gooood Interview NO.20 – Li Xinggang

Combine theoretic thinking with practice, seeking for strategies to deal with the reality.

Project Specs


gooood团队采访世界各地的有趣创意人,欢迎您的推荐和建议。第20期为您奉上的是中国建筑设计研究院有限公司总建筑师,北京冬奥会延庆赛区总规划师 李兴钢。更多关于他:Atelier Li Xinggang on gooood

gooood team interviews creative from all over the world. Your recommendations and suggestions are welcomed! gooood Interview NO.20 introduces Li Xinggang. More: Atelier Li Xinggang on gooood

出品人:向玲 Producer: Xiang Ling
编辑团队:向玲,陈诺嘉,武晨曦,鹿璐 Editor: Xiang Ling, Chen Nuojia, Wu Chenxi, Lu Lu





gooood x Li Xinggang 李兴钢


▼李兴钢工作室部分作品展示,part of the projects of Atelier Li Xinggang



What is the current situation of Atelier Li Xinggang?


We are a small studio consisted of about 15 architects. However, our team has been expanded to 20 members recently because of the project for Beijing Winter Olympics. The operation of our studio is based on a hierarchical system: the director; principal architects who have worked together for more than 10 years and are very experienced; team leaders who can take charge of two or three projects at the same time; the project leaders, and then the junior architects and interns. This type of system can improve our work efficiency while guarantee that each of our projects can be well controlled. Generally, we work on a dozen projects every year, part of which are in concept phase, while the others are in development phase or under construction.

▼李兴钢工作室入口,entrance of Atelier Li Xinggang

▼办公环境,working space

▼李兴钢办公室,Li Xinggang’s office



What are the main projects under going?


▼北京冬奥会延庆赛区总体鸟瞰效果图,项目占地广阔,地形复杂,bird view of Yanqing competition zone of Beijing Winter Olympics with enormous site area and complicated topography

We have been working on the project for Beijing Winter Olympics since the beginning of last year. There are three competition zones including Beijing, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou and we are committed to design the Yanqing Competition zone. As the chief architect, I found it quite challenging to take charge of such a complicated and huge-scaled project that occupies over 10 square kilometers field with a floor area of more than 300,000 square meters. The site is located in a dense mountain forest, which makes the implementation even harder. Our studio is part of a consortium that includes China Architecture Design & Research Group, Beijing General Municipal Engineering Design & Research Institute and two international companies from Canada and Germany who respectively dedicate to ski trail and racing track design. I was appointed as the principal architect of the consortium as well as the planner of Yanqing project, which means I need to engage with every part of the project from the master planning to the construction of the stadium building and even the public facilities. All of the technical issues will be handled by professional engineers and consultants, while I have to supervise the entire project to make sure that every component is organically coordinated into the context of the site.

▼国家高山滑雪中心效果图,rendering of National Alpine Skiing Center

▼国家雪车雪橇中心效果图,rendering of National Bobsleigh and Tobogganing Center


In the meantime, we are pushing forward with some other projects, including Yabinli project, a complex that combines a school, a nursing home and a community center in Shanghai, which is still in concept phase; Anren Museum in Sichuan, which has entered the detailing process; Youth Cultural and Creative Centre for International Horticultural Exhibition that will be held in Yanqing in 2019; and a quite important project of a museum and a library under construction in Yuhuan, Zhejiang.

▼部分正在进行中的项目,part of projects in proces
上海万科雅宾利学校幼儿园养老项目(左上)/ 安仁博物馆(右上)/ 延庆园艺小镇文创中心(左下)/ 玉环县图书馆及博物馆(右下)
Wanke Yabinli project (up left) / Anren Museum (up right) / Yanqing Youth Cultural and Creative Centre (bottom left) / Yuhuan Library and Museum (bottom right)



What kind of development and evolution has your theory “Scenery and Geometry” experienced in these years, especially in the cases that relate to your practices?


I proposed the theory of “Scenery and Geometry” in the exhibition at Fangjia Hutong in 2013, which can be seen as a summary of my conceptual thinking and architectural practice. There has been a number of valuable ideas and methodologies generated from the practices on urban planning, architecture and landscape in Chinese history, and what I am interested in is to apply these ideas into contemporary architectural design. During 2003-2008, I participated in the project of Bird’s Nest (National Stadium) in collaboration with Herzog & de Meuron. Since then I found it interesting to study the interaction and transformation between structure, form and geometric logic of architecture, which later contributed to the theory of Poetic Scenery and Integrated Geometry. In fact, it is not only theoretical, but also developed and extended through a long term of architectural practice.

