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gooood Interview NO.14 introduces Atelier FCJZ Yung Ho Chang . More: Atelier FCJZ on gooood.
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gooood x Yung Ho Chang
As China’s first pioneering architectural design studio, what significant changes has FCJZ had till now?
It has been nearly 24 years since Atelier FCJZ was founded in the spring of 1993. Our interests and focuses, including architecture and China, have not changed much. We have accumulated a lot of experience while learning many lessons in these years so that we could have an in-depth understanding of China as a society and an environment.
Our thoughts are based on the conditions in China. When come to architecture itself, we are still talking about space, material and structure, but with a much deeper reading. So I feel that I am close to maturity and may be able to build something good.
▼ 非常建筑办公室，Office of FCJZ
It is hard to find a fixed style in the projects of FCJZ. What do you think about form and style?
Many architects start their design from form and style, which I would never do. Of course we are interested in form as it is an important part of architecture. However, what initiate our design could be material, space, or a concept of how to live, and it finally leads to the form of the architecture.
Material usually has something to do with structure so that it can be the starting point of a design. For instance, we used glass blocks as the structural material for building two arches. Space is another starting point and we would think of spatial relationship at the beginning of a design. Take courtyard as an example. We have done many projects with various kinds of courtyards. Lifestyle could also initiate our design. It is not only about domestic life, but also about how people work nowadays.
▼ 玻璃砖拱结构，Glass Brick Arch
The recently constructed Vertical Glass House was a concept design of yours 21 years ago. It is a relatively conceptual and ideal design in a realistic environment. How important is a concept for a design in your mind?
First of all, architectural design doesn’t have to have a concept. I think that there are too many concepts telling what a building resembles, looks like a sailing boat for example, but these concepts have nothing to do with architecture and meaningless. The concept I am interested in is about lifestyle. I wonder if there are other ways for living other than living in an apartment. We have been studying bycicle houses for at least three years now. How could we take bycicles into our home? Could we ride them inside? To experiment with this concept, we have designed an apartment building and also collaborated with MUJI to design a single family house. Thus concept for us is concrete and will really effect the architecture.
▼ 自行车住宅，Bicycle House
Vertical Glass House is about a lifestyle. All the commercial apartments are built for one standard lifestyle which is composed of two working parents with two children. When designing the Vertical Glass House, I imagined it would be the home for a thinker or a poet, like Liu Ling， one of the seven sages of the bamboo grove in the 3rd century. Of course it is not really for Liu Ling, but for someone who is contemporary but shares some similarity with Liu Ling. Liu might be the poorest of the seven sages and was a very interesting person. My guess is that he had only one robe and would take it off when he returned to his house. When people asked why he was nude at home, he answered that the heaven and earth are his house and the building was his clothes. I imagined what kind of building a person with rich spiritual life like Liu Ling would live in the city. He still wants to be connected to Heaven and Earth. Then I came up with the idea of vertically transparent house which responds to the urban conditions. Without this concept, the Vertical Glass House could not exist.
Today, market economy works together with media, creating an extremely strong power. Usually we collaborates with market and media in our work but I believe that there must be other opportunities that are beyond market and media in any society. Although I could not tell when and how would these opportunities may come, I know it is there. In order to grasp such a opportunity, you have to keep thinking openly, or you will miss it when it actually comes. It took a long time for the opportunity to build the Vertical Glass House to appear since I came up with the idea.
▼ 垂直玻璃宅，Vertical Glass House
What part of architecture does Atelier FCJZ focus on these days? Could you talk about the trend in the future?
I am always interested in the basic architectural issues, including space, material and structure, lifestyle.
In some years, I feel that I should keep up with the trend so that I shifted my interests between social problems, environmental crisis, and other peripheral issues of architecture. Although these issues are important, I returned to the core of architecture afterwards. In fact, architects could only sovle these big problems from the position of architecture. That is why what we discuss and work on everyday are all about material, structure and space. They are my favourite topics anyway.
A Swedish built a church in the 1960s. What he was concerned with was not the religious nature of the building but how to build a building with brick. In his mind, the window was just a hole on the wall. As the environmental quality differs from outdoor to indoor, the hole should be sealed so that he cut a piece of glass which is larger than the hole and glued it on the wall. He was totally free as an architect who broke all the rules, both in terms of the technology as well as the understanding of architecture.
Does it mean that you pay attention to the origin of origin? Will you feel boring about the delicate details of architectures in Switzerland?
I wouldn’t say delicate detailing is not interesting. I love to build so I am interested in diverse ways of building, rough or refined. However, I am also a person with contradiction. Many architects I like were at one time masons and chapenters, or ship builders, but my hands are clumsy. Thus I often choose the simplest way to build; for instance, my furniture design is about bending one piece of plywood.
