Hi Ladders High is a non-profit project launched in the summer of 2018. In the Summer Camp of Tanghe Primary School in Luotian County, Hubei Province,One Take Architects and Sunners, together with college volunteers and left-behind children designed and built this spatial installation.
Hi Ladders High consists of 20 independent wooden ladders. This kind of ladder is one of the most common and easily accessible tools in China’s rural areas. Its main body is cut or polished from China fir. In order to make it stronger and cheaper, the makers use hinges crews instead of Mortise and Tenon joints. Since each ladder has a completely independent and relatively stable structure with a highly adjustable angle of inclination,these 20 ladders present plenty of possibilities of spatial combination.Even children without professional architectural training could be involved in the whole process of designing and building, which is what we call “an indeterminate participatory open ended situation”.
Reyner Banham proposed the concept of “an indeterminate participatory open ended situation” in which you could create space suited to what you are going to do next. As a relatively stable open-ended structure, Hi Ladders High provides a place of variable spatial forms. Without preset functions, it could trigger or respond to events happening inside. It changes in indeterminate ways over time, continually manifesting new properties.
Children of the construction camp are the users or experiencers of the installation. They are encouraged by architects to rediscover the logical relation between the site and the construction, to define its function and to participate in the building process. Hi ladders High could be viewed as an installation collectively created by its future users. This kind of installation has a long history in the villages of Luotian. However, in modern cities with sophisticated division of labor, few users could participate in the design and construction of buildings. In this small spatial installation, we manage to partially reproduce this interesting process and restore a social property of buildings, that is,public engagement.
Hi Ladders High: Three -Act Space Drama
In the end, the architects or volunteers and the children collectively made Hi LaddersHigh into a stage for a three-act space drama where events such as a carnivalor camp closing ceremony take place. The children interact with Hi LaddersHigh not only by playing games in the structure, but also by making changes to it through their creation. The setting of a three-act space drama adds a dynamic time dimension to Hi Ladders High. It now serves as a building where events take place. It is no longer eternal, long lasting or fixed, but a user-driven place whose shape and space relations could be changed instantly according to the needs of its users. As an indeterminate building, the blank part of Hi Ladders High can only be filled by its users, that is, the children of the construction camp.
Act One: Bird and Fish. It is designed by the architect team but got this name from the children’s understanding of its shape. Seen from the top floor of the teaching building, it looks like a fish fossil with distinct bones; Seen from the side, it looks like a bird flapping its wings.
Act Two: Qi Jun. Created by five students: Xiao Sihao, Li Tianyu, Peng Zehua, Hu Ziying, and Luo Anqi. This group of students noticed that a student in the construction camp had body odor.They proposed the idea of double paths so that people who feel uncomfortable with the odor could leave the space at any time but could still peep inside. This work is named after the volunteer tutor of this group: Qi Jun.
Act Three:Little Bug House. Created by five students: Zhou Lei, Zhou Yu, Luo Kai, Wang Ling and Wu Dun. With the shape of a bug in their mind, this group of students built the body, tentacles and limbs. They define it as a quiet space for the elderly and the weak to read and rest in.
In fact, the children proposed over a dozen ideas for Hi Ladders High. One of them even sketched 15 designs all by himself. After a serious review, we selected two proposals to be physically built in the construction camp. The children react quite differently to the materialization of their works. Surprise and shy seem to outweigh excitement and joy.
Redefining Common Materials
In their journal, the children call themselves “Construction Explorers”. They write: “We build like construction explorers every day. We complete a construction that takes real architects five years to build in only one day.Although the work may be rudimentary, we get to know how much effort they put into their work.” They also keenly noticed an interesting thing about the spatial installation – “painting a beautiful picture with things so common in our life”. This is what the theorist William C Seitz described: "Installation art is mainly installed, not sketched, painted or carved. All or parts of the components are natural objects or debris instead of art materials."
All the main materials for Hi Ladders High are objects common in the country, such as wooden ladders, transparent tablecloths and card boards. During field trips, the children pick auxiliary materials. They grow up in the country and stay close to nature. But this time, these common objects are given completely different functions through their construction. Therefore, the children have the chance to view them from a brand new perspective.
Architecture as a medium to perceive the real world
Our aim is not to cultivate future architects, but to use architecture as a medium to perceive the real world, to guide and help children grow, and to let children return to the real world through physical participation, thus bringing their interests back to the real world.
The poem from a Turkish poet Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar is well suited as an emotional footnote for Hi Ladders High Construction Camp project.
I am neither inside time
Nor am I completely outside of it
in the indivisible flow of an integral, extensive instant
Each shape has been a etherized
By the hue of an uncanny dream,
Even a feather on the wind
Isn’t as weightless as I am.
My head is a limitless mill
Grinding through silence;
My inner heart’s now sated
Dervish without cloak or post;
I sense a world entwined,
Its roots extending from me,
As I float at the center of
A light the bluest of the blue
PVC, plant, paper, LED, wood