▼方家胡同作品微展,提出胜景几何理念,introduced the idea of “Scenery and Geometry” in the exhibition at Fangjia Hutong ©夏至

▼在国家体育场的设计中与赫尔佐格德梅隆合作,对建筑的结构、形式、空间和几何逻辑之间的互动和转化产生兴趣,cooperating with Herzog & de Meuron in the design of National Stadium, becoming interested in the relationship between form and geometry ©Iwan Baan(右上) / ©张广源(下)



▼瞬时桃花源,探讨人工和自然的交互关系,Instant Garden, discussing the interlaced relationship between built and natural environments ©孙海霆

The theory was further developed in 2015, when we were invited to create a research-based installation called “Instant Garden” for the workshop held by Nanjing University. According to the theory, there is an interlaced relationship between built and natural environments, which can be mutually transformed. We investigated the specific methodology of “Scenery and Geometry” during the implementation of “Instant Garden” and obtained some inspiration.

The Instant Garden was located on the Hualu Terrace(once called Terrace of Phoenix)in Nanjing Province, which is a good sample of a typical Chinese city, showing various problems in contemporary urban construction. It was a historic site once celebrated by Li Bai with his famous poem. There located the relic from Seven Sages, and the ancient city wall built in Ming Dynasty. In parallel, it was also surrounded by demolished houses and discarded industrial plants, facing with a lot of problems and contradictions due to the exploitation of real estate. People are living in a severe reality and are pushed away from the ideal environment. In addition, China is a country with vast territory and abundant resources, and has diverse geographical environments, which requires architects to engage with various realistic problems in their everyday work, rather than just focusing on a specific aspect. Therefore, the practice and theory should be based on such conditions to effectively solve the problems and challenges that are possible to arise. I am inclined to regard the Poetic Scenery and Integrated Geometry as a thinking on the ideal pattern of realistic space. We hope to find a relatively stable strategy to deal with the varied conditions of reality.

▼瞬时桃花源,在严峻的现实中寻求理想的生活空间,Instant Garden, seeking for ideal living space in the severe reality ©孙海霆


The theory of “Scenery and Geometry” has been embodied in three of my architectural practices: the Gymnasium of New Campus of Tianjin University, “The Third Space” in Tangshan, and “Micro-Beijing”, a reconstruction for 28 Dayuan Hutong in the historic district of Beijing.

▼可以体现胜景几何理念的三个实践项目,three practical projects embody the idea of Scenery and Geometry
天津大学新校区综合体育馆(左)/ 唐山第三空间(中)/ 大院胡同28号(右)
The Gymnasium of Tianjin University (left) / The Third Space (middle) / 28 Dayuan Hutong (right)


The gymnasium of Tianjin University is located in the new-built Educational Ocean Park that rest on an extensive saline-alkali land with almost no “Genius Loci”, which also presents the common condition of contemporary urban development in China. In this case, our purpose was to give a unique identity to the empty site by emphasizing the structural elements, and to generate a new spirit of place. In the meantime, the interaction between structure and people will provide a kind of poetry in spatial dimension. We treat people as a part of nature. The movement of human body is a poetic scenery in itself, which interacts and integrates with the geometry of building structures, and finally results in an engaging spatial experience.

▼天津大学新校区综合体育馆,强调结构元素为空白的场地带来存在感(点击这里查看更多),The Gymnasium of Tianjin University, bringing identity to the empty site by emphasizing the structural elements (click HERE to view more)   ©张虔希

▼从操场看去,起伏的屋顶本身成为景观(点击这里查看更多),the arched roof itself becomes scenery (click HERE to view more) ©孙海霆

▼人体的运动是一种特殊的“胜景”,与结构的“几何”元素互动(点击这里查看更多),the movement of human body becomes a poetic scenery, interacting with the geometric elements of the structure  (click HERE to view more)  ©张虔希


“The Third Space” is located in the central area of Tangshan. The city was flattened by the earthquake in 1976, and has become a “formal” and to some extend “boring” city after a rapid 30-year construction. The project tried to create a vertical arranged settlement in such an urban context. The living units were stacked to form a series of geometric artificial terraces containing the transition of functions from the public to the private while providing rich layers that vary in visual and sensual characteristics. This project integrated a dense but “ideal” stage for living, and became a new landscape in the city.

