"Speaking of labor, architects rely on construction workers to realize their design. So in this case, if we borrow the master-slave dialectic here, architects are the slaves, laborers are the masters."
KE Zhang: What’s the relationship between Architecture, Historical Preservation, and Archeology Study in your mind?
Hanjia Wang: There is this idea, I think you have also heard about it, that the preservation of a building starts at the moment its construction completes. I think we can push this idea further to say that architecture, from the stage of its initial design, is already part of preservation. Of course not material preservation, but a preservation of some intangible tradition, knowledge, or paradigm. So I would say that the concept of preservation can sometimes be bigger than architecture, not the other way around. Building new architecture can also be a means of preserving. Archeology is a very different field and is more associated with the art and architectural history of the corresponding period and culture. The need for architecture in archaeology is very practical: archeological sites need architects to help design protection structures, museums, tourist facilities, and so forth. This type of project can be very fun to work on I think.
KE Zhang: Do you want to share more about your experience at the Archeology site in Turkey?
Hanjia Wang: This might sound weird but, despite that I had a wonderful time there, I feel that this experience has made me become less interested in historical preservation. For me, honestly, my interest in preservation does not come from feeling a responsibility to preserve historical architecture, not even from any personal experience, but from a fantasization of historical sites which was formed by all the Indiana Jones kind of literature and popular culture I grew up reading and watching. After working with an archeological site for over two months, you get too close to the physical contents of the site, so there is no longer a space to sustain your fantasy. When we were in Turkey, we had to go to the site every day to draw the walls stone by stone, and you soon realize that a stone is just a stone, and there’s nothing more behind it. I feel lucky to have realized this, for it allows me to look at preservation more critically.
Archeology Site in Turkey
KE Zhang: There was a time we talked about the labor force as input into the Architecture profession which could be the reason for the difficult process of Architecture construction and Architecture preservation. For example, if a painter wants to paint a painting, he/she can just go and do it; while for an architect, it is totally different. In our profession, in most cases, some architects win the competition, but their proposal can not be built; sometimes despite the formulation of renovation plans, the cultural heritage ultimately becomes irretrievably lost. Can you share with us your opinions of how labor force input affects that?
Hanjia Wang: I would prefer to see architecture and its preservation as part of the process of social production and reproduction, and this process is ultimately linked to human labor. The difficulty of getting an architectural work built, as we feel it, is because architects are not those who own the land or pay for the construction. This is not difficult for those who do. In terms of paper architecture, it is less related to labor, but I think this is an exception in the field of architecture. Like you said, artists don’t normally have to justify why they make a painting because at least they can say that it’s my personal expression, it’s none of your business, but architects always have to justify their design or they will be blamed for wasting labor and materials on building trash. Speaking of labor, architects rely on construction workers to realize their design. So in this case, if we borrow the master-slave dialectic here, architects are the slaves, laborers are the masters.
Wall Painting Restoration in Shanxi, China
KE Zhang: We have talked before about the so-called contemporary architecture/modern architecture in China. Most of the internationally representative Chinese architects, such as Wang Shu, symbolized the inheritance of Chinese architecture in his designs, such as large roofs and traditional materials (bamboo, bricks and tiles), which was an attempt to reflect on the New Culture Movement. and the repair of the trauma of China’s cultural “rupture” after the Cultural Revolution. Share with us your thoughts on this from an architectural and historic preservation perspective.
Hanjia Wang: I’ve been thinking about this problem recently and find this topic very interesting. I think the real desire of these architects is not to fix the” trauma”, so to speak, or try to recover the Chineseness in contemporary architecture. They were born and raised in a time after this “break” of Chinese culture, therefore for them, this tradition they are trying to inherit is completely imaginary. And I think unconsciously these architects are well aware of this. This is precisely the same case with much preservation practice today. In this sense I see this type of architecture as more representative of the spirit of preservation than what we normally consider as preservation practice. I’m going to elaborate on this topic in my own writing which I’m still working on, here I would like to invite you to read it later :)
Works Before 2023
KE ZHANG: Would you like to share with us some information about "Sinthome"?
Hanjia Wang: As you see, Sinthome is a student organization founded in Boston. We regularly hold seminars on philosophy and psychoanalysis and actively seek opportunities to engage with under-priviledged groups as part of our social praxis. As an architectural designer I’m very aware of the limitations of architecture, and the need to find a way outside of architecture itself to realize what we usually propose as the goal of our architectural project. People from all professions and backgrounds are welcome to join us.
Graphic Design Work
INTERVIEWER: KE ZHANG
CURATOR: KE ZHANG, WANTONG YAO, CHENYU LIN
EDITOR: WANTONG YAO, YUXUAN WEI, CHENYU LIN
GRAPHIC DESIGNER: YUXUAN WEI
Born and raised in Nanjing, China. Received a B. S in Architecture from Washington University in St. Louis. and is now pursuing a Master in Design Studies at Harvard GSD. Have an architectural design background and have previously worked with archeologists on documentation and representation of various ancient sites. Also interested in history and theory of contemporary architecture and preservation. Self-taught psychoanalyst.