Where Is The Center?

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Line Drawing, Model, Students

Where Is The Center?

Jonathan Cheng

AA Diploma Honours



Presentation audio link: https://soundcloud.com/jonny-cheng/where-is-the-center


  • Go to: soundcloud.com/jonny-cheng/where-is-the-center
  • Put your volume low and listen up close
  • If you are on a mobile device, find a person and go listen with them
  • If you are stationary, look for a person and ask them to come listen with you
  • Keep Listening, and afterward, look at each other
  • “Who is the performer here?”

This project is an exploration of the use of arts and spaces of creative production as a kind of infrastructure of participation, impacting the formation of the cultural center as a project that has encapsulated modern policies of widespread cultural access and the elimination of class alienation. This has, however, drawn into question what exactly is the dominant content in this typology of cultural architecture? Leisure and a collective externalization of domestic programs are really propped up by the political agency of creative production and consumption. An understanding of how participation – an active negotiating of resistance and domination – is, here, driving the formal provocation.

01 overall model

The ideas of participation, production, consumption, and content recur throughout the design development as it deals with our relationship to objects, the evolution of cultural center projects from domestic extensions to leisure domination, and what it would mean to use an architectural design to position the public as contributors and performers in a space of regenerative content.

06 montage05 montage

Performative links between stage and public cultivate unique and poetic experiences for the individual, but a dialectic intersection with culture depends on reciprocal connections to a context – a translation of content. The cultural center is not simply about another form of exhibition, but a dialogue between two contents – like body and mind. It is a question of participation, and about your action, in a space that means to expose your choice amidst continuous forms of reorganizing value – as localized content.

03 montage triptych

We are increasingly saturated in an environment conditioned by objects – as part of an institutional model of static display and an economy of alternative investment. The spaces in which art is able to reach out to us, as a means of social dialogue and centralization, give way to a continuous reorganization of value – a curation of consumption. And to imagine what the project of the cultural center can be, I think, relates to a line of critical questioning explicit in a number of contemporary art practices; addressing the appropriation of quotidian moments, the artificiality of boundaries, means of controlling views, and the isolation of corporeal experience.

07 tectonic

The form emerges from a use of blending surfaces and beams as visual mechanisms to recreate an organization of moments on a similar scale to the institution. This formed the backbone for a material study that involved the deployment of a tubular steel sub-structure suspending integrated fabric formwork as the basis for thin concrete transitions. Overall, this comprised a set or organizational decisions that impose reactions from people and convey information through a continuous language.

13 full axo

The logic of the plan makes this a vehicle for thinking about how these curated experiences are elevated to the context of a public arena. And, as such, these correlations between the organizational moves constitute how the distinctions between when one is public, audience or performer are being blurred. The site is bound by a continuation of the beams. The radii are coordinated with the slopes, as extensions of the street, and the atriums, rather than signal a dominant approach or entrance, are located in relation to the language of continuous surfaces.

14 montage15 montage

The infrastructure of participation, here, is structured through the removal of objects and the space as a container. The organizational cues taken from a lineage of cultural centers are, rather, to setup a set of decisions about how the form is provoking a localization of content contribution. As a project that has acted to recognize and centralize our constructed social fabric, what does the architecture mean to tell us? Is the possibility only that it continues to contain and harbour simulations of what we already know and do? Is this even the real center? Or the making of a place you can go to look for the center?


Who Influences uou graphically?

This year I think I was moved a lot more by some photographers and artists working with surfaces in a graphic way. Turi Simeti and Enrico Castellani. Guillaume Martial’s photos have been some of my recent favorites. Isamu Noguchi, Nancy Holt’s shadow painting series…and of course Hugo Pratt.

To what extent medium is massage? How did the audio reinforce the notion of participation embedded within the project? 

The audio, for me, was a really enjoyable way to project into the space of presentation. I had encountered a couple of really moving audio performances earlier in the year and the extent to which the voice just seemed to reach inside and feel so intimate felt very rich. I had this, kind of, three part breakdown of how I felt the audio strung together a series of transformations for my audience/performers. It had to do with establishing a self awareness that they were being manipulated into performers, the odder the better. Then, positioning them somewhere that they would have to observe another person, almost as if they were on exhibit, exerting an empathetic force. And lastly, reconnect the participants in the space as a sort of recognition to each other of this little relationship they just made. So the audio externalizes this aspect of the project by using instruction as the control mechanism, meanwhile participants have to negotiate one another – as resistance.

Presentation audio link: https://soundcloud.com/jonny-cheng/where-is-the-center

How important was the model in the development and representation of the project?

For me, it was central. I think it was a more comfortable medium for me to get absorbed into details, but also be provoked to come back and make large scale decisions about the project. There’s a certain rhythm I think you can get into where thinking about the procedures of making start to lead into one another. And I think this provided a lot of information to better see these forms arranged in an overall design. There were also representational motives for the models – they were a great way to play with imagery outside of the computer. They lent a very tactile quality that I think is hard to capture in rendering. I think it also makes this interesting connection when presenting and you can see the model on its own next to images and just project yourself inside.

08 material study09 material study10 material study02 wide angle photo

What opportunities were there in the restrictions of the school’s curriculum and criteria that pushed you to explore a different side of the project?

It’s hard to imagine feeling restricted in this place! But I would say it was always a useful reminder that I needed to work to support my own decisions in the project in response to all the feedback. It was helpful to get guidance on how I should have a hierarchy of intentions when building up the technical end of the project  – for example using the structural development to support a more controlled integration of direct or diffuse light and how that can transform the qualities throughout the spaces.

12 structure detail

How did you respond to the Dip 17 brief? To what extend did you operate within the realm of Dip 17?

I think took our overall topic of leisure down a critical path, where in the background and research aspects of the project it was seen as this analog or simulation of some grittier or more interpersonal reality of dealing with each other – of dealing with the nuances of how we collect and live and work in proximity to one another. I think this is actually what the bigger picture was when deciding leisure as a topic, but we all developed our own strands. Understanding how the cultural center developed this societal stature was my way to deal with how spaces for leisure integrated with political intentions for such a space – like trying to figure out what people need in order to provide more sensitive design but inadvertently closing down any chance to accommodate resistance as a socially dynamic force. The way of working toward a design or operating within the brief, i think, is about finding out what architectural moves were engaged with the critical material and fusing that with explorations and decisions in my own work.

How has your work at the AA defined and constructed how you will operate as an architect in near future?

So many ways. I think our little world of bumping and grinding is a huge part of developing a kind of interactive communication. It always feels like we operate with so little boundaries in terms of the flexibility we get in asking architectural questions and how that pans out in a year long projects. I think in that time it can both weigh on you but also force you to live with your work and confront things you may not realize in the short term, as I feel we might all expect to live with it outside school. It’s something I think I will continue to value when deciding how to develop new paths between practice and everything else

11 structure study



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