Saturday, May 17, 2014

Bing the Builder

Executive summary by darmansjah

SHOWSTOPPING and sustainable, fashionable and even radical-Bing Thom’s architecture pushes the limits. In surrey, a once bleak suburb of Vancouver, Thom took the roof off a shopping mall and plopped down a university ( a novel play on “higher learning” ). Along Washington, D.C.’s resurgent southwest waterfront, he added a new venue to Arena Stage’s two historic theaters (opened in 1961 and  71) and encased all three in undulating glass, supported by Douglas fir columns and topped with a cantilevered roof. A Vancouverite by way of Hong Kong, Thom pioneers design often called regenerative urbanism-or, as he says, architecture that inspires people to rethink community space.

How can architecture affect travelers? By putting things, or people, together that aren’t expected, to break down preconceptions. I purposely create accidental collisions within my buildings.

How do you approach a project in a new place? I immerse myself in the culture. I walk the streets and talk to people. As the expressions goes, you can’t smell the flower sitting on a horse. I like to feel the grain of a city.

What have you learned working in different cities? Every place has its own sense of color. Vancouver is shades of gray because of the rain and mist, and it’s a city for drop outs-philosophers, inventors, artists. The crispness of light in Washington, D.C., makes every thing more black and whie; you make decisions and move faster. Hong Kong is grittier; it’s so dense, you have to go to extremes to get noticed. The differences force me to adapt.

What kind of a traveler are yo? I sit on a park bench or on a ferry and talk to people. Once a year I travel like a backpacker, anonymously and alone, so I can look and listen and feel, without distractions. Loneliness in a strange place hones my tools of perception. My wife worries, because she doesn’t know where I’m going. I don’t even know. I just wander.

What places inspire you? The Alhambra in Spain-it’s a Moorish castle garden in what’s now a Catholic country, and yet elements of it seem very Chinese. The collision of cultures is centuries old.

Have any places changed you? In Burma (Myanmar), a monk told me, “Anyone can be a monk-for one day, one month, a year, a lifetime. You can drift in and out. Every morning, go on the street with an alms bowl, and don’t eat until somebody gives you food.” In other words, put your self at the mercy of your fellow human beings. In the same way, I travel as a monk. Travel feeds my spirit and my knowledge.

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