Ren, by Plot
The first article of a quadrilogy of posts about architectures that represent a character explores a building whose iconography represents the Chinese sign ‘Ren’ which translates ‘People.’ The architectural project is the competition winning entry for the People’s Building in Shanghai. So the iconography of the building is an abstract representation of its program, comparable to the Duck-model that Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown present in Learning from Las Vegas.
“The REN Building is a proposal for a hotel, sports and conference center for the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai. The building is conceived as two buildings merging into one. The first building, emerging from the water, is devoted to the activities of the body, and houses the sports and water culture center. The second building emerging from land, is devoted to the spirit and enlightment, and houses the conference center and meeting facilities. The two buildings meet in a 1000 room hotel, a building for living. The building becomes the Chinese sign for ‘The People’, and a recognizable landmark for the World Expo in China.”
The directors of the Danish architectural firm PLOT have recently gone their own way by starting their own firms BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) and JDS (Julien De Smedt), so PLOT=BIG+JDS. The architects that started their careers at OMA are still collaborating on the projects they initiated at PLOT, such as their competition winning entry for the People’s Building in Shanghai. The work of both architects I think is amazing, and their websites are absolutely worth a visit.
The work of BIG and JDS is however somewhat curious. Their oeuvre started out with work that avoids representation and retreating in making architecture by folding horizontal planes into waving landscapes and filling every vertical plane with glass. Always glass. 100%. Architectural critic Stan Allen argues that the avoidance of representation of this generation of architects was a reaction to Post-Modernism. Architects simply became afraid of the vertical surface. Happily enough things change. In the work of Plot there is a constant search for form, and one sees iconography arising as an argument and way of designing this form. The work of Foreign Office Architects made a similar transformation from folding landscapes to iconographical form.
There is another curious thing. The program and name ‘People’s Building’ suggest this project is a last echo of communism in architecture. Does the ‘connecting’ form of the REN building – two buildings become one – represent communism? Just as one might suspect of the CCTV project of their mentor Rem Koolhaas? Ironically CCTV equals Closed Circuit TeleVision, which again represented in the circular band-form of the skyscraper. I am not sure what to make of the round forms of the REN Building. It looks bubbely or cheesy, yet original.
The work of PLOT=BIG+JDS is currently exhibited in the NAi Maastricht.