liberation of renaissance architectural historicity, through Interbreeding Field's overlapping the two heterogeneous spatial constructions, made the place tangible out of its visible dimension. Below and above the wood flooring, there were two contrast spaces too: the one below was a basement like bamboo bushes filled with atmosphere of obscurity, gloomy, separation, solitude; the other above was a garden or a playground stretching vertically and horizontally implied with transparent, bright, chiasmatic regards. However, the issue what latent architecture would like to deal with was not only of the look or the regard.

Taiwan Pavilion in 2004 has also presented a moebius platform of the fragrance of redwood pine, of the sounds resonant of the different weights pressed on the redwood pine, of the affinity and the tangibility that created an atmosphere for the audience to encounter with each other, of looking tenderly with the strangers, of leaning one's body against the place with the other. Thus it would liberate the latency of spatial sensibility, not through high tensional stimulus in bodily perceptions, but through the revealing of the possibilities of actions and existences. Revealing the power of latency of interbreeding and interfering in space, Interbreeding Field extended its thinking to Tainan city street reformulation work “Non Side Zoom: Open Reality” in Taiwan, 2005 and “Project D: Open Reality” for “ENTRY 2006, Talking Cities” in German heavy industry district Zeche Zollverein Essen 2006. The former has traversed a street that was depopulated by a false urbanized project destroying its traditional market there. “Non-Side Zoom: Open Reality” recaptured the citizen's right and latent power of the street by building a sidewalk, a pavement, a footbridge, a pedestrian bridge with redwood pine. As contrast with the asphalt road, its tar concrete and its speedy traffic, the redwood pine has provoked the citizens to stop, to pause and to talk with each other when they strolling on the platform.

Plastic barrel was the new material adopted in “Non-Side Zoom: Open Reality,” Comparatively speaking, the 20 liter plastic barrel is more hard, artificial but a container with more historical sense. In the daily living space of Taiwanese, the white plastic barrel might be the signboard of a stall when there is a light bulb inside; it might be the container of water and many different materials for works; and it might be the recycling container for hogwash. In another way, in the agent factories of 60s and 70s, the plastic barrel played the role of supporter and container of the pollutants, even strong acid and strong base that would be transformed into the values of the products in the process of import/export trading. The plastic barrels paved the paths for Taiwan entering into the global economic system but not without some environmental prices. Interbreeding Field extracted this spatial element as a singular architectural language and contextualized it on the street of Tainan with the citizens of the 21th century.

In the context of “Jello-Maze” in the square of presidential palace and the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts in 2008. Li H. LU and Interbreeding Field transformed these plastic barrels into molecular element of building. The plastic barrels became the fractals that constructed a labyrinth in Taiwanese fashion. The labyrinth was not similar to the European garden or royal court labyrinth, was not resemble the vertically stretching Babel, but was one with multiple warm and bright monads each with a light bulb inside like thousands of fractals. They were organized as some spatial rhetoric invitations for the encountering of strangers in cities. The separation was not enclosed and was just for distinguishing the different paths. The audience would see each other in a corner suddenly appeared before their eyes because the walls of the labyrinth were low enough to create this possibility. Children and adults would like to play in this labyrinth, to find each other contingently but not to find something intellectually. Finally, it became a micro paradise with semi-transparent orange light and the atmosphere of the memories of childhood.

Latency of Place: Colonial modernization and its fragments

If the modernization of architecture for the majority countries of East Asia, excluding Japan, means their colonial modernization, the pure Taiwanese place has never been established before. It is latent in the colonial history of Taiwan among Spanish and Dutch in the 17th century, Japan and United States in the 20th century, and finally latent in the ambiguous, unstable relation with its Chinese cultural matrix. When we discuss on the issue of latency of architecture in Taiwan, we are talking about the destination of place of citizens of the Third World during the history of globalization.

This spatial-temporal experience of ‘never been,' ‘not yet,' which being characteristic of the critical project of European modernity, now becomes a unbearably painful sarcasm of the architecture and ‘project' of the colonizer. And after the end of colonization, there is a more powerful capitalist market that dominating the territories and residences. In the structure of commodities communication, houses and buildings become more abstract than in the period of colonization so as to jump into the gigantic flow of capital. Modernist and post-modernist aesthetics are suitable with this flow of capital as its aesthetic ideology. As Marx said, “the realization of commodity values is a thrilling jump,” the modernist and post-modernist architects in Taiwan are sometimes the arrogant trainers of the lions of commodity values.

