Impressions as a first-time attendee about VAF 2023 (by Wenden Wang)

19 Oct 2023 11:29 AM | Michelle Jones (Administrator)

Wendan Wang, PhD student, University Of Chinese Academy Of Social Sciences, Visiting Graduate Researcher, UCLA

It was a great surprise to be able to participate in VAF 2023, just like winning the lottery. My advisor Prof. Nair forwarded several notifications of VAF in January, because I was new to the USA and had no relevant papers, I thought I was not qualified to participate in the conference. Therefore, I did not pay much attention to it until the evening of the 29th, when I received an email that the deadline for Awards and Prize applications was approaching, and I clicked on the link to apply for it. VAF offers an “Access Award” for first-time attendees, which breaks many of the “stereotypes” I had about academic conferences with its open and inclusive theme and easy application process. It also means that I can be deeply involved in the VAF as a pure “observer”, which is perfect for me! I rushed to organize my required documents and submit my application. To be honest, I am not good at finishing a task at the very last moment, but I have a vague hunch that something good might come out of this application. In the end, I was lucky enough to get the “ticket”.Row of wooden cottages (author’s photo)

Row of wooden cottages (author’s photo)

My current research topic is “Chinese Buildings and Settlements of the Neolithic Age”. In terms of architectural history research, this topic lacks the support of historical materials, objects, customs, and specific research theories. I am always looking for possible “parallels” in other potential related researches to try to make some kind of connection to complete my research. Hence I would keep an eye out for parts of the tour and presentations that would inspire my research. The pre-conference local tours were one of VAF’s the most unique and well-received features. I was impressed by the wooden cottage in Martha’s Vineyard and the reconstructed English Village in the Plimoth Patuxet Museum. From the development of tents to the later compact, spacious, and specially decorated cabins (Photo 1), I found the history of the wooden cottage's form to be amazing, and without understanding the process and meaning behind it, just observing and extrapolating the final form in front of us, archaeologists can come up with a variety of “self-proved” explanations, but they are like “blind men touching an elephant”, which can be one-sided. But with specific records, the exaggerated design of the gableboards, the narrow spacing between houses, and other “strange phenomena” can be logically clear and coherent like a string of pearl bracelets. The English Village in Plimoth Patuxet Museum gave me a lot of ideas for reconstruction. For example, windows reminded me of the window remains discovered in Gaocheng taixi (藁城台西遺址) (Photo 2), and the location and design of the stove also reminded me of the remains of a fire without a hearth pit in the house site (Photo 3), etc. These “coincidentally consistent” designs made me feel both interesting and a little regretful, it would be better if these were the original.

The window of a wooden house from the 17th century English village (author’s photo)

The paper & poster sessions were excellent. However, due to my lack of relevant background knowledge, I did not receive special benefits from all reports. As a result, I remain centered on my research interests, drawing inspiration from houses where I could see characteristics of earlier settlements. What impressed me the most was Prof. Matthew Teismann’s research on traditional house in the Bawömataluo area. That house is so structurally and decoratively elaborate that I would call it a wooden version of Howl’s Moving Castle. When it comes to such elevated buildings, I always think of the Hemudu site (河姆渡遺址), followed by water-related keywords such as river and rainy. But Prof. Teismann further introduced that these buildings were not at the riverside, while on the hill and the street, and that piles served as waterproofing. I will be curious to see how the design of the upper floors of the pile dwellings will differ from area to area. Another presentation I was interested in was Prof. Stella Nair's research on the Inca wars, women, and the origins of houses. She was a fantastic speaker. Her discovery had to do with women's participation in the camping of military camps, where female construction teams would accompany the army to pitch their tents. This sparked my thoughts on the topic of gender in builders. In addition, Zhang Tian told the story of the lawsuit of modern Chinese construction teams in his presentation, which was like a "prequel" to the history of modern Chinese architecture before the architects came on the scene, unlike the study of building technology, which focused on the human relations in the process of building construction. The latter two reports provided me with a novel perspective for my research.

The kitchen area of a wooden house from the 17th century English village (author’s photo)

I enjoyed the friendly and pleasant social atmosphere of these days. I will remember the chance encounter at the corner of the church, table joining in the bar, the sunset on the cruise ship, the way the capsule coffee machine worked, the beautiful scenery from the Plimoth Patuxet Museum to the hotel, the fine food at the Thai restaurant, the chat after the banquet, and the late-night sudden downpour, etc. The people, the views, the food, the stories, all of these will become the flashpoints of my visiting journey.

I love Plymouth. A few weeks ago, some friends visited Boston, and I warmly recommended Plymouth to them. “You can find a seaside café to have a brunch, a bench to gaze at the sea, or a second-hand shop to hunt out interesting goods. There are a lot of historical buildings in this area, which is very suitable for city walk.”

© Vernacular Architecture Forum

For more information or questions contact
the secretary or the webmaster.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software