I made a dash across town during my lunch break last week and paid a visit to the Custard Factory in Digbeth. There was an exhibition of work by Chinese architect Ma Qingyun (office name: MADA s.p.a.m – strategy, planning, architecture, media) and it gave me an excuse to have lunch with my friend and fellow architect, Naomi, since she works in the same building. Naomi has just come back from a round the world trip and is returning to join her father’s practice Apec. Before that, she worked at Glen Howells Architects and had a hand in shaping a couple of Urban Splash‘s recent projects. She’s good, and I’ve wasted quite a bit of time over the years failing to persuade her to come and work with me.

On to the exhibition. This was my first experience of this firm’s work and I was much impressed. Multi-layered, rich, inclusive and rigorous. Rigorous but loose. Loose in the way that a suit* has to be loose in order for you to wear it and live in it. It’s an idea I’ve been thinking about since I went to see Alsop’s The Public. That there should be sufficient space – physically and metaphysically – between form and programme to allow for the occasional…jiggle. If I ever get round to writing up some notes on the Alsop visit I’ll have to try and find a better word.

Of course there is the distinct danger that I’m projecting that idea onto the work; there’s still lunch to be had and we’re in a rush after all. For this same reason I also begin to doubt myself as I start to spot numerous references to, and influences from, European practice. Koolhaas and his CCTV project is written all over one scheme – the Beijing Rock.

Ma Qingyun - model 2 (CCTV 2?) Ma Qingyun - model 2

Contemporary architecture in Beijing strives to be contextual. This simplistic and thought-free architecture style ignores, or worse refutes the ever-changing reality of 21st century China. In a context deprived of clarity, as the periphery of Beijing often is, the Beijing Rock is a contextual, driven by prevailing urban forces, not existing urban form.

I begin to doubt myself because I realise that I don’t have the first clue about Chinese contemporary culture or architectural practice. Europe and the West is all I’ve got to go on so maybe I’m projecting that too. This needs fixing.

Serendipity has caused this entry to be written on the same day as Dan Hill starting his second series of posts about Shanghai.

There are further pictures from my trip over at flickr.com.

* note to self: the looseness of a suit is defined by it’s seams – head back to a recent post on PLSQ for more.