▼唐山第三空间,垂直的城市聚落实现高密度环境中的“理想居住”,其本身 也成为城市的新景观(点击这里查看更多),The Third Space, vertical living clusters provide ideal living space in the dull city as well as becoming a new landscape itself (click HERE to view more) ©张广源


▼大院胡同28号入口,entrance of the 28 Dayuan Hutong project ©苏圣亮

28 Dayua Hutong is located in the old town of Beijing, which used to be a traditional courtyard dwelling. In this project, we tried to transform it into a neat, ordered living space with a poetic quality, and use the form of the courtyard as a prototype to resolve the problems that had been existing for long time in the city. Beijing has a typical urban form, which can be seen as a fractal pattern. It is a large set of small blocks, which can be densified following the increasing population to accommodate more inhabitants. This densification continued from Yuan Dynasty to Qing dynasty, and has now stopped due to complicated historical issues. Therefore, we chose courtyard as a prototype for the solution, which made the project become a radical experiment. The old town still got a potential to be densified. We kept the number of the families while decreasing the scale of the living units to create a well-organized group of small-sized yards. Afterwards, the existing hutongs outside the courtyard would be internally spread as smaller ones (“main alleys” and “sub-alleys”) , unifying all of the small yards as a network that defined the micro-community. Each yard was an independent “inhabited garden” that offered a scenery to the main living space thus to improve the quality of life. This is what we call as the “residence combined with yard” – a landscaped space where people enjoy their material and spiritual life, an ideal living space built in a high-density urban region.

▼大院胡同28号,在大杂院中创造有序的理想生活空间,28 Dayuan Hutong project, creating a well-organized living space in Dazayuan ©苏圣亮


What interests me the most in design is the interaction between artificial and natural environment. I regard the natural elements and built structures as equally important. In my opinion, the ideal architecture or space results from a strengthened interrelationship between these two things, and this is what “Scenery and Geometry” emphasized on. the “Scenery” indicates the artificial elements represented by architectural entities, while the “Geometry” corresponds to the natural elements, as well as the spiritual experiences offered by interactions between such artificial and natural elements, a poetry of space.

▼人工与自然交互带来“空间诗意” – 绩溪博物馆(点击这里查看更多),space poetry created by the interaction between artificial and natural elements – Jixi Museum (click HERE to view more)  ©夏至

▼人工与自然交互带来“空间诗意” – 元上都遗址工作站(点击这里查看更多),space poetry created by the interaction between artificial and natural elements – Entrance for site of XANADU (click HERE to view more) ©李兴钢(左上)/ 张广源(右上,下)



Please describe the ideal Chinese urban landscape in your mind. What is the role of architects in such a prospect?

中国的城市有很多问题,特别是近年来,几十年高速发展的恶果越来越显现出来,比如交通问题,空气质量问题,人居生活空间问题等等。城市化程度越来越高,人们都涌入了大城市,然而城市空间是有限的,一方面无休止地扩展,推土机式地扩展,完全不顾自然环境的保持和与城市空间的协调, “千城一面“;另一方面,原本的历史城区又处于一种不合理的密集状态。人类与自然越来越隔离、疏远,虽然表面上经济发展生活水准提高,但生活环境和质量其实越来越不如从前,人们实际上已经不再拥有理想的生活(工作、学习、居住和娱乐)空间。希望通过建筑师的努力,用我们的思考和实践对这样一种不理想的空间状态进行修正。特别希望每个建筑师都能有这样的一种意识,在严峻且多样的现实条件下,通过自己的工作和努力,为人们营造理想生活空间。这也是建筑师这个职业的责任和愉悦所在。

Chinese cities have many problems to solve, especially in recent years. The bad consequences of a rapid development have gradually emerged, such as traffic problems, air pollution and the increasing density of living space. On the one hand, with the process of urbanization, people flood into big cities, resulting in an endless urban expansion, regardless of the maintaining of natural environment and the coordination of urban spaces. Cities look the same. On the other hand, the existing historical districts are stuck in an abnormal situation. Human beings are more and more isolated from nature. The economic conditions seem to be improved a lot, yet the quality of living environment becomes far worse than before. People actually have lost their ideal living (working, studying and entertaining) space. As an architect, I really hope that this situation can be modified, through our efforts and expertise, despite the severe reality, to provide people with veritable comfortable living spaces. This is our responsibility, but also where our happiness relies on.

