UI prof's 'collection of moments' going on display in China

UI prof's 'collection of moments' going on display in China

Images of places, faces and words – captured in 45 years of travel – now going on display

Architect James Warfield's exhibition "Roads Less Traveled" opens today in Shanghai, where the companion book also was released today.

Though primarily a Chinese project, the exhibition and book don't focus solely on China. Rather, both cover 45 years of "critical travel" by Warfield to 35 culture areas on six continents, among them Asia.

"'Roads Less Traveled' is a visual and verbal memoir, a collection of moments – places, faces and words – the product of my life of critical travel and a record of those 'simple things' I have learned along the way," Warfield wrote for the book.

The exhibition runs through this month at Z58, one of two buildings in China designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, who was the Plym Distinguished Professor for the 2007-08 academic year at the UI School of Architecture, where Warfield is a professor emeritus.

The exhibition and book focus on his lifelong research into vernacular architecture, showcasing his photographs, sketches and journal entries, which were carefully transcribed into Chinese by a team of translators.

Warfield, who has designed 200 buildings, defines vernacular architecture as basically being synonymous with folk or traditional architecture. He likes to call it non-pedigreed architecture.

"It's an architecture of the people – the owner, builder and designer are all the same person," he said. "In the post-industrial era, we have an owner who hires an architect and then they give it to a contractor."

Photographs of vernacular structures in his book chapter on the United States include, for example, corn cribs and hay barns in Champaign County.

In his work, Warfield sought out the most successful vernacular venues, or those in which the cultures achieved a balance with nature. He also sought destinations rich in color, texture and visual sensations. And beauty.

"Beauty in the classic sense, as in the Greek Islands where sun-washed white villages spill down the mountainside into the turquoise Aegean Sea," he wrote. "Beauty also in truth, as in the composition of a Latin American Indian market – vendors, products, costumes, smells, noises and chaos – an ever changing, spontaneous landscape of humanity woven in color, reflecting the uniqueness of culture, the integrity of a livelihood."

He's often asked what his favorite places are.

"I would stay the most wonderful culture experience, the nicest people we ever met, were in Borneo," Warfield said. "The other country we fell in love with was Namibia in southwestern Africa. It has lots of wildlife, sand dunes, desert."

A native of Granite City, Warfield began traveling as a young man, conducting ethnographic field research among the Zinacanteco Indians of Mexico and later serving two years with the Peace Corps in Bolivia, where he met his wife, Chelle. She and their four children, especially when younger, accompanied Warfield on his travels.

Warfield, who retired five years ago from the School of Architecture, where he started teaching in 1972, continues to travel and to teach UI student programs in China, Versailles and the Greek Islands.

As for his "Roads Less Traveled" project, the exhibition grew from the book, which has 35 chapters and 400 photographs. Each chapter contains Warfield's spontaneous journal entries, in both English and Chinese, as well as sketches. Time + Architecture, the leading architecture journal in China, published the book.

Warfield said the most interesting aspect of the project is that it's a true collaboration between himself and UN + Architects in Shanghai.

Zheng Shiling, one of the leading architects in China and a former George A. Miller Professor at the UI's College of Fine and Applied Arts, wrote a piece for the book. Also contributing essays were UI anthropology Professor Helaine Silverman and geography Professor Emeritus John Jakle

The exhibition "Roads Less Traveled" likely will be mounted on campus or at I space, the UI's gallery in Chicago, this spring or fall, Warfield said.

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