FANG Zhenning; Photo by NiuHan

Interview Date: July 11th, 2012

It is provided by Fang Zhenning, courtesy of Fang Zhenning and Abitare.

Abitare: We know that the concept for the Chinese pavillon is 原初, ”origine” and “initial”, can you explain us the reason you choose this theme? Do you think this idea 原初 can represente the actual situation of Chinese architecture?

FANG Zhenning: “Originaire” is the combined meaning of “original”(Yuan) and “initial”(Chu). In Chinese language, “YUAN” means the very beginning – the source – of a body of water. Therefore, we adopted the idea of “YUAN CHU” to search into the the pictorialization of the origin of memories and the origin of the universe.

I did not just simply select architecture projects of different architects for the exhibitions; I asked the architects, who wanted to exhibit their projects or architecture installations directly, if they could think about their original thinking structure, or the prototype, at the early stage of design. These suggestions played a pivotal role in the development of design works. Unfortunately, I need to say that these works are not the reflection of the “current situation of Chinese architecture”; they are reflecting on the Chinese architects’ thinking of the fundament of architecture. This “thinking” is a true representation of “common ground” in architecture.

Abitare: With which criteria did you choose the Chinese architects and artist?

FANG Zhenning: Because I selected the theme first before selecting the participating architects and artists, so I was mostly looking at architects with styles similar to minimalist styles. This was determined through their past architecture projects. Perhaps there are many architects more well-known than the architects I chose in these fields in China, but this is not my criteria in selecting architects.This is because I think that there is one thing that is common in both the field of architecture and the field of art – the origin of thinking, which is the foundation of all creations; These origins possess universal value in human being’s cognitive domain while trendy designs only please people’s senses.

Abitare: How do you set up the works in the space at the Arsenale?

FANG Zhenning: Interestingly, I perceived the theme “Common Ground” through the Chinese word “foundation”. We all know that Chinese language is a version of hieroglyphs; so the word “foundation” in Chinese is composed of two characters – “Ji”and “Chu”- that represent different meanings. “Foundation”footing refers to the load bearing element that connects the base of the building to its foundation; therefore,this part is crucial to the composition of buildings, bridges, docks, and other structures. Branching out from this understanding, “Ji” could be understood as the foundation footing while “Chu” could be comprehended as the plinth.

I set up the works according to the meanings of characters and words. I arranged to have all the works falling into the “Ji” category set up on the lawn outside. This part is named the“Square Garden”,which represent a beautiful wishing and imagination. The representation drawing of the“Square Garden Trilogy”is the most original concept of this exhibition; it is as if a square garden from the East landed in Venice’s Virgin Garden.

On the other hand, the works set up in the Arsenal falls into the category of “Chu”; thus, they are exhibited in linear shapes. My requirement for the work “Dissimilation” and “Sequence” is that they need to have at least the same length as the oil tanks in the Arsenal, which is 23 meters. In this way, the works will create enough tension in the dark space of the Arsenal.

Abitare: The theme of this Biennale is “common ground” , how do you think the Chinese pavillon will fit in this theme?

FANG Zhenning: It is such a coincidence that I was chosen to be the curator of the Chinese Pavilion in the Biennale that is curated by British architect David Chipperfield. Because of his attitude of design, he is an architect whom I pay very close attention to. As an artist, my design philosophy is very similar to that of David Chipperfield’s, and this is why I call it such a coincidence. Therefore,I think the concept of “Originaire” is a most direct and pertinent correspondance to Chipperfield’s concept of “Common Ground”.

In the cultural sense, “foundation” refers to the origin or the fundament of the development of different things. There are two levels in the concept of “Common Ground”: the first level is David Chipperfield’s emphasis, “I am interested in the things that architects share in common, from the conditions of the practice of architecture to the influences, collaborations, histories and affinities that frame and contextualise our work. I want to take the opportunity of the Biennale to reinforce our understanding of architectural culture, and to emphasise the philosophical and practical continuities that define it.” This is the cultural meaning that is included in the concept of foundation; on the other hand, the concept “Common Ground” directly implies the land and urban spaces situated between architectures. Therefore, I think this concept is also connected to the indigenous culture. As a result,“Common Ground”has the same starting point as the concept of“initial point” and “primary structures”.

Abitare: This year a Chinese architect, Wang Shu, won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, a prestigious prize, do you think is a kind of acknowledgment to all Chinese contemporary architecture?

FANG Zhenning: Although China is the country with most construction developments going on right now, it has not been a leading power in the creation of contemporary architecture culture. Wang Shu is undoubtably one of the best architects in China; he is persisted in keeping the identity of “scholar” in Chinese history alive through his thinkings. Although Wang Shu did receive the prize, there are still very few people in China who could truly understand Wang Shu’s designs and the value of his works. In fact, Wang Shu’s winning of the prize is under the background of China’s rise as a great power; even Wang Shu himself was surprised with him winning the prize so soon. Thus, compared to perceiving it as an acknowledgement to Chinese contemporary architecture, it should rather be seen as a reaction to the favored China, or a restraint to China’s fast development in urbanization. Therefore, I think that we should see it this way: Wang Shu is just Wang Shu, and China is just China.

Image Courtesy of Fang Zhenning, all rights reserved.

Related report: Originaire: China Pavilion for the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale.

Related posts: