The project approaches the architecture of the Unbuilt as one that does not sit in isolation but rather holds the power of transforming its surroundings, extending its presence to construct alternate realities beyond the confines of a singular object. In my journey Through the Looking Rock, I have found an uncanny ally in the form of Zaha Hadid’s winnig entry for the 1983 Hong Kong Peak competition.
Tucked away on the mountain slope, the Peak leisure club acts as a threshold between the visionary and the real. Shattered, extruded, compressed and inclined – this was Zaha’s Hong Kong drawn through the lens of her project. By breaking away from the shackles of reality, she abstracts the city, transforming its state in order to situate her building. What originally intended to be a proposal for a leisure club on the mountainside became a self-referential painted reality of Hong Kong, where the only way to fully describe the project is to describe the city.
We flip the coin to see what happens on the other side. By materializing the project in its physical form, the portal connecting the visionary and the real is broken. The peak goes back to its real physicality – a part of the mountainous rock formation no longer exuding the power of manipulating the world around it. In its journey from idea to form it has lost its connection to the context of the city, changing its state to become a rock.
My project interrogates the constructed reality of the space of transition through the lens of a glass factory. Through a series of chemical, physical and optical transformations, the site takes us on a journey of state change, constantly evolving and working in a feedback loop with the factory. Malleability, transformation and state change, therefore become the key attributes for the conceptual and material ground of my project.
We start with a blank slate. Through a series of rotational iterations going from a point to line, to corner, to plane, to cube we finally arrive at the site – a mountainous landform – the result of the first sequence of state change from abstract to real. It is a familiar situation where we as architects go through a series of means of representation, molding our ideas and translating them into form, going from lineform to landform to builtform.
This is, however, no ordinary landform. As we familiarize ourselves with its vast rocky landscape, we encounter visual clues to its hybrid nature of acting as both the site and the building material. Nested in the folds of the landform lie the mounts of limestone, sand and crushed glass becoming the artificial extension of the mountain, giving themselves away with their colorful reflective appearance, indicating the presence of an industrial activity.
As we continue to follow the initial clues, we traverse around one of the Peaks only to discover a portion of it missing. Transformed and consumed, this elusive quarry reveals perfectly sliced marbling strata of sandstone, a natural facade of an artificial landform.
Unlike Zaha’s ruthless transformation of Hong Kong through the Peak leisure club, the landscape is manipulated to be perceived as either natural or artificial, swapping its appearance depending on the way it is viewed.
Time goes by and the physical transformation of the site is coupled with the constant building and unbuilding of the landform, carving its way down, inverting the positive space of the mountain with the negative space of the quarry. The landform is never fully built, it is in constant process of transformation by the external forces. To study its form is to study change.
Carved into the rocky grounds of the mountain sits the glass factory, the ultimate laboratory of state change, a space where raw ingredients get mixed, molded and transformed to become their translucent alter egos.
We now enter the factory, a space of critical threshold where Built and the Unbuilt coexist. It is the space where ideas are translated to form and where coarse qualities of the rock are gradually replaced with the refractive qualities of glass.
Materials such as limestone, soda and dolomite are mixed with the main ingredient – sand, which is extracted from the site in the form of sandstone. They then undergo a chemical transformation by a series of heating and cooling actions to finally come out of the factory in the form of translucent glass sheets.
Traditionally architectural profession has been dealing with the extensive properties of matter and space; properties that you can measure and subdivide, such as length, area and volume. The fluctuating nature of the project calls for a shift from extensive to intensive properties, describing speed, temperature and density among others. The factory becomes the living organism, the homage to the cycle of architectural transformation.
Operating at the level of seen and unseen, the subterranean factory disguises itself but leaves us clues as to its presence. Simultaneously with the consumption of the sandstone mountain, the raw materials are stored on the surface indicating the presence of the underground transforming machine, producing an artificial regurgitated mountain of raw materials, working in a continuous feedback loop with the factory.
The physical transformation of the site is consuming one peak at a time, slowly depleting its raw materials. Once the resources run out, the factory tunnels its way further down the landscape on a predetermined trajectory, travelling at the rate the factory can produce. Wherever it goes the site is transformed with it. The factory does not simply occupy a given site. Instead it constructs the site itself, by constantly carving and depositing raw materials around it.
We surface back up only to witness the vast vertical plane of sandstone being covered with the reflective veil of glass façade, as the consumed landform gets injected with the product of its transformation. The slow physical consumption of the mountain is being replaced by the dynamic illusory effects of glass, amplifying the extent of transformation as the vision is mirrored back onto itself.
Through the Looking rock blurs the boundary of the effect and reality, material and immaterial, built and the unbuilt, hiding and revealing the true nature of the site. It allows us to experience the embedded power of glass getting chunks of earth to appear and disappear. Ultimately this power lies in the difference between the evolved glass and its sandstone predecessor – the molecular difference transforming the dense solid rock into thin translucent glass. The glass veil becomes the backdrop for the alternate fragmented realities, a reflective canvas of dynamic illusions.
From lineform to landform
From natural to artificial
From surface to subterranean
From material to immaterial
Weaving its way through the project is the underlying energy of transformation. Whether it is the heat the glass will produce in terms of embedded energy in the atmosphere, powering the turbines of the solar updraft tower, which in turn powers the factory. Or the energy that went into the transformation of the fictional site through the lens of the factory. Or the energy that Zaha expended to transform Hong Kong into her vision. It is this energy that closes the loop of production, powering the project and allowing for the system to evolve.
It is seven o’clock in the evening on a warm summer’s day. The hot air is rippling above the glass mountain, hinting at the concealed transformations simultaneously happening within. As the sun starts to go down the reflections of the glass façade slowly start changing to reveal the marbling sandstone cliff. We look around to realize the extent of the transformation as a whole city triggered by the factory’s activity emerges before us. From linefrom to landform to builtform and back again we zoom out to find ourselves back on the sheet of paper where we began with the blank slate.