Uncertainty Network Office (“UN-Office”) is an unofficial, unlicensed and unprofitable group of architects, urban designers & artists. We call ourselves an office while it’s actually not one. “An” and “Un-” is not only a pun but also conveys our focus on duality, contradiction, complication and ambiguity in architecture, art, urban and humanity. We’re fascinated by the uncertainty of post-modernity and post-capitalist society and obsessed by the network where various territories and hierarchies are converged. So we named our group “Uncertainty Network Office”.
You define Uncertainty Network Office (“UN-Office”) as 'an unofficial, unlicensed and unprofitable group of architects, urban designers & artists' could you expand on this definition further?
This is a kind of self-mockery because now we only have our own research projects and competitions that we have not won. There are no completed projects in the name of UN-Office, so there is little income. However, as our own clients, we also have more free space to form our own prototypes and procedures. The project ‘A house with ten faces’ is a study of new prototypes of garden/atrium houses: in 2018, every month we designed a new 2-story house with the same 15m x15m footprint for 10 months. We can get rid of restrictions and coordinate in a more flexible pattern: we work in cafes, parks, and living rooms. When we fail to find a good idea for a project, we always ‘refrigerate’ it and ‘unfreeze’ it weeks later with a refreshing mood and ideas. Also, UN-Office aims to stand against the self-isolated and over-commercialized architectural design market.
How and to what extent do the diverse disciplines within your office shape your approach to the projects you undertake?
Different disciplines have different focuses on a single topic. We usually design separately and then explore the discrepancies between our schemes (which we call ‘aesthetic angle inspection’), and negotiate a comprehensive blueprint. Then we will coordinate and push forward the proposal together. Now we’re looking for more friends in other fields, such as geography, sociology, and literature, who can act as consultants in the design process. We’re fascinated by observing the deviation of the preference between the spectator and designers.
What questions do your projects raise and which do they address?
We have two main directions. 1. How to restore the daily atmosphere in vernacular architecture, especially how to echo with nature like the traditional oriental space (such as the introduction of wind, rain and fog). For instance, in the Museum with wetland and fog, we introduce fog into scrolling transparent walls with different thicknesses and then create a dynamic synecology by maneuvering transparency/fog density. 2. On the other hand, we are curious about the different interpretations of different agents or agencies on the same space/spatiality. For example, in the Cultural Revolution Museum, we are exploring the juxtaposition of meditation space, memorial space and stimulating space through one single spatial operation. And also, I am personally doing an urbanism research – ‘creative destruction/destructive creation – the spatial evolution of new borderlands in Chinese cities’
What is you methodology of working? What role do the sketch and drawing hold within the process and development of a project?
We always start with designating three or four keywords as a conceptual skeleton. Then through the pinup of reference/precedents, we’ll determine the overall temperament and disposition. The referential material includes movie scenes, photos, citations, etc other than mere typological precedents. Then we draw ‘caoshu’ sketches similar to Chinese cursive calligraphy and sculptural models as the base of form development. This three-step process will be repeated in all design stages and proceed in a spiral pattern.
Your website features a selection of references which seem to be critical to your work, could you expand on how these are used within your day to day?
We have been continuously collected references. And we always classify the archive and then disarrange and reclassify them periodically based on various criteria: typology, materiality, atmosphere (tranquil, ecstasy, etc.) or conceptual themes (such as covered objects, figure-ground cartography, etc.).We try to express the diversity of one image and the synaesthesia among multiple images in this dynamic classification process.
How important are image sharing platforms as pinterest (amongst others) in the making of architecture? How and to what extent are they affecting architectural discourse?
From Rossi, images are a collection of architectural and urban memories, and Pinterest compiles memories into objects of the present. Without drawing as the connector, visual and imaginary images can be directly transferred. Pinterest has turned the architectural highlights into infinite parts that can be directly assembled, Anyone can be a ‘pasticher’ (Roland Barthes) and quickly splice without digestion. However, the audience is used to scanning rather than staring; the contingency and mystery in art have disappeared. Pinterest is to architecture what vitamins are to vegetables: refining has both advantages and disadvantages. However, I have to admit that when architecture, art, daily life and so on are juxtaposed with images, architects can’t help but establish contacts inside and outside the profession: we may establish an imaginary connection between juxtaposed contemporary architecture and woodpiles, or we may see spatiality and sacredness in a picture of croissants beside Ronchamp Chapel. This stimulation of imaginary confluence through infinite ‘pixel’ images may create a lasting association between architecture and other things. Kant said that once people conceptualize things, they will become bored. Probably Pinterest works in an intriguing way to avoid conceptualization but stimulate association.
How important of a tool is the 'archive' for the architect?
The archive is not a material library that can only be referenced. It is a facilitator that stimulates durable creativity. As architects need to constantly think about the questions like why they pick and filter the material or how do these materials relate to each other, architects can make a lasting analogy between the others and themselves, present and the past. The archive is a kind of conscious collection as Daniel Kahneman’s pre-derivation formula which enables architects to rely on unconscious thinking – namely intuition.
What is for you the architect's most important tool?
Might be cliche, but I have to say drawing (plan, section,etc.) has always been the most important tool for architects, although it is now weakened by new media, algorithms and fabrication and modeling techniques. Drawing is a tool for architects to geometrize or technologize daily images. Geometry is the shared signifier of form, order and engineering, while drawings are geometric tools for Architects to reproduce the order, emotion and atmosphere via daily scenes. Through Robin Evans’ ‘ enchanting transfiguration’, drawings encode and translate scenes to images and back to scenes. This is not a reassembly, but a ‘chemical’ transformation and drawings are test tubes and flasks for this experiment.