The World Around Summit 2024 - 27 East

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The World Around Summit 2024

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Ha Nguyen's project. TRIEU CHIEN © ARB ARCHITECTS

Ha Nguyen's project. TRIEU CHIEN © ARB ARCHITECTS

Nguyen Ha's project.  TRIEU CHIEN ©ARB ARCHITECTS

Nguyen Ha's project. TRIEU CHIEN ©ARB ARCHITECTS

Ha Nguyen's project. TRIEU CHIEN © ARB ARCHITECTS

Ha Nguyen's project. TRIEU CHIEN © ARB ARCHITECTS

Ha Nguyen's project. TRIEU CHIEN © ARB ARCHITECTS

Ha Nguyen's project. TRIEU CHIEN © ARB ARCHITECTS

Sun Seed skateboard park. ALEXIS SABLONE

Sun Seed skateboard park. ALEXIS SABLONE

Anne Surchin, R.A. on May 28, 2024

“Why does architecture matter?” That is the raison d’être of The World Around, a nonprofit institution dedicated to this age-old question. Founded in 2020, the organization holds international events featuring architects and designers from all over the world. This organization’s platform, with some of the foremost theorists, practitioners, and makers, forms a diverse, connected network championing architectural dialogue via programs and broadcasts.

The World Around held its fifth annual summit on May 11 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. New projects addressed solutions for major issues such as environment, ecology, landscape design, cultural heritage, and resiliency. This fast-paced program presented over a five-hour period featured the work of 16 practitioners, critical thinkers whose projects fit the spirit of this year’s theme, “An Examined World.”

Nguyên Hà is a Vietnamese architect based in Hanoi who founded ARB Architects in 2009. She seeks to craft, in built form, an architecture of serenity that brings ritual and tradition into contemporary life. Hired by folk artist Xuân Hinh to build a museum dedicated to Dao Mau, the worship of mother goddesses, which dates to the 16th century in Vietnam and was cited in 2016 as a UNESCO-listed religion. The museum and temple are sited on an orchard plot just outside the capital. In her practice, Hà has dedicated herself to developing work that possesses a spiritual sensibility and a sense of solitude. According to Hà, the project had to reflect the nation’s spiritual identity, resilience and persistence.

The entire compound was constructed from thousands of clay roof tiles locally sourced. The tiles were dry laid (no visible mortar) to create massive walls. Designing a space reflecting sacredness was Hà’s goal. She respected the site and did not remove existing objects, including a home. A reflecting pool is aligned alongside the temple with its walls bathed in indirect light. The site also features a perennial lychee garden. The project has such a tactile quality about it and the buildings, all rectilinear, appear like woven baskets clad in tile. Of this project she told the audience it was one of only two done in the last 20 years that truly satisfied her.

The Ghanian-Filipino architectural scientist Mae-ling Lokko is an assistant professor at the Yale School of Architecture. According to her bio, she is an activist reaching for “generative justice” in our material cultures by combining architecture and art with material science, engineering and education. Her organization, Willow Technologies, has started working with coconuts, which grow in 89 countries around the world. Surplus husks, for example, can be converted from agricultural waste into affordable, biomass-based fiberboard panels used for construction. Corn can also be used to create materials. By using natural, renewable materials, which would otherwise be burned or dumped, she has established a path to their repurposing for the health of the environment. She believes that architects can be the “core drivers” in this extraction drama today.

Just when you think apartment house design cannot be reinvented, the architectural firm SO – IL has done just that. The firm’s principals, Jing Liu and Florian Idenburg, stated the “house is the moral topography of our humanity.” Are buildings simply more space to be sold? Is the dilemma simply efficiency between human and nonhuman? Domesticity in urban form is, according to the architects, futile, and the problem of housing is to solve the messiness of life. With three new apartment buildings in a dense Brooklyn neighborhood, SO – IL worked with the realities governing design, i.e. FAR, aka floor area ratios, to achieve maximum volume in an affordable housing district composed of brownstones and apartment buildings.

Their approach was somewhat radical. The new apartments have more volume and more depth. Balconies are used both on the streetside and in interior courtyards, which are certainly not the courtyards of yore. Formerly, the primary reason for these New York City courtyards was to let in light and air. They were dreary spaces. SO – IL used the courtyard as a centerpiece. Corridors open to the courtyard and balconies in apartments also overlook this asymmetrical open space. The balconies also provide additional storage space for items like bicycles. The exterior of the building, clad in block, has a maximized textural look due to the rotation of the blocks. The project is a reimagination of a traditional building typology, and these architects literally thought outside the box.

Alexis Sablone is a designer, trained as an architect. She is also a skateboarder who has competed at the X Games, World Skating Championship, and at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. And she is also a keen observer of built form. Skateboarders look at the world differently than most people. They walk into a public space and see the challenge of a broad railing as a starting point for a jump taking them over a reflecting pool and down to another level that curves around a bend. Skateboarding started as a street medium and has slowly gained recognition as a sport. Skateboarders try their jumps multiple times, repatterning movements. Sablone noted, “It is a long, enduring and revealing process.” There are 85 million skateboarders worldwide, and public places provide a point for convergence in cities.

With her experience as a skateboarder, she has turned her attention to designing skateboarding parks that double as public art.

Dr. Kongjian Yu is the founding dean of the Peking University College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Yu is a professor and Honorary Foreign Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and holds a Ph.D. from the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

With the seas rising and massive floods occurring, he doesn’t view sea walls as a proper solution for protection. In a 13th century Chinese landscape painting he showed how elements of a natural wall were on the same plane as the architecture, and this reveals co-existence and balance between architecture and nature. He calls agriculture “designed land,” and in the last 20 years aesthetics have been tuned down. To have a sustainable infrastructure requires regenerative living landscapes. With gray infrastructure the wall may stop flooding but it also causes drought so the concept is flawed.

Yu has devised an alternative approach, which he calls “Sponge Planet.” This involves retaining water, but slowing the flow. Sponge planet was inspired by an ancient way of farming in an adaptation of the monsoon planet. He has been recognized internationally for his research on urban flooding and strategies for climate adaptation. At his firm, Turenscape, Yu combines landscape and urban design methodologies to address resiliency in cities by using ecological stormwater management while recoupling people with the earth. In his ”ecological restoration and urban renovation” project in Sanya on Hainan Island in southern China, the sponging brought back biodiversity within a period of four years and garnered both acclaim and awards.

Landscape architects have to take the long view with a deep engagement in history. Yu argues that the post-industrial landscape must be thought of globally since the entire globe needs to be fixed. With Sponge Planet, 40 percent of the water comes from the land while 90 percent of investments are in high technology. Yu remarked that “if we used that same amount of money, we could solve the problem.”

These projects reflect the overall tone of the program. Many of the participants are emerging voices in architecture and allied fields. They all shared an optimism and concern for the challenges ahead and the innovative ways in which they can be addressed. One thing was made perfectly clear — architecture and good design really do matter.

Anne Surchin is an East End architect and writer, vice chair of the Southold Historic Preservation Commission and co-author with Gary Lawrance of Houses of the Hamptons 1880-1930.

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