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Reuse, Renew, Recycle: Recent Architecture from China

By Alex Kim and Justin Ahn

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From September 18, 2021 to July 4, 2022, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) which is located in Manhattan, New York had an exhibition of environmentally friendly architecture in China.

 

In years prior, urban megaprojects were designed but a new generation of architects have highlighted China’s importance in terms of social and environmental sustainability. There were eight main projects displayed. Some were recreated from former industrial buildings, while others were created from the recycling of building materials.

 

And of course, a reinterpretation of ancient construction techniques were included to rejuvenate some of the cultural aspects of the rural villages and regions. Through models, drawings, mock-ups, photographs, and videos, Reuse, Renew, Recycle displayed the innovative Chinese architecture that preserved the environment as well as their rural culture. 

On July 1, 2022, the two New Jersey Hiking Heroes presidents, Alex Kim and Justin Ahn, went to visit the MoMA to see the Reuse, Renew, Recycle display. The two leaders have commented on their visit below. 

Alex Kim

 

In terms of the Reuse, Renew, Recycle display, a lot of cultural aspects were there as well. Each and every structure had its unique style but at the same time, a lot of environmental aspects were there as well.

 

From the eight displays, the one that caught my eye the most was the bamboo theater in Hengkeng Village in Songyang County was the most interesting. All of the other displays were actual structural buildings but the theater was an open space with a lot of nature surrounding visitors.

 

At this theater, those hosting would dress up in traditional Chinese clothing and put on shows as well inform the audience about Chinese culture. I found this aspect interesting because everyone is out in the middle of the forest where they allowed bamboos to naturally grow without ruining the environment there. This unique theater also had a unique back story to its making that was displayed next to the image of the theater.

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From reading the information card, I learned that this project was aimed to be a long-term project and program since 2014. It was meant to be a rural revitalization for the unique mountainous landscape of Songyang, a county located southwest of Shanghai and Hangzhou.

 

This “architectural acupuncture”, as Xu Tiantian the architect behind the theater says, was only able to happen because of the collaboration between local communities and municipal governments. This was a very unique project Xu wanted to create and she was able to show that preserving her culture in an environmentally friendly way is possible in today’s day in age. 

Apart from the Reuse, Renew, Recycle display, I spent a little more time at the MoMA and was able to look at a famous filmmaker’s exhibition as well. His name is Neelon Crawford (American, born 1946) and his exhibition has been open from July 24, 2021 and will remain open until October 10, 2022.

 

In order to address the climate crisis and sustainability topics, his exhibition included nine pieces that included a landscape series shot in Ecuador and Peru between 1973 and 1976 that was inspired by encounters with the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire.

 

The films were aimed to reflect his predilection and respect for the peaceful state nature was once in. In showing the peaceful state that nature was once in, Crawford wanted his audience to realize the beauty and fragility of our environment that surrounds us. 

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I was and still am very thankful that I was able to discover his work during my time at the MoMA. His films of the four elements were unique and beautiful. The films shifted from different angles and situations that the four elements presented.

 

After watching these four films on one wall, I was able to feel nature’s once serene scenery and was able to be reminded of our goal as the New Jersey Hiking Heroes group: to help preserve nature before it is too late and take the time out of our days to appreciate what is around us. 

Justin Ahn

 

The work presented at the MoMa served as a gateway to environmental betterness for China, the largest industrial powerhouse in the world. The most compelling project (imo) out of the bunch were the Micro-Hutongs located in the country’s capital, Beijing.

 

The architect, Zhang Ke, strived to maintain Beijiing culture but also compress the area in order to adjust to the city’s dense population and high land value. In some areas where single-building constructions are under extreme demand and pressure, Micro-Hutongs allow more people to live under a roof for less money.

 

This adaptation of a past courtyard seems to allow for a new era of Micro-Hutongs which can also provide a communal area and offer affordable housing. By renewing what was already existing, Zhang Ke introduced the best of both worlds: the preservation of indigenous culture and economical growth. 

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Another great example of renewal was Gong Dong’s Alila Hotel.

 

Made by Beijiing’s, Vector Architects, The Alila Hotel was created from the restoration of an abandoned sugar factory which had been left in the 1960s. When I first looked at pictures of the hotel I was genuinely stunned by its magnificence.

 

Though it had hints of an old-fashioned establishment with its factory remains, it’s modernity shined through sleek, seamless pools, and curved pieces of architecture scattered throughout it’s midpiece.

 

To top it off, it has beautiful views of the Karst mountains which tourists horde to the city Guilin for. It not only was finished with an astounding look, but it was fully created by reused material. 

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With the use of recycle, reusal, and renewing, The Imperial Kiln Museum which features Studio Zhu Pei is yet another majestic piece of architecture headquartered in Beijing. The large arched domes are all different sizes, curvatures, and lengths with the same brick patterns arching down the sides.

 

The bricks were all recycled from old kilns from the museum. Due to the fragility of the bricks, the architecture has to be replaced with newly recycled bricks every two to three years and therefore the architect has to find efficient ways of reusing and recycling new bricks from the old kilns. 

 

All of these works are a step in the right direction towards a future we hope to live in. The New Jersey Hiking Heroes Club also hopes to make a change by looking after our footprint on nature and cherishing the world we all live on.

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