Discuss architecture with “way, art, science and skill”

It is referred to as “way” in metaphysics, otherwise it is called “implement”!

“Way” – creation of reason and meaning of architectural space, or extension of imponderable aesthetic sense and artistic conception presented by architecture.

“Implement” – structure and electro-mechanics of architecture satisfy safety, while equipment satisfy comfort, hygiene and health.

When house hunting, people often only pay attention to sections, ponder over materials, or value building materials or equipment grades; they are also often attracted by gorgeous appearances, so they only take in what they see or hear at that moment. How to view the close relation between “rationality and sensibility” and “design and engineering”? A living space requires extensive aspects of thinking, and maybe everyone has forgotten what kind of living environment suits them. Thus, it is necessary for developers and designers to look after the overall architecture because, upon completion, the building and land will become one. Perhaps it would take planners only a few months to define the destiny of a building for the next fifty, or even one hundred, years, but when numerous building complexes are formed, the ethics of a city developed in the long-term is decided. It is like a fully packed train being guided by tracks; is it “man create environment” or is it “environment creates man”? The “way” of architecture can be said to be the door of wisdom, and the relation between “way and art” and “science and skill” is a up and down relationship; I divide architecture into four levels of realms, i.e. “way, art, science and skill”, to serve as the framework for progressive discussion and analysis.

The “way” of architecture (purpose and meaning of the existence of architecture)

“Way” is the final demonstration of worldly forms and their existence and law; though you look at it but cannot see it, listen to it but cannot hear it, and fight for it but cannot obtain it, it depends on the thinking of the wise; through interpretation by a wise man, the abstract “way” can also become the common feeling and comprehension among all the people. It is just like the situation where Mahākāśyapa had insights and was enlightened when he saw Buddha holding a flower and smiling. Inhabitants don’t have to study architecture, but they can experience and realize without words the beauty of life in an architectural space; the same is true of the reason within, so we use the “way” to elaborate the logical thinking and design meaning of Ming Sen Architects. “The purpose of architecture is to create space, space is the vessel for living”, and a residence provides living space, so “living” is the true topic. A “blank” in space is to be “filled” with life; “doors and windows are cut in a house, and just because of their emptiness, the usefulness of the house exists”; Laozi believed that the “emptiness and fullness” of all things of Heaven and Earth are dependent on and co-exist with each other, also that “being is produced from non-being” and emptiness tops fullness. We apply this concept in architectural space, so “emptiness” is not the absolute “emptiness and fullness” but a useful space. A void place in a building is like the empty belly of a household utensil. It is because of their void space, emptiness and fullness are combined and being and non-being coexist, so that the building space can have people move about in it, as well as allow air to flow through it and sunlight to activate its vitality. A “blank” in space is to be “filled” with life. The integration of a building’s interior and exterior is to let people enjoy more the combination of space and nature; by using the concession of building volume, natural elements (sunlight, air, water, plants) permeate into life to vitalize the space, and thus nourish life.

We believe conceptual practice of the “way of architecture” is the key to determining architectural achievements. “Potent and undifferentiated, the greatest functioning extends outward”, greatness spreads in all directions and forms naturally, which is the utmost beauty of the magnificence of Heaven and Earth. Therefore, to create the vitality of architecture, we must “reverse to the emptiness and into the undifferentiated, and pass beyond images”. Works by Ming Sen Architects try to pay attention to “small detailed spaces” and “turning places” so that, in addition to representational beauty of vision, people can also feel and perceive the realm of life. The “way” is not far from man; it exists the moment we open the window, among the falling petals, the instant breeze sweeps by our bodies, and in the laughter of parents and children.

The “art” of architecture (refine and beautify architecture)

“Art” is the concrete realization of aesthetic feeling experience among the various comprehensions in life. Speaking in the scope of architecture, it is the presentation of the external structural forms and interior spatial functions expressed by architects through buildings so that users may have experience in aesthetic feelings. (Nature is the ultimate goal of aesthetics; introduce natural elements and control physical factors)

“Honest and simple like unprocessed wood”; “manifest plainness and embrace simplicity”; “return to simplicity”; “simple” describes honesty and sincerity, the introverted essence of the spirit. No sculpting or decorating is required, and as natural as chaos, it is the utmost beautiful realm comprehended by the wise. Among the lexicons of modern architectural theories, we also often hear the phrase “nature is beauty” being used to express attitude toward beauty. Corresponding to wise men in ancient times, American master of architecture, Wright, advocated “prairie architecture” and “organic architecture”, and proposed that there should be an intrinsic association between modern architecture and natural form. Buildings are supposed to co-exist with environment naturally and harmoniously; only be integrating into the environment can there be symbiosis and coexistence to create music-like phonology and rhythm that are pleasant, calming and cultivating.

Therefore, regardless the type of form that is used to present the external structure, a building should not lose its simple and innocent essence, and all kinds of suitable methods should be used for it to combine with nature. This is the real world pursued by believers of the way, also the method by which architectural art can express the idea of “nature is the basis” to the greatest extent in the artistic conception.

The “science” of architecture (practice combined with academics, establishment of regulations and criteria)

“Science” is the application science required to “realize the way into art”. In architectural creation, modeling oneself after nature is better than imitating the ancients. Every building is located on different bases and has different physical conditions, so using the experience of predecessors blindly can perhaps give rise to “form” but not “spirit”. Instead of following the form of others’ works meaninglessly, why not focus on base context and topography to help the land create its unique value. The “old method” that advocates non-precedent and the “new method” that has selfhood, these are innovations and responses that follow one’s inclinations without bending rules and abide by objective and subjective conditions of their environment; the answer is within oneself, and problem dissection is the best approach to problem solving.

Note: The “science” here is extended as architectural academics, such as the relation between architectural physics and health factors; in addition, “science” has the meaning of “method”, by which standards are presented to stipulate academic criteria and construction regulations.

The “skill” of architecture (construction / structural safety)

“Skill” is the “energy” that creates things; it is a means for all things to brew, transform, execute, be born… into concrete realization; it is dynamic and is seen commonly in all art and non-art fields. The strictly regulated “skill” and sophisticated “science” are the “grassroots” for achieving the easily sought “realm of art”, which in turn realizes the utmost perfect “way”; with skill advancement, “not pushing one’s advantage too far” is the behavior that conforms to the way; skill-less art cannot achieve form, and open-mindedness cannot be reached without the way. Construction methods are the bases for realizing design ideas. A timeless centennial building can only be accomplished by perfect structure and firm systematic organization.

The building volume nowadays is growing day by day, and the demands for functions are becoming more complicated. Safety considerations associated with construction methods must be higher than regulated standards, and they must be implemented with the strictest specifications; as for the materials used for the exterior of buildings, delicacy comes before complexity, quality overtops quantity, and both cleverness and ingenuity are required. The purpose of engineering achievement should not be complexity, and the measuring standard of material value should not be appearance. As Zhuangzi said, “The right method will not admit any mixture. With such mixture, the one method will become many methods. Their multiplication will embarrass you. That embarrassment will make you anxious. However anxious you may be, you will not save.” This also responds to transforming complexity into simplicity, i.e. the modern architectural aesthetics of “less is more”.

Note: a skill lies in work and work follows rules, thus the up and down relationship between skill and science.