November 23, 2010 3

The perfection of many hands

By Ruan Hao in Projects
“Decay of a Dome” & its “Imperfection” in Achieving Tensegrity

Installation in 12th Venice Biennale, Winner of the Architecture Award. courtesy of Amateur Architecture Studio

*The following is some notes on the project I worked on this summer.

The most convincing way that this installation speaks for its name “Decay of a Dome” is to understand it as an as critical opposition to the authentic translation from drawing to buildings in Western architecture. This opposition is a collective building activity deeply rooted in the thousands years of Chinese architecture history, a way I would name as “many hands”.

Is the “Decay of a Dome” a hand production, or it is a handicraft? It is neither of the two. The way that this installation is constructed by over 10 people at the same time sets itself beyond the discussion of “Briocleur” and “Engineer”. Because it is not the choice of hands or any other tools that matters, rather it is the emerging collectiveness of hands, namely the activity of “many hands” that creates the new language.

The "Many Hands", image courtesy of Amateur Architecture Studio

The "Many Hands", image courtesy of Amateur Architecture Studio

If to name one apparatus in the human body that has the ability of shaping and making, it is the hands. For Chinese architecture, hands have always been the instrumental apparatus in the translation of ideas from mind to reality of building, and at times even itself thinks beyond the mind. This translation is rather intuitive and imperfect compare to the trasnlation through drawings in the West. Interestingly, there had never been orthodox drawings system in the history of Chinese architecture. Gardens were a result of translation done through the intimate and direct involvement of scholars to the craftsman. Everyday on site, the scholar will design through handicraft experiments and at the same time join the craftsman to build. The craftsmen are constantly being asked to readjust the building or even tear down and rebuild if it does not match with what the scholar’s imaginary drawings.

The “Decay of a Dome” is exactly a contemporary reinterpretation of the garden construction process. But more importantly, it is a process in which the perfection of a Western “Dome” is achieved through the Chinese building methodology of “many hands”. The installation is built ring by ring. For each ring, the bars were identically connected to the previous ring which is simultaneously lifted all around. More specifically for example, the connection of wood bars using the Chinese daily-use wind-hooks gives the structure a restrained degree of freedom. This type of joints counterbalances the uneven elevation of each side of the ring by different people. Hence, “decay” does not indicates the several failed attempts due to material durability when the installation was tested China Academy of Arts. It manifests the absence of accurate drawings and the victory of imperfection over perfection.

Variables & Rotation, by Hao Ruan

Catia Modelling based on the variables, by Hao Ruan

Nonetheless, a parallel study of this geometric tensegrity was also personally developed by me, following the exact same logic and sequence of construction. Interestingly, the construction tolerance which was easily adjusted and overcome by a simple wind-hook was complicated for its geometric relationship. In building the CATIA model, four misalignments occurs and resists to make a perfect tensegrity model. In order to tackle the tolerance problem, analytic approaches were applied and further implemented and verified in computer modeling. Has the “dome” decayed? I believe not. In fact I was asked by Amateur Studio to further develop this geometric research and test the abilities for its potential uses in some of their other projects. By then if I fail, I would admit the victory of imperfection and of “many hands”. In fact, I would be proud either way.

Installation test, China Academy of Arts, Hangzhou, courtesy of Amateur Architecture Studio

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3 Responses to “The perfection of many hands”

  1. km3fm3 says:


  2. Anonymous says:

    OMG Catia

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