Zhifei Chen

Zhifei Chen

Los Angeles, CA, US



2018 Summer thesis project

Towards the end of his life, the renowned 11th-century Chinese artist Mi Fu encountered a highly figured garden rock in the court of an administrative office. As the cultural historian John Hay recounts, “immediately forgetting the assembled officials and weighty formalities, he turned to the rock and performed a deep obeisance, addressing it ever after as ‘Elder Brother Rock.” This thesis follows the Asian cultural deference to the wonders of inorganic form by proposing with a new hybrid between human artifice and the natural world. Mixing apartment housing and artificially constructed boulders, the thesis experiments with novel interfaces between crystalline logics of cleavage and fracture and the orthographic conventions of architecture. The disjunctures and loose fits that occur when these formal properties are thrown together create productively unique spatial possibilities that can enhance the quality of daily life.  

Unlike one-off rock houses set in remote landscapes, this project will be built in the completely urbanized location of San Gabriel, California, where access to inorganic forms is limited to distant views of the San Gabriel Mountains. The project plays with notions of the picturesque and brings the tactile and spatial qualities of this remote backdrop within reach. Since the population of San Gabriel is largely Chinese in ethnicity, this project also connects to that culture’s tradition of domesticating mountains within residential architecture in the form of landscape scroll paintings and gongshi, or scholar’s rocks like the one that so impressed Mi Fu.

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Status: School Project
Location: San Gabriel, CA, US