One day, a project : Regeneration of the village of Wencun by Amateur Architecture Studio

Photography by Iwan Baan

For this busy week of contrasting current events, I wanted to find a project that was firmly anchored in the world, sober, but which does the job. It must be said that with all this media activity (coronavirus here, government language training there), I needed to find a bit of simplicity and peace of mind. Without further ado, let’s go for a new piece of architecture !

At the beginning, to tell you the truth, I wanted to go back to the origins of this “repair” for which I try to fight every day: the Ningbo museum, the work of Wang shu who inspired me more than ten years ago. Then, all things considered, I told myself that the building was too colossal today, too disconnected from reality to find a relevant place in our news.

No. Something more humble was needed. A work of art or a gesture that exists only for itself, for no particular reason except to provoke wonder, disgust, questioning. In short, a reaction or even… a reflection.

The Amateur Architecture Studio has distinguished itself in the world by updating the ancestral technique of wa pan. Concretely, it involves recovering debris from collapsed walls, tiles and other building materials and then reassembling them into a kind of imperfect mosaic. It is in this imperfection that the genius lies. Assume the breaks and sublimate them.
It would be easy to summarize the work of Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu (Amateur Architecture Studio) by the wa pan. However, the architectural couple did not stop there. One Pritzker wasn’t enough for them.

During the last decade, Chinese society has found itself with the unfortunate tendency to want to destroy or patrimonialize (it’s a toss-up) small villages full of stories fighting for their survival on the outskirts of megacities. I reassure you, the same thing can be found in France. In short, faced with this architectural, urbanistic, social and cultural disaster, Amateur Architecture Studio has decided to propose an alternative. A regeneration favouring dialogue (yes, dialogue, that simple thing we tend to forget) between old and newer constructive techniques. A posture of adaptation requiring a prior deep reflection on the nature of our villages and their evolution (we come back to this). Let’s make it clear : we are very far from the superimposition of prefas loaded with composite products and coated with RME to be stacked, whose happy owner will be able to gargle at having chosen the colour.

The result is a poetry of place, a game where the form fades into its context, without making waves. We are bathed in a peaceful harmony, which is not meant to shine through a great gesture of daring, but through its assumed sobriety. We are in a minimalism of form and means, a response adapted to the scale of the intervention sites.

In conclusion, if there is any reason to draw one, I always marvel at these committed architectures that are the bearers of common sense. We are living in a pivotal time as a society and a species, a time when technological progress tends to make us accelerate again and again in spite of all logic. We are forced to run behind a locomotive that does not stop, does not turn around.
The “disaster” will come sooner or later.
But Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu are among those who will enable us, perhaps, to make the fall less painful.

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