The Itinerary of Light-An alternative path to roam around Venice

Studying, living and vap(oretto)ing in Venice for three months, we found ourselves stuck in between the status of a tourist and a local. If we were to guide you to walk around Venice, which route would we choose? What would be the must-sees from our point of view? What would be our theme of this unique DIY itinerary? Find out here with me and my friend Peiwei: The Itinerary of Light. Whether you have or haven’t been in Venice, let it be a pocketbook of yours when you visit Venice next time!


The architecture of Lyon

I spent my past summer in Lyon studying French with the UVa in Lyon program. One of the greatest impression was that we were literally forced to speak French the whole entire time! As an architect, I also took the advantage of getting myself exposed to vernacular French Architecture, or more specifically, l’architecture Lyonnaise.

The link above is a project I did with my classmate Danielle for our FREN2020 in Lyon. Enjoy!


La mia esperienza a Venezia

Il problema dell’acqua

Venire a Venezia è stata una decisione molto difficile per me, perché non mi piace l’acqua. L’idea di essere arenata su una piccola isola, che è circondata da acqua infinita, e che è sezionata da centinaia di canali, mi fa rabbrividire. Prima di tutto, la vicinanza all’acqua rende Venezia il paradiso per le zanzare. Non ho mai sentito così vulnerabile alle zanzare nella mia vita. Ogni notte, devo spruzzare ogni angolo della mia camera, e coprirmi con una medicina anti-zanzara per riuscire a dormire.


Acqua Alta e qui!

Lo stile di vita primitiva

E naturalmente ci si attendono altre sorprese. Due giorni dopo che mi sono trasferita nel mio appartamento, siamo stati senza internet. Improvvisamente mi sentivo come che sono stata all’epoca della grotta, dove tutto è così primitivo. Ma quando mi guardo in giro, la gente di Venezia non sembra che è disturbata affatto. In realtà, ho notato che nella biblioteca, la maggioranza dei Veneti è soddisfatta con solo un libro o un giornale in mano. Solo gli studenti più giovani utilizzano i loro computer portatili.


La tessera di biblioteca

Il Motto di ‘vivi il momento’

Abito vicino a San Marco, e ho sempre dato per scontato che io conosco bene il posto. Tuttavia, quando Maddalena mi ha chiesto se ho visitato il Palazzo Ducale, mi sono sentita molto vergognata che la mia risposta è stata no. Anche se sono stata a Venezia per due mesi, ci sono molte ‘imperdibili attrazioni’ che non ho visto. Quindi, ho composto una lista di cose che devo fare durante il resto del mio soggiorno. Finora, sono andata al concerto del Vivaldi nella chiesa di Vivaldi, ho visitato il museo Peggy Guggenheim, e la Punta della Dogana.


Una statua…nel museo di Peggy Guggenheim

Tra un turista e un locale

Quando guardo le mie fotografie di Venezia, mi accorgo che il mio punto di vista è cambiato in due mesi. Le prime due settimane, ho preso le foto dei canali e ponti come un turista tipico. Le fotografie sembrano gli scatti in cartolina, ma ho concentrato più sulla foto che non ho apprezzato la vista stessa. Mentre più tardi sono riuscita a catturare le cose godo. Per esempio, i dettagli di un edificio di Carlo Scarpa, la statua sulla facciata, o candele sul tavolo da pranzo. Mi ritrovo essere né un turista, che cerca di catturare tutto, né un locale, che dà per scontato tutti. Invece, divento un osservatrice, chi è molto selettiva delle cose che vedo, sperimento, e godo.


Castelvecchio di Carlo Scarpa

Final Reflections

Architecture education usually centers around the main studio course. The skill sets students acquire from studio include critical thinking in terms of design, mastery of different computer programs, and model making. These indeed are very useful tools that one has to master to become an architect, but that doesn’t mean they are all. Architects are no longer the cult of genius in the modern world. Architecture is no longer high-class aesthetics that’s beyond people’s appreciation, but rather a tangible yet subtle influence that is detectable by everyone who inhabits it. The course of Systems, Sites, and Buildings challenge us, and open up a new way for us to look at design in relations to our world. It proposes a new way of thinking: thinking in system. The system of nature, the system of wind, water and sun, the system of mechanics, the system of logic.

Over the course, Sherman touched on a lot of issues such as the sun path, the concept of the virtual water, human being’s thermal comfort, and natural ventilation and lighting in architecture application. I think what I get out of the class is be exposed to a new way of approaching, thinking, and appreciating architecture, and even beyond. Having the background knowledge of how different systems work sheds new light on my understanding of the wonderful projects such as Steven Holl’s Chapel of St ignatius and Peter Zumthor’s Thermo Vals. And carrying on to my own practice of design, site analysis, not just in terms of the conventional studies of building adjacency and cultural background, but in terms of solar exposure, wind path, and human comfort becomes crucial to my design decisions.

