Friday, 25 April 2014

Modern Architect: White vs. Black

Text : Nor Azua Ruslan

[ Dressing Architecture : Colour, Style & Fashion ]
In Relation With Architects and Clothing

Original works submitted to the Manchester School of Architecture for the Bachelor of Architecture dated April 2009. Received a commendation in Summer 2010.

5.0] Modern Architect: White vs. Black
My career began at T. R. Hamzah & Yeang Sdn. Bhd., an international-known and famous bioclimatic architect; Dr. Ken Yeang is the principal of this company. Dr. Ken Yeang received his first education in Penang. Thereafter, he studied architecture at the Architectural Association, United Kingdom and received his doctorate from Cambridge University.  He is a well-know Bioclimatic Architect and the world’s leading architect in ecological and passive low energy design.
He is best known as the inventor of the Bioclimatic skyscraper (as a genre of low-energy skyscrapers based on bioclimatic design principles), and for his novel ideas on designing the high-rise building type as vertical urban design[15]  by using vegetation.
FIG. 5.1: Dr. Ken Yeang in his everyday’s outfit; white Shirt

What interests me most having worked for 3 years under the same roof with his supervision is to see him everyday in his plain white shirt, which happen to be his Architect's Uniform and to notice most of his proposed and completed buildings are painted in white paint. This is the reason why I would like to seek for his personal point of view about this and how does it related to each other; accidentally or purposely. Seeing him everyday in white shirt amazed me, but seeing how all his designs proposed and completed buildings mostly in white amazed me most.

FIG.5.2: Proposed Chong Qing Tower in white

FIG. 5.3: Proposed HRI in white

FIG.5.2 and 5.3 above show two illustrations of his proposed buildings in China. Apart from his trademark of the Green vegetation on the façade, he chose white structures and white façade’s cladding to draw an attention to his façade. Yes, the Green vegetation is what he tried to emphasis on his façade and his position as the world’s known Green architect. This is actually kind of a mantra of how fashion does work; wears something plain to emphasis on the details. However, when I spoke to him about this coincidence, Dr Ken Yeang said that; I wear white shirts because it signifies me as a person that has nothing to hide.[16] I agree with him.
After few years working with him, I noticed that his milky white skyscrapers always stand up amongst the rest in urban skyline that shall catch public’s attention to his masterpieces, therefore he has nothing to hide . FIG.5.4 and 5.5 shows how white do an impact and affecting Dr Ken Yeang architecture’s design. I wonder, is this a real coincidence or this is part of his Architect’s Statement? But of course, Dr Ken Yeang said; No, it does not 16
FIG.5.4: The Residence, Kuala Lumpur in white

FIG.5.5: NLB Singapore in white

“Author: Is there any particular reason why do you love to paint your building White?
Ken Yeang : It is a clean colour
Author: Is it because you love White colour and you love wearing White shirt to the office?
Ken Yeang : Maybe
Author: Do this purposely/accidentally become your architect’s statement?
Ken Yeang : No.16

Upon my amazement towards what I substantially see the relation between his white shirt and white buildings, I realized that white relatively portray images of modern architecture. To be exact, Dr Ken Yeang is a modern architect in this century. Mark Wingley also describes Le Corbusier with an image of white buildings:
Contemporary trends in diverse fields, trends which threaten the very identity of those fields, are contrasted with the rejection of decorative surface by modern architect in favor for fundamental social structure. Images of white buildings by Le Corbusier are surprisingly often used to exemplify this social project. The rejection of nineteenth-century eclectic styles in favor of the clean edge smooth white surface is used as a model for the contemporary critic’s own rejection of postmodernism.[17]
Bradley Quinn in ‘The Fashion of Architecture’ wrote that most leading architects systematically avoid using building styles, materials, compositions and details that can be described as decorative. Selection of colours, texture and form are rationalized as aesthetic choice rather than stylistic ones. For these architects, fashion is a lethal poison, deadly even in the smallest of doses. 5
Dr Ken Yeang is a simple person, so does his life. He is really passionate about his work and nothing else did. He is quite workaholic. Therefore he don’t have time to be extravagant-fashionable. But I can say that Dr Ken Yeang is not a fashion-follower and to be accurate, wearing a plain white shirt is his plain modern fashion, so does his white buildings. Thus, simply by choosing plain white and not fancy on decorative motive is his own style. When I asked his opinion about it, he added that;
I do not have time to think and chose about what I wear everyday, and so I decided that the best for daily wear is to have a simple loose white shirt with black trousers. If I need jacket, I wear my matching black jacket.16

There is certainly a close interwoven common history of fashion and modern architecture; architecture and clothing. There are probably not any direct relation between how architect dress and how they design, but there are certainly even older, primeval relationship between architecture and clothing.
Knowing Dr Ken Yeang as a busy Architect-Businessman, of course he wouldn’t have time to think about ‘what should I wear today’. This is what I’ve learnt in TRHY when I worked under his supervision. All that matter is the 5 years Architectural education and how well you implemented them in your career. I admire him as a good example; he may seem to be a simple person in a simple white shirt you’ve seen everyday, but he is well-known for his bioclimatic buildings all over the world. Yes, he worked even harder to get this recognition by being just a simple plain white shirt person I met everyday in three years. The essence of his style was austerity in white colour with an absence of jewellery or additional accessory; not a briar pipe or spectacles like Le Corbusier does. Simple, clean and modern and a person who has nothing to hide is exactly what we can describe him as.

Good taste ought not to be forced down people’s throats; good taste was something inherent in a culture, not set of regulations devised by the architect. If it made his cobbler happy to cover shoe with hand-stitched perforations, let him continue to do so. But in the most civilizations, like the English, where everyone was busy and time was money, people wore shoes which were suitable for rushing about in; they did not wear high heels, buckles, perforated decorations or riding boots, nor did cobblers waste their precious time manufacturing such things. Neither did the architect waste his time designing fountains or elaborate decorative schemes; instead he provided for drains, wastepipes, bathrooms, lavatories and washbasins.[18]

[15] (accessed on Feb 2009)
16 Interview between author and Ken Yeang (Feb 2009)
16 Interview between author and Ken Yeang (Feb 2009)
17 Mark Wigley : ‘White Out Fashioning The Modern in Architecture, in fashion / edited by Deborah Fausch...[et al.] . - New York : Princeton Architectural Press, 1994, p 151
5 Bradley Q. (2003) The fashion of Architecture. Berg: Oxford, p2-3
[18] Jules L., Adolf Loos and The English Dandy in Architectural Review, Vol. CLXIX No 1038 Aug 1983