Written by Kit Chan
Photo by AaaM
Translated by Wendy Yiu
Turning a massive stack of washed drink cartons into Christmas decorations, designers take the lead to work towards the goal of promoting green ideas.
Then here come the primary questions that need to be answered before proceeding - which should be given top priority: the work’s self-explanatory nature of environmental protection or making artistic statements? Would it be just a hollow work-of-art if it fails to draw spectators’ attention to the recycling issue at first glimpse?
This is undoubtedly a dilemma that designers always have to face nowadays, especially those who are socially-conscious, strains every nerve to strike a balance between making an aesthetic design and also an impact in the society. AaaM Architects, specializing in exploring space through architecture, have chosen to take on a “Back to Basic” approach this time – to rethink the fundamental values of designing and what kind of the society’s complexity that the design tries to respond to.
The Jungle was first on public display at PMQ last Christmas. Not only did it become a dazzling landmark and a must-see attraction, it also brought about a chance for the people in the city to have a timely reflection on the culture of festival celebration. Instead of relentless consumption, reduction in spending and waste can also grant us happiness and joy.
With the help of students from 4 different primary schools, a Christmas tree jungle made from 15,000 recycled drink cartons was finally created. Layers of glistering folded-out silver aluminum of the cartons create an ambience of festive joy. Each carton has demonstrated unique styles of refolding. Prints of mixed patterns and various rays of colors give textures to this public art installation that was once regarded as waste.
A good design can change one’s existing perceptions. “We once had an idea to make a huge tree, like the tall ones in the shopping malls, but the thing is you’ll never be able to reach it or touch it. You can only stand next to it and look up.” After some time, Kevin, creative director of AaaM and his team realized that it is best not to compete for the tallest tree, “To build a lot of small trees and fill the space, get everybody to join our tree planting campaign and refold drink cartons, perhaps we can manage to sow the seed for community environmental awareness.”
As the team’s name “AaaM” (Architecture as a Medium) implies, AaaM architects’ prime motive is to achieve culture and life intervention through the medium of architecture and space.
The oldest trees in the forests are noble giants, whereas those on far below are intimate friends. When people ramble through a jungle, they interact with the trees by nature through taking photos or making physical contact with the woods, igniting up the spark of life.
AaaM always bears a simple idea in mind that architecture is for the people, and such an intriguing relationship can be developed way earlier before the completion of work, or even before the process of design.
“The architects of past generations are often more top down. They first have a thought and present the idea through their works.” As 21st Century architects, AaaM pulls every string to search for other possibilities, one of which is “a bottom up approach”. When people (users) are given agency to intervene in the process of design, what possible outcomes could be obtained?
To everyone’s surprise, this carton-made jungle is a pleasant attempt and a fruitful starting point that manifests the presence of the architecture’s inherent power has been fuelled by public participation regardless of the size of the work.
Apart from engaging in design projects, AaaM Architects also brings architecture and culture together by writing articles on both online and print media platforms. From time to time they associate architecture across the globe with current Hong Kong affairs to tell stories from their own perspectives.
AaaM is also an exhibition curator and once invited architects and designers from all 18 districts in Hong Kong to use photographs with captions to recount stories of neighborhood and community. Their recent project “Page Two“ anticipates fine selections of books donated by architects. Handwriting notes and remarks in the books are heavily encouraged to allow designers and architects secretly open up with strangers and share their thoughts on architecture with the readers.
AaaM team believes architecture is the destination and the journey allows us to seize the moment to enjoy landscape that should not be missed. Last year, they participated in the Beijing Design Week 2017 and have created an art installation named “periscope playground” in the baitasi hutong. The idea is to place periscopes in the courtyard and invite residents in the hutong neighborhood to see the world through the periscopes at different heights. The “merry-go-around” installation setting of periscopes serves as a children’s playground and allows them to have fun.
Once there was nothing, with the presence of architecture, people come and cluster to fill the space with warmth.