While I do understand that the course have a wide range of materials to cover and is serving as a intro and enlightenment course, I do wish that we have gone deeper into some of the major topics. I wish our experience with these fascinating materials are not just flat from a sheet of paper or on the slides but more approachable to us students in real life, just as the spirit of the course is to reveal the truth and science behind architecture and make them tangible and comprehensible. And I wish it can tie more into our studio work through restructuring the course lectures, studio time, and discussion sessions. Overall, I find the course very beneficial in challenging our traditional way of thinking and I wish it has a follow-on course or session that will help us delve deeper into the real stuff instead of just scratching the surface.


My Architect: A Son’s Journey

Over Thanksgiving, I decided to take a break from studying and watch Nathaniel Kahn’s movie “My Architect: A Son’s Journey.” By visiting his father’s buildings and interviewing his past colleagues, Nathaniel was trying to trace the steps of Louis Kahn—the great yet mysterious figure in the 20th century architecture world.

detail shot of a concrete wall in the Salk Institute

Louis Kahn was not an attractive man in appearance.  However, his height, his scar on the face, his “funny voice,” or even the fact that he was Jewish couldn’t shadow his greatness in the world of design. In fact, these physical defects, or shall we call them the appearance of integrity instead, might be the making of his greatness. A then young colleague of Lou, Jack Mc. Callister, who worked with Lou on the Salk Institute project in La Jolla, California, described Lou’s philosophy of buildings as such, “Scars of a building produced by the way it was made should be revealed.” Nothing about a building should be suppressed. Any adversary or difficulty caused by the materiality or the nature of the building, instead of being covered up, should be expressed and celebrated. Once you are able to stay true to the building, you can say you own it.

Kimbell Art Museum

Lou was a religious man. God exists in his works. However, in Lou’s sense, perfection is never a flawless façade or a grand surface. Perfection is intelligence, is integrity, which itself acknowledges the existence of the imperfect, the withstanding of time, the process of weathering. Perfection is never about following the flow and making the best out of it, but about finding oneself, finding the truth in oneself. The 20th century architecture was landmarked by the rigidity of large glass panels and stainless steel structures. Lou was never able to find himself in this prevailing trend. Instead of struggling within it, he walked away and lingered around. In the ancient ruins in Rome and Egypt, he found agelessness and peace. Stroke by the still standing remnants of the ancient wisdom, Lou finally found himself. The only thing mattered, was monumentality in modern architecture. And that what he did, tirelessly, for the rest of his life. The Salk Center, the Phillips Exeter Academy Library in New Hampshire, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas….The elegant and simple mechanism that allows natural light into the Kimbell Art Museum brought him closer to his beliefs.

Les Objets dans une Citadelle Assiégée

Dans son roman satirique «Forteresse Assiégée», l’auteur chinois Qian Zhongshu a écrit que ceux qui sont dans la citadelle voudrait sortir, tandis que ceux qui sont en dehors voudrait y entrer. Dans cette citadelle, les objets peuvent être des choses. Ils peuvent être aussi des gens, ou les fantaisies idéalisées des personnes. Dans le film «Pépé le Moko», Pépé, un célèbre et dangereux malfaiteur, était caché quelque part dans la Casbah d’Algérie. La narration du film a décrit la Casbah à travers énumérer les objets du coins: les maisons, les passages secrets, les tours de vérandas, et les gens d’origines ethniques diverses, les femmes de différentes formes. Pour Pépé, la Casbah était son abri de la police et son paradis de distraction. Mais la Casbah était aussi sa prison parce que Pépé, ses gangsters et ses maîtresses étaient rendus en tant que des objets dans ce temps et dans cet espace unique.

Au début du film, la police a désespérément tenté de mettre la main sur Pépé. L’inspecteur Slimane a fait très attention à chaque mouvement de Pépé parce qu’il a eu très envie d’attraper Pépé lui-même. À ses yeux, Pépé était sa proie, son objet, qui a été destiné à tomber dans son piège. À l’arrivée de Gaby, une beauté parisienne, l’inspecteur Slimane l’a vue plus comme un outil qu’une personne parce qu’il a eu l’intention d’utiliser Gaby pour séduire Pépé hors de sa zone de comfort.

Casbah. le paradis et la prison de Pépé

Ignorants de l’intention malveillante de Slimane, Gaby et Pépé sont tombés amoureux. Cependant, est-ce que Pépé aimait Gaby comme une personne entière et unique, ou comme quelque chose d’autre? Pendant leur première rencontre, le réalisateur a saisi de près des yeux en mouvement de Pépé, et leurs objets correspondants:  les objets physiques que Gaby a porté comme ses bijoux, et son propre corps comme ses yeux souriants et ses dents blanches. Selon  la description de Slimane, nous savons que Pépé dans la Casbah était un play-boy qui a poursuivi des femmes pour son plaisir. Même Inès, la gitane qui Pépé  adorait le plus dans la Casbah, était seulement son jouet sexuel favori. Pépé s’est plaint dans le film que «Inès pour le petit déjeuner, pour le déjeuner, et pour le diner. Inès est comme un régime!» Quant à Gaby, Pépé a dit que Gaby lui rappelait au Métro de Paris, dont le son il ne pourrait oublier.

