In October 2020, in the very autumn when the post-epidemic pain and anxiety were subsiding, three small, light wooden houses were erected in the city centers of Beijing, Wuhan and Xiamen almost instantaneously, and what happened in the following weeks attracted the attention of millions of people on the Internet.
▲ 直播活动现场 ©《朗读者》栏目组
This is the scene of the "72-hour new media" live broadcast of the third season of CCTV's "The Reader", which was carefully planned and implemented by the CCTV team. In the three cities separated by thousands of miles between the north and the south, three wooden houses stood in three public places with special intentions: The South Square of the National Library in Beijing, the Hankou Jiangtan Park in Wuhan, and the Zengcuo An Binhai Music Square in Xiamen. These three wooden houses witnessed the moment when hundreds of ordinary citizens picked up their books and read their hearts out, witnessing their pain and comfort, joy and memories, courage and hope; meanwhile, they also touched the hearts and minds of countless people online.
The live broadcast last 3 days, and the houses were open to the public for the subsequent 2 weeks. In total, 672 people entered the reading space, 15,736,000 viewers joined in the live streaming, the video was viewed by 61,095,000 times, and the related Weibo topics hit 820 million readings. These data seem to have nothing to do with professional behavior from an architect's perspective. However, given that this group of temporary buildings that were designed, built, used and then dismantled in less than two months, whilst obtained such a high density of use and attention, some thinking should be raising beyond professional skills.
For the sake of a smooth broadcast of the program, we have to quickly find a balance between the basic requirements of uses, technical feasibility, time schedule and economy. This is, after all, a small house with a simple space and little technical difficulty, but it is certain special requirements and constraints that make the communication and discussion about technical feasibility crucial and intensively accompany the project throughout:
Assembled wood construction was pretty much the only option. The strict time limit for rapid construction required that using assembled components will be the only way out. Then, the strict prohibition of damage to the current state of the site and also the prohibition of open fires and noise during construction, as well as the extremely short allowable time for component processing, basically ruled out the possibility of assembled steel structures. Let alone that the cold nature of steel structure also does not support the setting of the bookish temperament of the reading space.
It is no longer possible to use insulated glass curtain wall production and processing, so the PC boards (acrylic boards) became an acceptable alternative. We did have tried to use double-layer insulated PC boards to solve the problem of heat insulation and energy saving as well as flatness, or to set up some opening glass windows.However, none of these attempts survived through huge obstacles. At last, we could only set down with single-layer of 12mm thick PC boards as enclosure. The bright side to this is that the program was held during the middle of October, so the temperature is mild and stable in all three sites, which makes it possible to regulate the natural ventilation by opening of the door.Since these boards were not scratch-resistant, abrasion on the surface affected the permeability. They can last at least six months of good status if had being paid attention to maintenance.
We used two-way dense row steel foundation, similar to raft foundation, it will allow the upper load evenly dispersed, and not to damage the original square paving under (stone). Cedar planks(omitted anti-corrosion process) were arranged on the foundation, becoming the floor that can be sit around this quick-building building. Once again, the warmth of wood made the space easy to approach.
It is the conventional practice to use aluminum-magnesium manganese upright lock edge plate in the roof, and also guarantee the rain-resistance. For the roof structure plate under the metal plate (also the roof finish surface), we used SPF plate with NLT (Nail Laminated Timber), which is heavier and more expensive. The weight is actually a pro not a con. Especially for the site on the seaside of Xiamen, where typhoon come from time to time, a heavy structure becomes a necessity. Therefore, the house should be light but the roof should be heavy, this pair of requirements seems to be contradictory, and still was balanced by the strong overall structural stiffness.
Besides, there were also a lot of other issues related, such as the orientation and connection of each site to the surrounding area, how to accommodate the octagonal reading pavilion, which is the symbol of the second season of "The Reader", and the resulting construction process, whether to provide a door to the pavilion (and we decided to remove it before the broadcast), and the selection and placement of air conditioning terminals (also removed before use), etc. The 72 hours of live broadcast, along with the 720 hours of technical desk work and the running around in three places were indeed a moment of tension that we experienced together with the program team and the contractor. Together we faced the problems. Together we accomplished the events.
Yes, this essay is very “unarchitectural”. Maybe it’s more like a tedious narrative of the process of an event. For the program, the Readers’ House is a special set of props, but for the architects, the house is more like a medium, or a window, that does have all the characteristics of a construction project as it should be, but also clearly strikes at the customary judgments of expertise.
Transience, public participation, limit-time management of the bookstore, temporary and comfort, material limit and spatial potential, space-time interaction in the era of new media... This temporary building that has disappeared left us with only images and memories, but it seems to be able to pull out a lot of unconventional topics, like many light spots overlapping and flashing in the mind.
Through the flashback images, we still see the moment we discussed the proposal with the project team for the first time. Initially, the architect's interest led us to propose a proposal similar to the "suitcase" space that can be loaded and unloaded lightly, in order to cope with the temporary and the idea of possible off-site reuse. However, at the insistence of hostess Dong Qing, the symmetrical, inward-tilted roof form was eventually adopted. This time I admire the intuition of our "Party A", because at this time, artistry is not important, but a reading space that looks like a "home" is important.
In the cool dark night, hold a book in hand, look around the house, seeing the warm light filling the entire wooden space, like a slight red on the cheeks of the city, warm and soft, heartwarming.
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