▼高速发展下北京面临着严峻的问题,Beijing facing severe problems under its rapid development ©张雷

▼大院胡同28号,在严峻的城市环境下为人们营造理想的生活,28 Dayuan Hutong, create ideal living space in the severe city environment ©苏圣亮



How do you usually start a design? Do you start from sections, plans or anything else? What do you think is the most important factor of design?


It may start from the plan, or from the section. However, this is not what design bases on. A design begins from the observation and investigation of the site, which refers to territory, history, culture, climate, requirements from the clients, as well as the previous cases. The principle can be demonstrated in drawings, models, or even a piece of idea. Whether starting form plan or from section, it will lead to an initial result.

▼李兴钢的部分设计草图 – 元上都遗址工作站(点击这里查看更多),some design sketches by Li Xinggang – Entrance for site of XANADU (click HERE to view more)


As for the site investigation, we focus much on the status of the natural elements. Architecture as an artificial work conceived afterwards, it must response to and interact with the original natural elements of the site. Sometimes a site can be empty without any obvious natural elements, just like the site of the gymnasium of Tianjin University, which still can be seen as a characteristic. In any case, site investigation fundamentally determines the direction and tendency of architectural design.

▼李兴钢的部分设计草图,以不同策略回应场地的自然要素 – 瞬时桃花源,some design sketches by Li Xinggang, responding to the site by different strategies – Instant Garden

▼李兴钢的部分设计草图,以不同策略回应场地的自然要素 – 天津大学新校区综合体育馆(点击这里查看更多),some design sketches by Li Xinggang, responding to the site by different strategies – The Gymnasium of Tianjin University (click HERE to view more)



The sketch of the Gymnasium of New Campus of Tianjin University clearly shows the design process of the basic units and structure of the building, why did you chose to use the Y-shape structures and arches in your design, and in which step will this kind of form be involved in your design?


▼天大新校区拱形屋顶(点击这里查看更多),view of the arched roof of the The Gymnasium of Tianjin University (click HERE to view more)   ©孙海霆

The theory of “Scenery and Geometry” had not been proposed in 2012 when the project of Tianjin University was proceeding. However, in some terms, the theory had been reflected on some of the most important issues of the project, especially in the aspects of architectural form, space and geometric logic. What was the relationship between geometric operation and the site? What was the relationship between internal space and structure? These questions were the key points of the design of gymnasium Tianjin University. Basing on such considerations, we decided to use structure as a guideline to define the form of space and architecture, and also the relationship among architecture, site and activity of the users. We tried to cover the entire space with a single structure and extend it to the building’s facade. Therefore, we chose a wave-shape structure constituted by straight ribs and curved surfaces, which provided long span space and high side windows allowing for a natural lighting and ventilation, decreasing energy consumption. During the design process, we discussed a lot with the structural engineer to optimize the proposal. The result was that other structures was introduced into the building, such as the Y-shape columns and the cone-shape and barrel-shape shells they supported, meeting different needs of the space.

▼直纹曲面屋顶在室内的呈现(点击这里查看更多),structures in the gym (click HERE to view more) )©张虔希

▼锥形壳体和Y型柱(点击这里查看更多),cone-shape shells and Y-shape columns (click HERE to view more)  © 孙海霆(上)/ 张虔希(下)



The use of the gradient wave-shaped structure with ruled curve surfaces in Tianjin University project leads to a quantity of challenges and difficulties in design and technical aspects. What are the gains and experiences that you accumulated from large scale projects, considering that the creation and use of forms and elements may become a technical barrier for an architect?


