Sylvia Zhao

MArch I

Building Magic

Advised by Tomás de Paor

“Building Magic,” practiced by Chinese carpenters since the 12th century,1 saturates the surfaces that construct contemporary Chinatown, sustaining images and illusions that are essential to the neighborhood’s survival. Mediating between private life and public commerce, between fixed structure and fleeting impressions, Building Magic repels unfriendly spirits and welcomes you home. It is a code that communicates, at the same time, mutual understanding and impenetrable otherness.

In its use of Building Magic, Adolf Loos’s Villa Müller is almost exactly like a Chinese restaurant, where the application of cladding and lightweight surfaces reconstructs the external world order toward the “unspeakable” humane interior.2 Inversely, in the 1978 film Game of Death, Bruce Lee’s traversal in Raumplan through a Chinese restaurant enables him to break through the illusion that held him hostage. Depending on your direction of travel, Building Magic assembles and disassembles worlds.

This project suggests that Building Magic (architecture) holds Chinatown together on the brink of disappearance, between actual and virtual, between material and myth.

1 Klaas Ruitenbeek, Carpentry and Building in Late Imperial China (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996), 85.
2 Beatriz Colomina, Privacy and Publicity (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), 274.

Sylvia Zhao, MArch I. Illustration of an interior space with curtains and potted plants. On the floor sit a Buddha statue, a plate of oranges, and a cup.
Sylvia Zhao, MArch I.
View of stair down to swimming pool.
Sylvia Zhao, MArch I.
View of living room with altar, a human shadow, a mirror, a dark doorway.
Sylvia Zhao, MArch I.
A stainless steel gate reflecting the city and sunset.
Sylvia Zhao, MArch I.
View of entry to casino with inverting mirror.
Sylvia Zhao, MArch I.
View of underground poolside lounge.