En comparant les deux femmes, elles possédaient les différents objets physiques et leurs apparences étaient très dissemblables aussi. Gaby a porté les bijoux chères, alors que Inès a porté vêtements en loques. Gaby, son apparence parisienne et son maquillage exquis ont apporté de la nostalgie à Pépé, tandis que Inès, avec ses cheveux gras et ses grands yeux sur son visage décharné, représentait la Casbah d’Algérie, le lieu étranger où Pépé voudrait laisser. Parce que là-bas, même si Pépé était le roi du ghetto, il était aussi le prisonnier, l’objet de la citadelle. Pépé aimait Gaby plus comme une fantaisie idéalisée qu’une personne réelle. Il adorait Inès comme un jouet exotique, et il l’écœurait comme une tache étrangère.

La réflexion de Pépé

Les gens dans la citadelle aspirent à la liberté inaccessible en dehors. Ils voient le monde de leurs points de vues partiales. Cependant, quand ils rendent les autres comme objets, ils deviennent également des objets des autres. «Lorsque tu regarde le paysage par le pont, les touristes te regardent en haut. La lune éclatante orne ta fenêtre, tu embellis le songe d’un autre.» Le poème chinois «Le fragment», écrit par Zhilin Bian, illustre bien la relativité des positions et les perspectives des gens. Ensemble, ils forment la contradiction et la complexité des relation humaines.

Assignment 8 The Simpson Lee House

My case study for natural ventilation is Glenn Murcutt’s Simpson Lee House, located in Mount Wilson, west of Sydney. The house is sited on the lee of a hill, which means the upper side of the hill blocks the wind from the west side. The altitude is 1000m above sea level, and is generally cool temperate climate. Average temperature during summer is around 29 °C while in winter it’s around 16 °C. The annual precipitation of the area is about 1050mm (41in), and the humidity is pretty high on the site.

The house is composed of two parts: the major living spaces and the garage. They are connected by a timber bridge and an external pond, which cools down air during summer. There are also water tanks attached to the western side of the house to collect rainwater, and also help with cooling air down.

Since the wind mainly comes from the eastern downhill side of the house, Murcutt makes full use of natural breezes by opening up the eastern side and have moveable flaps on the western side. The operable flaps enable the inhabitants of the house to have full control of how much breeze and how fast they want the breeze to come through the house.

The central chimney functions as the main heat source of the house during the winter days, and stacking effect happens here where warmer air goes upwards the chimney and the colder air goes downwards. Inhabitants’ evaporation of sweat is accelerated in this moderately humid house.

Ventilation diagrams of the Simpson Lee House by Glenn Murcutt

Natural Ventilation

Modern technology is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the proper application of technology can greatly enhance the performativity of buildings. On the other hand, however, the abuse of technology can result in unnecessarily high cost and relatively poor functionality. The determinant of which direction it goes is really the integrity of the designers about their own knowledge of the subject in question. According to Tafuri, designers have choices to either stick to the conventional and social norms which are usually ideologies rendered as facts or nature, or enter the state of autonomy which make you seem like you are flying freely as you wish but you are actually retreating to your bedroom and comfort zone. Both approaches are problematic because they let go the truth. The way out of this is to stay grounded to nature and the real.

For instance, in the age when air-conditioning prevails, should we go with blindly taking technology as granted, or should we jump out of the box and reconsider the importance of natural ventilation? Ant colonies have existed for ages. Even today the concrete model of their underground world reveals that a super organism like ants does the job of design directly corresponding to its natural environments. Even not designed by one full mind, the combined efforts of ants lead to a complete nature-oriented building strategy which allows natural ventilation to go to all the chambers through millions of connecting tunnels.

Architects like Glenn Murcutt believes in passive design, which could be generally characterized as letting the geometry do the job. To him, a building is a shelter for people against danger and unwanted physical elements, like excessive heat, coldness, rain or sunlight. The idea of passive design is appealing because it is efficient in the sense of both energy use and economy. Murcutt stated that it is extremely hard to reduce the cost for his designs because they are “minimal buildings” which are already at the very minimal level of survival in themselves. In other words, they already do the most, function the best with the minimum cost. His roof geometry, choose of material, location of water elements such as ponds, and angles of windows are all languages in accordance to natural ventilation, solar exposure, evaporation and rain.

Murcutt’s sketch illustrates his way of working and thinking in response to nature.