▼ 胶合木家具系列，Plywood furniture
Do you like go to construction site?
Yes, I do. Because I really like making buildings and always feel happy on the construction sites. Construction site visits inspire me to go on working on design. I love to see a building go up,which is ultimately the most interesting thing for me.
You have done various projects in different fields. What caused this variety and what have you gained from it?
I was very much into arts, especially fine arts and design, when I was young. Anything that is related to literature, drama, movie, I would also like to try if there is a chance. It’s just as simple as that.
It has been more and more elaborate in labor division that even interior design was separated from architecture as an independent profession. I think this division of labor in fact is against human nature. Under the pressure of social convention, many people feel that they must focus on one job, which I do not agree with. It is not necessary that one could only do one thing.
▼ 跨界作品：戏剧《竹林七贤》舞美设计，Crossover design: Stage design of Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove
Atelier FCJZ is some how like OMA in China that people who have worked here would be relatively eminent among the young architects.Your studio chooses people and your way of working and thinking will effect them. When they leave, they will unconsciously think in the way that was acquired from FCJZ.
I always try to stay alert and would not accept something without thinking over it. In other words, I would not follow the trend. As I have said before,I have followed the trends of social concerns, pollutions, sustainability, technology, digital design, but I returned to the core architectural issues in the end. When I was an undergraduate student in the US, I had a teacher from South Africa. One day he mentioned that an architect could not stand firm that he would be easily distracted by new things. Hearing this, I suddenly realized that it was the same to me. I was 26 then and was always drawn by the work of others. However, my teacher told me that I was different and I would eventually come back. Now I know he was right. Although I could be very much attracted by different things, I will always return to where I started.
You have said that there’s nothing interesting in the world after 1960s and the things you prefer are all before that age. What causes you to like the ancient things and what do you think of it?
Through my experience, I realized that what I really like are things before the era of 1960s, including movies, clothes and design. So I have had some self-reflection and found out that I do not fit into the aura of the contemporary society very well. Today is an age of self display and people tend to be high at all time. But I myself am a quiet person as so-called otaku who is on the contrary of this prevailing trend. Of course I have my own taste. I enjoy graphic novels a lot and one of my favourite authors is Francois Schuiten. In his books, he imaged a world where the architecture is in Art Nouveau style and people wear clothes of the time of Renaissance. In spite of its return-to-ancient atmosphere, people use various futuristic airships for transportation. In fact, my world is also a collage. Design started to go downhill since 1960s in both America and Europe. I have read a research made by 2 or 3 professors at Princeton, which shows that the human civilization has been declining since the end of 1960s. They took England as case study, where the decline could be found in vulgar language and many other aspects. Here we are talking about civilization not culture, and the situation is similar in Italy and China.
▼ 张永和老师办公室场景与收藏品，The office of Yung Ho Chang and his collections
Recently，“open community” has prompted heated discussion among citizens. How could we gradually practice the “micro city” of Europe in China? It seems that China has come to a time of express delivery and take-out that people could live a normal life without going out. What changes will this situation bring to the city structure?
The most pressing question is how to make the notion work, which will not be easy. I am a hundred percent behind the open idea and totally agree with small block. Today people are used to live in a city that they have little contact with. But for me, I would prefer to live in a place in the city where I could walk to a theater to enjoy Peking opera or modern drama. City could have provided its inhabitants so many interesting things, which people might not be able to enjoy due to the inconvenience caused by the insensible spatial organization of the city. It is also an issue of mixed use. If shopping, working, housing and culture facilities are mixed together, the city would be more convenient. People could walk to work and they could buy something on sale by just crossing the street. Meeting with friends also becomes easier as restaurants are within walking distance. You could enjoy diverse cultural and social life in such a city.
Even in large cities like Tokyo, one could still walk everywhere. It is the small block that makes walking enjoyable in these cities. You could always take to a different route though the city. When a road for vehicles is long, it would be so boring for pedestrians even if there is some landscape. Beijing is an inconvenient city which makes walking extremely difficult.
I don’t have much power as an architect. I hope that the whole social system would value the opinion of professional people more. Some architects have talents in politics and it is better for them to become politicians. They might make more contribution to the society than designing buildings. One of the former mayers of Rome was an architect and he was very good at using public spaces for various culture events, which was beyond other mayers’ imagination.
