Tucked away in an unassuming village on the fringes of Beijing, a group of students are undertaking a series of explorations with potentially resonant results. Led by Mary-Ann Ray and Robert Mangurian, BASE Beijing is a long-standing summer studio operating in Caochangdi, a former village-turned artist enclave.
Each summer, undergraduate and graduate students from the United States as well as China converge on the factory space that BASE has come to call home to formulate a series of topics relevant to their urban context, then disperse back out into the city and beyond to carry out their investigations.
Mary-Ann kindly invited me to attend one of BASE's legendary weekly dinners. Upon my arrival, the dinner is in full swing and home-made pizza, salad, and bottles of Yangjing beer overflow the long table set out in the alleyway beside the workspace. The table bustles with discussion of architecture, China, and the general day-to-day oddities and happenings of being in such an unfamiliar environment doing such unconventional work. The students work in groups - each addressing an architectural issue sited either in urban or rural Beijing. One particular topic that catches my interest involves a group of students who are studying the phenomenom of people living in underground bunkers in the center of the city. A member of the group draws our attention through a story about the sheer excitement of his research process - walking past restricted areas, concealing his identity (local people become naturally suspicious of foreigners) and spending a night in the bunker itself. Such thorough and hands-on investigation will surely produce compelling and relevant information for architects to use as tools for addressing problems encountered through China's rapid development.
Large portraits of locals in the workspace reflect BASE's ambitions to tackle architecture through an understanding of the people whom inhabit them.
For more information, visit BASE's (albeit a bit outdated) website at http://www.basebeijing.cn.