House at an Intersection (1976)

Synopsis for Japan Architect (Shinkenchiku) 1976 Residential Competition entry

Basically this project derives its compositional concepts and compositional elements from the ancient Chinese 9-square principle and her spatial symbolism.

The Great Wall is chosen primarily because of its symbolic status. The Guardsman for whom this house is designed will sense his role not only as a frontier soldier, but symbolically the guardian of certain aspects of his own culture.

The word “intersection” is interpreted as follows:

1. the meeting point of the spatial and temporal axes.

2. the metaphysical center where man contemplates his fate and existence, and coordinates his ideal and reality.

3. the nucleus from which concepts of complementation, opposition, alternation and symmetry (integrated time-space symbolism) evolve. 

In this scheme, I have attempted to reintroduce the ideal 9-square, a 4-dimensional concept which in essence in the Chinese concept of the universe. The fourth (time) dimension is needed to fulfill the spiritual content; and it is through this immaterial vector that man communicates with the past, the present and the future, constituting the eternal dialogue.

The Great Wall and a road intersecting it at right angle represent the east-west and the north-south axes respectively. The central square which contains a subset of 9-square on the upper level, is punctured in the center forming a light well. Through this void, a third, but imaginary axis intersects the afore-mentioned axes perpendicularly, uniting the dual trinities: heaven-man-earth on the one hand; past-present-future on the other.

Next, I designated one element to each of the remaining corner squares. The house proper, occupying the south-west corner, takes the form of an earth mound, which is characteristic of the cave dwellings along the Yellow River region the northern China plateau. The rigid interior layout derives its outline from the 3-tier marble terraces of the Forbidden City upon which the imperial throne used to stand. The earth mound is protected from the road by a wall. Walls in China have always been a linear intersection between the inside and the outside worlds.

A sand-rock garden occupies the north-west corner. This environment of Zen origin is simultaneously the extension of the house and a microcosm defined by three sets of walls. An ever-changing scene of the garden is possible as a result of continuous sand and snow drifts from the Gobi Desert.

Complementing the dry sand, a wet well in the form of a truncated pagoda sits across the road at the north-east corner. Pagodas had been defensive lookouts before they acquired religious significances. The tri-axial property is readily recognizable here, though deliberately subdued.

The Altar of Heaven had been a symbol of imperial glories in the past. Ceremony was performed annually to renew the ruling mandate by the Son of Heaven himself. The flowing, meandering mass at the south-east corner is my melted-down version of the Altar of Heaven signifying the transplantation of its tri-axiality to the central void.

Sun-chang Lo