However, spatial latency means the ‘other space' that is a brute being without being tamed by colonization, capitalism and aesthetics. In this way, Taiwan only owns her spatial latency in some ‘not yet' built fragmented spaces. When Interbreeding Field experiments in such fragmented spaces, it is just like experimenting in the intervals of a gigantic organism that has nourished itself in some abnormal way. For cultivating new possibility and transformation interior or exterior, it is necessary to put some antibody into it and make it heterogeneously growing up and interbreeding first with its environment. The latent architecture here become an origin of ‘other space.' Latent architecture is a possible building of escape and revolt in the given socio-historical dispositif of space.

When philosopher Foucault discussing the ‘autre espace,' he has taken notice of the colonized houses, spaces of surveillance, spaces of hospital and death and the spaces of transportations among modern metropolitans, but he has also paid attention to the material power of specular space and the power of abstraction of discourse space. In the context of spatial colonization experience of the Third World, the Foucaudian ‘auter espace' should be a task of double critique: on the one hand, it is a critique towards European modernity about the discursive project of space; on the other hand, it must be a materializing contextualized critique in a de-nationalist or de-exotic spatial building. As a spatial dispositif, Interbreeding Field practices an East-Asia way of thinking of ‘other space' and exercises a materialist double critique as mentioned above. In a very concrete way to speak, this critique aims at the critique of modernist architectural aesthetics of reinforced concrete.

But why this spatial dispositif uses metal wave plates, steel structure, redwood pine, plastic barrels and light bulbs as its materials in the spaces? What is the relation between these materials and the latency of place?

Firstly, these metal wave plates, redwood pine and plastic barrels have a variant flexibility in common and their intimacy with our body is quite evident.That is to say, if we would like to rediscover latent place out of bodily intimacy, we have to adopt materials of variant and of flexible that corresponding the motility of our body.

Secondly, the measure of place originates in builders' and user's sensibility and handcraft. The different roles of the workers, the researchers and the designers are in majority overlapping in Interbreeding Field, which keeping resist the aesthetics of modernism or post-modernism, therefore they use their own body in dialogue with the place in building as the molding measure. The living corporeal measure makes a finitude of their critical architectural thinking: never separate with handwork to invent a intuitively gigantic construction like skyscraper. The architecture for them is always extended with handcraft, handmade, handwork, sensation in becoming, atmosphere, anti-history and anti-memories. Thus Li H. LU prefers the word ‘Building' than ‘Architecture' to emphasize something of liberation and of therapy during the process of dialogues with the materials of territory, woods, metals, plastics, lights and electricity. It is a liberation of latent energy in body and space being repressed or suppressed in history.

Thirdly, the methodology of practice of Interbreeding Field implies a specifically Asian character of ethical aesthetics that between master and his pupils in a school that living and learning as a group. This kind of group consists of an intensive exchange of opinions on-site during its practice, then the exchange extends to the domain of self-critique and self-educative characteristics of modernity. It is a critique on base of continuously practice working on some issues waiting for interrogating in the future. Thus the quality of knowledge here presupposes practice personally and alternatively distinguished from the method of capitalism and colonization. The action of building pays attentions to the uncertainty and different possibility coming from the worker's experience on-site, and this implicit experience has to be worked out simultaneously and divergently through the critical and dialogical relations between master and his pupils. In other words, the project of latent architecture constantly includes all kinds of modulations in the laborers' participant and on-site research.

And the teacher or master of Interbreeding Field is just as the navigator in a rallycross or a cartographer in a virtual plane that facing with the Becoming of the place.

Latency of Temporality: After the end of architecture

In the perspective of Danto's ‘the end of art,' Taiwan's architecture was end when it went into a high capitalist society in 80s. For the ‘end' here, we mean a conceptualized, abstracted and ahistoricalized consciousness of architecture and buildings that after the highly coded languages of all sorts of architecture crossing history and the borders of states. In the context of local architectural history, there are timber structure and red bricks buildings in the period of Spanish and Dutch, the san-ho-yuan pattern, or the three winged pattern and the szu-ho-yuan or four winged pattern of Minnan and Pro-China architecture, the red bricks facades, European engraved stones arches and columns, and over-ornate chisel patterns of the Baroque facades in Japanese colonization period, and finally the reinforced concrete modern buildings in KMT government period after 1945. Though these patterns and codes disrupted with each other from an architectural chronicle point, they had their own context in different periods. But now the capitalist free market makes all the historical codes being librated from history that totally going into a market that ‘anything goes.'

The present market of Taiwanese real property has fully represented this state of ‘end of architecture.' The best symbol is Taipei 101 skyscraper. It has a intuitively gigantic structure and the symbolic cultural sign of bamboo node that was given freely by architect and designer. It is an achievement of high modernism or postmodernism. And should we celebrate this systematic, powerful, free, ahistorical building of its solidness and the duration it will have in the history ‘not yet' coming?

