Field Investigation and Research of Xiba
Location       Xiba, Sichuan, China
Year              2018
Typology      Field Investigation and Research

How should we observe or document a building? Traditionally, more attention is given to structure and construction, namely how the building was built. Yet, the people’s activities that took place inside, particularly the interactions between the people and the space, were usually ignored.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the german architect Ernst Boerschmann traveled to China to document the traditional Chinese architecture and the vivid activities in those buildings at that time. In the 1920s, the japanese architect  Wajiro Kon, who embarked on field trips investigating traditional japanese folk houses. He documented not only traditional houses but also the daily utensils and crafts, which led to the establishment of a new branch of sociology - “modernology”. The works of these architects show us a new perspective, which enlightens us about the relationship between space and people.

The influence of space on human behavior and psychology is the main focus of ALTER THE AIR. We believe that architecture is more complex than just being a construction of material. Therefore, we document traditional buildings with an emphasis on the daily activities, tools, and crafts within the building. Directed by this point of view, we set out our field investigation in Xiba, Sichuan Province of China.

There are many reasons for why we chose Xiba as our area of research. First of all, it is a historical town which is famous for tofu which made it an important source of inspiration for the design of Huadou (see Huadou Concept Store ). Here, we carefully documented the most traditional way of making tofu with a family from a hillside village (see Tofu Family ). 

More importantly, it is representative as a historic village in a time of rapid industrialisation in China. Confronted with environmental problems and an aging population, the town is losing its historic relics and traditions. Xiba town used to be an important harbor and trade center alongside the river. What is now left of the once vibrant area, is a few remaining elderly residents and tea houses in which they congregate. Besides that, a big chemical factory has been built in the middle of the Min River, of which the resulting pollution of the water and air is threatening the surrounding nature and the health of local people.

Moreover, the traditional harmonious urban texture has been atrociously cut apart by so-called “modern buildings” which are built with concrete. They are extraordinarily huge in volume in comparison with the traditional houses. While the traditional street spaces could indeed not meet the demand of modern life, the pleasant scales of the street and building can still inspire the planning of a contemporary and modern city. We recorded two tea houses with distinctive characteristics: The tea house on Mingzhu str 58, which has a close connection with the street (see Tea House I ) and the tea house on Mingzhu str 92, a long and narrow space for the elderly . (see Tea House II )

The whole region of Sichuan is actually known for its bamboo, and this material is also endangered in the process of economic growth. On the mountains which were covered with bamboo, a new, “more economical” tree - Eucalyptus - has taken its place, which grows fast but quickly exhausts the soil by depleting it of its nutrition, and causes soil erosion. The tradition of using local material is still of great wisdom. This can for instance be seen in the unique local building technique of Bamboo woven clay walls, which is environmentally friendly and disposable. Yet, this technique has lost significance with new emerging building designs, as locals consider it as “unmodern”. Another example is the iconic bamboo chair, which we documented on the spot for the amazing modular construction idea.(see Bamboo Chair 

For ALTER THE AIR, the documentation has a deep meaning. It helps us not only to understand the design, but also to document the endangered culture relics before it vanishes. This process also allowed us to better understand the real value of tradition and how it can inspire.

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