Abstract to Mediating an Architecture of Autonomy, Authorship, Auteurism in China since 1995:
On the global architectural-cultural site of exhibitions, publications and events, architectural production in mainland China has largely been represented by practices founded by Chang Yungho, Liu Jiakun, Ma Qingyun, Wang Shu and Zhang Lei, instead of other players behind the building phenomenon, like the state-affiliated design institutes.
Such mythologising of “new modern Chinese architecture” since the nationwide privatisation of architectural practice in 1995 has led me to consider the motivation, mechanism and effects of such mediation.
My research reveals how the nature of, and reasons for, such mediation, have been consistently characterised by the following notions – what I refer to as “autonomy”, “authorship” and “auteurism” – to mean independence from a wider authoritative structure, a discursive practice through knowledge production, and association with an idiosyncratic artistic practice.
Despite the obvious mythical nature of these mediated projections, their persistence in architectural discourse and practice requires a reconsideration of its inevitability and necessity. My chosen frame of inquiry, therefore, tests the limits and potential of these mediated conceptions by comparing these five architects’ built work and involvement in businesses, content development, education, and platforms within art and architectural institutions, with those of other Chinese practices.
Their negotiated “independence” while working with mainstream forces, their interpretive, multi-sited and networked discursive practice, and employment of critical-spatial strategies of artistic practice, have both questioned and affirmed the values of these mediated conceptions. It also reveals the multiple levels of socio-economic, cultural and political forces Chinese architectural practices are subjected to, which require their deft engagement with, in the context of Chinese and global architectural production.
In testing these three historically- canonically significant criteria of evaluating architecture, I also propose an expanded version of each conception: could autonomy be more than atavistic freedom in developing an alternative idea-based practice that engages political-commercial forces; could authorship go beyond paper architecture by constructing both buildings and imaginative social narratives; could auteurism exceed formal-conceptual tinkering by rethinking architecture’s engagement with the social- relational and other disciplines?
While this research underscores the inextricable link between mediation and institution, the material and social, the local and the global, a discursive practice is only as effective as its implications on how architecture is commissioned, created and inhabited in a way that successfully engages its social, economic and cultural context.