On 20 September 2004, the Architecture Biennial in Beijing opened - a fitting acknowledgment of Asia's rising status in world architecture. In architecture, as in so many other fields of enquiry, Asia is emerging with a burst of creativity.
Asia's art history reveals abundant treasures and architectural masterpieces produced by of some of the world's longest and most gifted cultures. For much of the 20th century, however, and in many countries, local creativity and design quality in architecture were, for the most part, at a low ebb. The Cultural Revolution in China, and colonial dominance in other countries had dampening effects on local inventiveness and application in the design fields. In the post-colonial countries of Southeast Asia the majority of the important buildings continued to be designed by architectural firms practicing elsewhere: Singapore and Hong Kong provide numerous examples; China later followed suit. Uncolonised Japan was the Asian exception, and since the 1960s Japanese architects have assumed a leading position in international architecture (although 'star' modern architects are sometimes invited to design Japan for their status value). In India and Sri Lanka, some inspiring designers worked in the hybrid arena of the modern blended with the traditional. In Thailand, too, some original and technically inventive architecture from local architects appeared. Today, as the essays here show, exciting innovative work, often from young designers, is appearing throughout Asia, and promises to enrich each country and to carry the region into architectural prominence.
David Stewart appropriately introduces contemporary Asian architecture through Japanese modernism with his analytical essay on Tadao Ando that leads up to the 1990s and sets the scene for what follows elsewhere. C. Anjalendran and Anoma Pieris discuss original new architecture within the context of traditional work: in Anjalendran's case with the ancient Boulder Gardens of Sri Lanka, their inspiration for the buildings of Geoffrey Bawa and a reinterpretation today by Lalyn Collure. Pieris writes of the contemporary architecture by Mok Wei Wei (a Singaporean raised with Chinese cultural values) which consciously builds on Chinese literature (The Dream of the Red Chamber) and the landscape paintings of the Song Dynasty. History again provides the context for Made Wijaya's critical discussion of the Singapore bungalow, notably the rich tradition-inspired 'Bali Style' houses and the recent austere minimalist work of the 'New Asian Style'.
Chinese architecture is the subject for Charlie Xue and China/Hong Kong for Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix. Xue's paper is concerned with the search for a cultural identity in architecture and traces this from the 'national form, socialist content' slogan of the 1950s to its fresh interpretation following the Cultural Revolution, to the often quite radical individualism of today. Gutierrez and Portefaix portray the dynamic possibilities for young architects in the new millennium, and demonstrate the originality and design qualities of the recent work through the architecture of three Chang stories; those of Yung Ho Chang, Gary Chang and Brian Chang.
Considering that the work discussed in this TAASA Review is but a small sample of what is now being designed and built in the Asian region, one might be tempted to talk of a renaissance in architecture. I spent considerable time in Asia in the 1970s and 1980s and, given the richness of the cultural past in many countries, wondered how the spark of regional inventiveness could be so low. Clearly, for one reason or another, artistic inspiration and ability had been suppressed. This was particularly evident in China: the contrast between the architecture of Japan and China was barely credible - how could a people loose what was so intrinsic in their heritage? Even then it was clear that a deep creative ability must just be sleeping and would eventually re-emerge. Today it is primarily China and architects of Chinese background practicing in various parts of Asia who are coming forward.
I am not surprised at the originality, inventiveness and dynamic spirit of the new architecture from Asia. It was just a matter of time. I am only surprised that it has taken so long to surface.
Jennifer Taylor is an architect and scholar known primarily for her publications on contemporary Australian, Pacific and Japanese architecture. She has spent much time in Asia teaching and undertaking research, and she recently completed a book in the Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki (see review pp. 24-25). Currently she is Adjunct Professor at the Queensland University of Technology.
3 EDITORIAL: THE ARCHITECTURE OF NEW ASIA - Jennifer Taylor, Guest Editor
4 JAPAN: THE TADAO ANDO PHENOMENON - David B. Stewart
7 CHINA AND HONG KONG: CHANG STORIES - Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix
10 SINGAPORE: MOK WEI WEI’S SUBJECTIVITY - Anoma Pieris
12 BOULDER ARCHITECTURE: UNIQUELY SRI LANKAN - C. Anjalendran
14 ARTISTIC REFLECTION IN CONTEMPORARY CHINESE ARCHITECTURE -Charlie Q. L. Xue
16 SINGAPORE: BUNGALOW STYLE - Made Wijaya
18 THE VILLAGE TING: RESEARCHING CHINESE ANCESTRAL HALLS - Ann Proctor and Sabrina Snow
21 IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN: HINDU BRONZES AT THE POWERHOUSE - Rachel Miller
22 EXHIBITION: OPPOSING FORMS, SYMBOLIC FUNCTIONS - Joanna Barrkman
23 EXHIBITION: RAJASTHANI COURT PAINTINGS - Richard Runnels
24 BOOK REVIEW: FUMIHIKO MAKI - Steffen Lehmann
25 TAASA MEMBERS’ DIARY DECEMBER 2004 – FEBRUARY 2005
26 WHAT’S ON IN AUSTRALIA DECEMBER 2004 – FEBRUARY 2005