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Creating a Welcoming Circular Structure: Record of the Experimental Architecture Project

TEXT GAO Huei-Cian
Experimental ArchitectureCircular EconomyOpenness

When talking about circles, what comes to mind?

Do you think about the competition for squares between O’s and X’s in the game of tic-tac-toe? Or do you think about the symbol for true when answering a true or false question?

What kind of large three-dimensional circle is not just a symbol, but also serves a function? In a pasture, shepherds create a circular enclosure to separate sheep and wolves and inside and outside. If we think about it in this way, a circle effectively blocks out the external world and gathers what is internal. It signals refusal of the outside world while conveying protection of what is within. But what if a circle is not on the ground but suspended in midair?

In the southwest corner of C-LAB near the intersection of Jianguo South and Renai roads, where pedestrians and vehicles come closest to this site, is a large, suspended, “circular structure.” It is composed of old bricks from the outer walls. In addition to symbolizing these walls, the circular form indicates the once separation from the outside. Below it is a steel support and ample space. People can freely move about underneath, creating more possibilities for producing connections with it and this site.

A Symbol of Open Space

In this corner of C-LAB, solid and cold outer walls once separated the internal from the external. No matter how noisy the urban surroundings, how congested the traffic, or how busy the flow of people going past, they were mostly unrelated to what was happening inside this former military base. With the outer walls in place, there was an inability to bridge the distance between the two sides, leading to clearly demarcated and parallel worlds. For nearby residents, or those who often passed by on their way to and from work or to run errands, C-LAB was close enough to be seen, but might as well have been as far off as the heavens. For C-LAB, as this corner was on the periphery, it was difficult to be used. Therefore, transforming this unused corner and encouraging people to enter the site became key issues.

C-LAB team members and nearby residents were stacking the bricks. Photo by SHI Meng-Hong

A landscape improvement project was implemented in which the outer walls were torn down. The experimental architecture team made use of the removed bricks, creating a circular structure to complement the paved routes. As land is a precious resource in central Taipei, the city’s skyline is packed with geometrically-shaped structures at sharp angles. There are very few purely circular forms. Owing to this, this structure captures the attention of people as they enter the park and walk along its paved paths, avoiding the roots of old trees and other vegetation. Visitors can relax under the circular structure and enjoy gentle breezes from the treetops and songs of birds perching on branches, in a friendly balance with nature.

Attempting to Instill a Circular Economy at C-LAB

Project leader HO Jen-Hwang noted that alkali-activated concrete, which is a kind of “cement-free concrete,” developed by the C-Hub team at National Cheng Kung University was used in the making of this structure. It comprised discarded bricks, slag, sodium metasilicate and water. During ten class sessions and two workshops, the project team adjusted the proportions for maximum compression resistance. They also experimented with the order in which ingredients were added to slow the speed of solidification.

In their book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, William MCDONOUGH and Michael BRAUNGART put forth the basic concepts of the circular economy. Using the example of the cherry tree, which blossoms and bears fruit, after which the fruit ripens and falls to the ground, they explain the cycles that exist in nature. Humans from the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century to the development of today’s industrial systems should have followed similar principles. Based on our own laws, we can continuously regenerate and reuse resources. When natural and industrial cycles are independent, exhaustive consumption of resources can be avoided.

From the circular economy perspective of this book, bricks are not good materials. HO explains that bricks are formed from clay and fired in a kiln. They are not like steel or glass which can be returned to their original forms. The formation of clay requires a long period of erosion and accumulation. When the speed at which clay is produced cannot keep up with its consumption, this resource will be exhausted. Therefore, for the Experimental Architecture Project, an attempt was made to reuse the bricks from the walls once surrounding C-LAB. However, this proved to be difficult. The brick pieces decreased the ability of the concrete to resist compressive forces. The speed of solidification was also faster than ideal, taking less than one minute. When a two-meter long piece of the circle was turned over and moved, it often became damaged and distorted. These were some of the challenges faced during this experimental process.

Aesthetic and irregular lines were formed and the final piece of this circular structure was put into place. Photo by Anpis WANG

Invitation to Enter the Circle

After overcoming various difficulties, this circular structure was completed at the end of December last year. Looking up at it from below, the connections between the nine pieces that make up this stable circle can be seen. There are variations in the pieces due to differences in the concrete formula and structure, as well as the presence of brick pieces on the surface, creating varying visual effects. When the final piece was to be fitted, the team decided on a return to the construction method best suited to the nature of red brick, stacking. They used reinforced construction with the addition of wire mesh. Nearby residents were invited to place pieces of brick on the wire mesh. Finally, aesthetic and irregular lines were formed, and the final piece of this circular structure was put into place.

During the Japanese occupation era (1895-1945), this was the Industrial Research Institute of the Taiwan Governor General’s Office. Later, under the Kuomintang Government, it became the Air Force Command Headquarters. Today, it is C-LAB. The C-LAB team has worked to gradually remove the veil of mystery of this site, with an open and friendly posture, as well as interactions with the surrounding environment. Local residents put in effort and became part of the Experimental Architecture Project. No matter in terms of process or results, this circular structure conveys a message of invitation. People are welcome to enter and come close to this site filled with imagination and the spirit of experimentation.

TEXT GAO Huei-Cian
Experimental ArchitectureCircular EconomyOpenness
GAO Huei-Cian
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