In a physical and intuitive viewpoint, the skyscraper is certainly a real achievement of modern architecture. But if we remember the experience of the September 21 terrorist event, the strong twin towers became so vulnerable buildings in confrontation with the power of morality, ethics, political violence and religion. The logic of capitalist commodity has created a perfect fantasy of the real. When the 101 skyscraper kept find the new buyer, its existence is similar to the other real property in Taiwan that dominated by the logic of commodity. It has separated with land, separated with history, separated with the lived experience of the dweller and its solidity and duration are limited in the abstract world of the circulation of the capital.

How can we escape from the omnipresence of capitalist architectural coded language? If architecture can interrogate into the latent spaces, to the bottoms of the land, to the surface of the wall, to the dormant corner, then it can break through the frame of time and conceal itself inside the historical building, cover itself up the skin of modern building, hide itself in the unbuilt context, lurk itself in the builders' bodily sensation and incubate itself in the dialogue with spatial history of community. Professor Li H. LU said in reflection of the temporal dimension of Interbreeding Field, “we imagine that here is a city relics that sunk into a deep ocean of time.” This is the working hypothesis in the aspect of latency of temporality. We can elaborate it as follow.

Firstly, LU and Interbreeding Field are lurking and interfering into the temporality of historical building's interior. While they faced with Taiwan Pavilion of the 9th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2004, Palazzo delle Prigioni, it did not take the Renaissance rationale of Progioni for granted; the same attitude was the case “Project D: Open Reality” for “ENTRY 2006, Talking Cities” in German Ruhe district Zeche Zollverein 2006. On the contrary, they tried to put some heterogeneous element of temporality into the historical spaces in phenomenological ways to the extent that the latent places could be experienced. The body of audience could walk on, lean on, climb upwards, hide into and repose on the redwood pine playground. They could have the regards without distance or history that create a body of present and an anti-memory sensation. In this way, a place of event, of happening would be possible.

Secondly, LU and Interbreeding Field are lurking and interfering on the instant surface skin of modern architecture and create a ‘becoming-place.' Taking ‘Non Side Zoom: Open Reality' in Tainan 2005 as an example, this project was realized in handmade method by LU and the team members of Interbreeding Field. They brought a very warm, soft and slow redwood pine pedestrian way overlapping on an asphalt road that had been a site of a fail urbanized project. This road represented the temporality of modernization and the speediness flowing of the capitals surfing on it. It is a road anti-memorial and ahistorical but for nothing creating on the site. All the automobiles and scooters passed instantly and the pedestrian did not stay or stop for a while because it was just an enclosed transportation channel for them. The redwood pine pedestrian bridge and watchtower have created a heterogeneous temporal platform for playing, for communicating and for meditating. There is a latent temporality hiding in a traumatized community here. If the sense of loss has to be comforted by transformative action of building, the working temporality of Interbreeding Field in Tainan has provoked the people of community to gather, to stay, to speak to each other on the street again. The latent temporality of modern city was revealed its otherness.

Thirdly, Interbreeding Field has invented the temporality of dreaming, playing, celebration and reposing in 'Jello-Maze' in the square of presidential palace and the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts in 2008. In contrast with the horizontal speediness of highways and asphalt roads, the vertical solidness of skyscraper and collective reinforced concrete residences, these playgrounds and labyrinths were buildings for the children and citizens in their non-consumptive dreaming and leisure time.

Conclusion: Latency in the unbuilt context

Building on a reverie ‘never being' and ‘not yet' for LU and Interbreeding Field is not working on the unbilt, unfinished, blueprints but a series of handcraft critique of Taiwanese modernized reinforced concrete architecture.

Originating in the trauma experience of uncertainty and ruins of living houses, the vulnerability of redwood pine and plastic barrels are materials of becoming-building for a new place-thinking that more brute, contextual, historical but anti-memorial.

After the catastrophe, all architecture cannot help but regress to the ground. But after all, in Heideggerian words, the architecture and human world must confront with the earth and ground to establish the things and the structure of world. The latency of architecture exists in this confrontation and the reveries. The materials, place and temporality are interfaces between the earth and the world. LU and Interbreeding search for the latent dynamics of confrontation in the materials, spaces and temporality. They have found the vulnerability instead of solidity, the flexibility instead of hardness, the participating ethics instead of individual aesthetics, the action instead of blueprint, the handmade and body instead of digital machine and geometry, and finally the latency instead of architectural buildings complete fineness.