As far as the Internet, I have to say that I don’t use it that much, let alone on-line shopping. I could understand that some people sometimes feel lazy that they don’t want to cook or go out; however, one could not be lazy all the time. If there are plenty of good restaurants downstairs and people could walk down to get something to eat easily, is it still necessary for them to order delivered food? If I have more choices downstairs, I may not eat at home. People are drawn into the city by its life quality, which means more choices and more convenient to go somewhere with better public transportation, etc.
In both Beijing University and MIT you propose the architectural education that stresses basic knowledge and practice. Do you think that parametric design is again separated from architectural basis? You are still teaching and could you talk about the problems in China and global architectural education?
Computer is a tool with the help of which you could deal with large amount of data. Thus we use computers to deal with complicated design such as urban planning. But it makes no sense to combine computer design with a particular style，no matter complex or simple in form. There is no contradiction between computer and core issues of architecture.
Design has to be creative. The problem is that a bunch of people regard certain style of architecture as the only correct one. Why they are correct? In an age of diversity and pluralism, how could there be one correct thing?
China and America both have relatively big problems in architecture education. In China, students learn to draw a building without knowing how to realize it. And in America, students would know many abstruse theories while being lack of basic knowledge of construction.
At MIT, it takes a student three and a half years to finish his graduate study. There is a curriculum as well as a thing called pedagogy that determines how to learn and teach and what kind of practice should be carried out. It is a complete system, through which we could know exactly what a student has learned, what he could do and what he understands. This is education.
▼ 张永和老师在办公室指导工作，Yung Ho Chang guiding work
In a world driven by profit, how could architects protect the value of design.
This is a funny question. In fact, architects and designers do not have a way to protect the value of design because architectural design has not really entered the operational system of real estate in China from the beginning. Sometimes architects would be astonished by the fact that bad designs could be very expensive while good ones might be cheap.
However, it does not mean that architects should undervalue their work. There must be one day that someone moves into the house you designed and he would find the design makes sense sooner or later. I have experienced this situation more than once.
It is for granted now for people to come to the office at 9 in the morning, eat boxed luch and leave on 5 in the afternoon. Once a client got a site and wanted to build a highrise office building on it. As the site was very large, we suggested them to build lowrise buildings with no more than three levels and put some gaderns and courtyards in between. Workers could walk and smoke outside as well as doing some exercise. Our client understood and accepted this idea; however, we were not sure whether people would come out or not and our design was only an invitation to the new lifestyle. I went to this office complex many times after its completion from summer to winter and found that the courtyard was crowded with people at noon, even when it was snowing. People could stay outside for more than an hour when the weather was ideal and not as long when the weather was less agreeable, walking, exercising,or even having a picnic on the lawn. Our invitation was accepted by the users and it could become part of the company’s culture. As the employees would all want to go out and exercise, they would live healthier than those of other companies.
This is the value of design and it is the only thing we could believe. We could not simply judge the market to be right or wrong as everything has two faces. It is too ideal if something is expensive only because of its good design.
▼ 北京用友研发中心，UFIDA Beijing
You have mentioned that China only imports “the label of star designers” and people could not enjoy the design. How could common people enjoy good design as well? What do you think of the social responsibility of architects? What aspects need to be changed or could be changed in your mind?
Design and architecture are not the same. When we talk about design, it mainly refers to product design and clothing design. But architecture could only serve the mass through public buildings. As the number of buildings that have direct contact with the society is limited, it brings up a strange phenomenon that common people and media in China have great enthusiasm in making up nicknames for buildings. If they have really used the building, they might be less interested in what it looks like. I always go to the National Grand Theater as I like music and I would not care about its appearance because I would enter it from the garage. What attract me are the programs of performances. It would be great if common people could learn more about architecture. If they could have more chances to use the public buildings, their view would change significantly.
Product design is relatively inexpensive and many people could afford something in good design like an iphone. But commissioning an architect to build a house is another story. Thus architecture is the most difficult.
China has its advantage that it is roust and growing like a newborn. However, I think the biggest design challenge is city not architecture. There are more and more buildings that look good with great interior spaces but the city as a whole could be terrible. China now also has good clothing designers and graphic designers though it is not the case in product and furniture design. I’m talking about the design disciplines. How much common people could benefit from design is another story. Young people in big cities may not able to own apartments but they still could enjoy designs from other fields. Compared with America, Asian cities are rich in urban culture and the relationship between people and design is much closer.
what is the biggest challenge do you think you are facing?
I think architecture is very difficult and I am a slow learner. But I still keep on learning hard especially in architectural technology such as structure, equipment (ventilation, heating, airconditioning), joints and details, materials, etc. Although my knowledge in these aspects is insufficient, I believe that as long as I keep on learning, I would gain some skills to create better buildings, which will be rewarding for an architect.
▼ 张永和老师独自办公室工作，Yung Ho Chang working