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Ke Da Ke Xiao

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review

At the Architectural Association, 36 Bedford Sq, London WC1 until 22 May

Where better than the Architectural Association to stage an exhibition covering new architecture in East Asia? writes Jeremy Melvin. Where better to suggest that architecture is in fact an international pursuit, whose relation to Vitruvius or the conventions of 'authenticity' is about as close as airline English to the oed? Moreover: where better than the aa to go as far as Ti-Nan Chi, one of the exhibitors in 'Ke Da Ke Xiao', and suggest that the boundaries between art and architecture are irrelevant, as in the future all manipulations to the environment will be considered art?

What this exhibition does, in essence, is to show that pictorial representation and a relationship to written language are universal to architecture. Both Kay Ngee Tan and Yung-ho Chang, the other two exhibitors, have designed bookshops: Chang's, intriguingly, is based in parts of a bicycle, that common symbol (along with the cheap cigarette) of modern China; Tan's panels include traditional Chinese prints which, particularly in his designs for a trio of houses in Singapore, have a distinct bearing on the tensions, sensuous shapes and juxtapositions of his forms. Language and image come together in the use of pictograms as the basis for designs - for Chang in his conception of them as describers of spaces in a 300-room luxury hotel in Beijing, and for Tan in the shapes gouged in the podium, his contribution to the tripartite collaborative installation which dominates the gallery.

Above the podium is what might be a giant, maze-like rice paper lampshade: Chang's evocation of Beijing's Forbidden City. Winding through it is a sinuous neon tube, Chi's representation of what I can only imagine to be the curious nightlife of Taipei. Together these three parts create a strange sense of dislocation, a feeling of fluidity and rigidity which I am too ignorant to pronounce as genuinely Oriental, but I suspect embodies something of the uneasy clash of cultures which this trio of Western-educated architects must feel. It also suggests the existence of space to experiment - which, as the region takes time out from exponential economic growth, may find fulfillment in speculative thought.

Jeremy Melvin is a writer and teacher

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