Shin Muramatsu

Representative,
mAAN Founding Committee

Assistant Professor,
Institute of Industrial Science,
Tokyo University, Japan

Keynote Speech for the Preparatory Meeting of mAAN at Guangzhou, 2000

__

Revised on 28 Sep 2008

1. Purpose

In recent years, the pace of urban development in Asia has become even faster and more forceful. Considered from the urban, architectural, and cultural points of view, such development can hardly be seen as praiseworthy; instead, one can say that it is creating a rather lamentable confusion.

Once the impact of these phenomena on Asian cities has been analyzed, it should become clear that non-architectural factors such as poverty and violent capitalism are not the only sources of blame—as some have suggested. Generally speaking, the causes of this problem should be attributed to a “contempt for the past” and to a “facile regard of the future” by those who are driving this development forward.

The first problem manifests itself in the destruction of old buildings in many cities without any consideration of their cultural values. Of course, those buildings considered “traditional” have been preserved and better protected. However, “modern architecture,” which plays a larger part in people’s daily lives, has often been dismissed as a “negative inheritance from the colonial period”’ and has been treated contemptuously as “pseudo-Western architecture (architectural creole).” Because of these attitudes, “modern” buildings have thus often been destroyed in the name of development.

A second problem can be seen in the new architectural designs that have actually been built. It is commonplace for builders and developers to imitate those designs that are fashionable in Western and Japanese architecture without thinking what kind of architecture is suitable for each country and city.

What should be done to deal with these two problems? Though it may seem round about, the most realistic strategy is to recognize the fact that the whole picture of Asian architectural heritage is standing right in front of us, in Asian cities. New values for this heritage must be found—or even created—that connect it to an actual social context.

The modern Asian Architecture Study Group (mAAN) has made proposals concerning the research and preservation of modern buildings in each nation and region. Our members led by Professor Terunobu Fujimori at the Research Institute of Industrial Science, Tokyo University, have already put together a list of existing modern buildings in Asia based on actual research conducted in Japan by the Architectural Institute of Japan, and also in China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, Vietnam (Hanoi), and Thailand (Bangkok). During the research process, we have also cultivated our relationship with other researchers interested in modern architecture in Asia, and in some cases have helped them in their preservation and revitalization efforts in their respective localities. mAAN has also worked with the Chinese Modern Architecture Study Group in organizing six symposia on modern architecture in China.

Communication among researchers in Asia has been increasing in recent years, and mAAN feels the need for a place for general assembly and convocation. Although such communication has been happening in each country and region, each of these regions is faced with a common situation, and the problems to be solved are too great to be dealt with by individual efforts alone.

Fortunately, many interested parties had this opportunity to gather at the Seventh Chinese Modern Architecture Symposium, in Guangzhou, China, from 24-27 July, 2000. This and other meetings helped lay the groundwork for a network that would be concerned with the research, preservation, and revitalization of modern architecture in Asia.

2. About the Name of the Organization

It is proposed that this new networking organization be called the modern Asian Architecture Network (Research, Preservation, Revitalization), or mAAN. Following is an explanation of why this name was chosen.

  1. Why Modern Architecture? What is Modern Architecture? According to our a commonly accepted view of describing history, historical time is classified into the following three periods: “present” (the time period in which we are living); the “recent past” (the period that precedes and defines the “present”); and “olden days” (the past that has no direct connection to our everyday life). More pedantic terms to describe such understanding of history would be “contemporary”, “modern”, and “pre-modern”. Modern architecture built during the “modern” period should be the focus of study because it is this style that defines our “contemporary” cities and villages. It is, however, difficult to define the “modern” in terms of calendar years, since the style differs according to nation and region. In the case of Japan, according to the popular understanding, the “modern” starts around the year 1858 when the trade treaty was established between Japan and the U.S., and it ends in 1945 when World War II came to a close. Some think that, in an architectural sense, “the recent past” continued up to the 1960’s. Just for Japan alone, there are many different views. It should be even more difficult for historians in many different countries to agree on any strict definition. For mAAN’s purposes, “modern architecture” refers somewhat loosely to all of those buildings that were built between the mid-19th century (pre-18th century in case of the Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch colonies), when Western architecture started its infiltration. This modern period ended sometime around 1960, when a new stage of rapid economic development began to change the face of many Asian countries. The infiltration of Western architecture should be regarded as the beginning of “modern architecture” in Asia because the contemporary architecture of our own time, to a large extent, has evolved under the influence of—and as a reaction to—that infiltration. Further discussion of these issues needs to take place: the origin of the “modern” and the degree of its influence are both research topics to be considered by modern architectural historians. While mAAN should have “modern architecture” as its focus, It should be made clear that any discussion of it needs to be focused on the larger context above and beyond the study of individual buildings. To examine building complexes, townscapes, and cities is to free architecture from its own professional boundaries and relate it back to society at large, though it should also be emphasized that townscapes and cities can be best observed using an architectural approach. Finally, we have decided intentionally not to capitalize the initial letter “m” to express this complexity and ambiguity surrounding the “modern” especially in Asia.
  2. Why Asia? “Asia” means different things to different people, depending on their own history, geography, and cultural background. To a Japanese researcher, for example, “Asia” might be defined in terms of proximity: East Asia first, then Southeast Asia. For reasons of history, people from these regions may share some common experiences, which may make it easier for this network to be created. But Asia is not limited geographically: India is close to Thailand, of course, and the Middle East is close to India. Another significance of Asia implies a sense of rivalry with the West, i.e. Europe and the U.S., in which new ideas can be generated vis-a-vis Western ideas about architectural research, preservation, and revitalization. This does not justify any negative attitudes or antipathy toward the West, which includes Australia and New Zealand in the so-called Asia-Pacific region. This concept of Asia is useful in the development of a new paradigm for presenting mutually complementary ideas in the encounter between the two points of view. One of the aims of mAAN’s preliminary meeting was a discussion of how Asian members might contribute to the world’s dialogue on these issues.
  3. Research, Preservation, Revitalization These three factors should always be considered as an ensemble, unlike the present situation where they are treated as separate issues. It is important that mAAN should always confirm where it stands by way of “research,” inherit the positive elements of the past by “preservation,” and build a bridge between present and past through “revitalization.” Each of these three factors raise several questions and areas for further clarification. For example:
    • Research: What is modern architecture? Absorption and rejection of native techniques. Birth of “architects.” History of “historical” consciousness. Modernism and its propagation. Colonialism hidden in architecture. Urban modernism. Methods of modern architectural research.
    • Preservation: Preservation technology. Preservation laws. Economics and preservation. Preservation policy. What should be preserved?
    • Revitalization: Housing supply and modern architecture. Town building and modern architecture. Tourism and modern architecture. Education for modern architectural research, preservation, and revitalization.

3. Goals

The goals of the modern Asian Architecture Network (Research, Preservation, Revitalization) are as follows:

  1. Loose association and exchange of information through committee meetings and newsletters.
  2. Confirmation of architectural heritage and sharing of its history through symposia and the creation of a “General Survey of Modern Asian Architecture” and the co-editing of “History of Modern Asian Architecture.”
  3. Proactive efforts for the future; informing and educating the public through the establishment of an educational program for the next generation, and mounting of exhibits of modern Asian architecture.