▼天津大学新校区综合体育馆拱形屋顶室内(点击这里查看更多),The Gymnasium of Tianjin University, interior view of the arched roofs  (click HERE to view more)  ©张虔希

▼结构细部(点击这里查看更多),structure details  (click HERE to view more)  ©孙海霆

Since participating in the project of the “Bird’s Nest” in 2003, I have paid interest in the geometry-based interaction between different structures. Relationship among structure, form, construction and material was widely discussed in that case. I increasingly realized that structure is one of the most significant components in architecture. It is the most long-lasting part of a building, and also the essential condition to define the feasibility of a building. After hundreds of years, the structure may still be existing while the envelopes and decorations of a building might have been disappeared for a long time. Structure endows spaces with intuitional characteristics, which also influences people’s behavior and their perception of forms. In addition to being related to the spatial form, structure also builds an intimate relationship with its site. Take the gymnasium of Tianjin University for instance, it creates an atmosphere that can significantly affect people’s spiritual feelings. After I realized it, I started to consciously think about the role of structure in my design, and have experimented in my own works (Jixi Museum, “The Third Space” and Workstation of XANADU Park etc.) by using unique structural elements. For example, a suspension concrete structure was used in the project of Yuhuan Library to create column free interior spaces. Of course, the consideration on unique structure depends on the specific requirements of functions, which works within an integral framework of thinking by architects.

▼元上都遗址工作站,使用膜结构,如同一个个小帐篷,与草原环境融合(点击这里查看更多),Entrance for site of XANADU, use of membrane structure created small tents being harmony with the environment (click HERE to view more) ©张广源

▼绩溪博物馆,现代结构与传统建筑技术和材料的结合呈现当代感(点击这里查看更多),Jixi Museum, combination of modern structure and traditional architectural technics (click HERE to view more) ©夏至

▼玉环图书馆及博物馆,混凝土悬索结构创造无柱空间,Yuhuan Library and Museum, column-free space created by suspension concrete structure


Speaking of the technical barrier in structure, I don’t think it is really a problem. I believe that the the work of an architect should be integrative, which requires a comprehensive understanding of different expertise. Holistic thinking of a project should never be obstructed by technical barrier. In fact, whether it is a barrier or not depends on how architects understand the structure. When you think of it as a part of the building entirety, you will spontaneously try to find the solution by self-study and team working. Structure is never a technical object that could exist alone. It is closely associated with other aspects of architecture and plays different roles besides supporting the building.

▼研究结构,突破壁垒,break the structure barrier by study



We have noticed your experiments on various types of materials, such as PTFE membrane, GRC and concrete etc. What is your opinion on materials? Is there a material that you prefer the most? Why?


My choice of materials changes according to different projects and structures. One the one hand, I hope to understand new types of structure and material through practice. An architect should have the capability to estimate whether the structure or material is suitable for the project. This kind of choice shows the reflection and imagination made by the architect. As for me, I prefer to use materials that have strong natural qualities, like bricks, tiles and concretes. Metal, membranes and chemical coatings are less involved with nature, but still have the potential to blend into the natural environments. PTFE membrane is a chemical material that can bring a translucent, hazy surface under the play of light. During the daytime, the membrane filters the natural light to create a space with harmonious atmosphere, while diffusing the light to make the building glow at night.

▼北京地铁昌平线西二旗站,PTFE膜结构形成独特的灯光效果(点击这里查看更多),Xi’erqi Station, unique light effect created by PTFE membrane structure (click HERE to view more)


Xi’erqi Station is one of the examples that use membranes as the main material, which generates a dialogue between natural light and the inorganic material. Aluminum is another material that I rarely use in my design. However, we applied aluminum plates in the Jianchuan Mirror Museum in Sichuan Province, which shows a remarkable contrast to the fabric of the surrounding brick constructions. GRC, whose full name is glass fiber reinforced concrete, usually presents an obvious artificial texture offered by the process of pouring, which requires for more in surface treatment to obtain a natural quality.

▼建川镜鉴博物馆暨汶川地震纪念馆,砖、混凝土及铝板幕墙相结合,Jianchuan Mirror Museum, combination of brick, concrete and aluminum curtain walls ©张广源

▼唐山第三空间,表面处理使GRC材料更具自然感(点击这里查看更多),The Third Space, make the GRC more natural by surface treatment (click HERE to view more) ©张广源

▼其他使用不同材料的作品,other projects composed of various materials ©张广源
Hiland·名座(左上)/ 地铁四号线国家图书馆站出站口(右上)/ 地铁四号线西四站出站口(左下)/ 复兴路乙59-1号改造(右下)
Hiland·Mingzuo (up left) / Line4 National Library Station Exit (up right) / Line4 Dongsi Station Exit (bottom left) / Renovation of 59-1 Fuxing Rd. (bottom right)



Will you still choose to use natural materials when it comes to huge-scale projects such as gymnasiums?


The natural material that I’m talking about is not necessarily produced by nature. It should be a material that makes people feel welcomed and intimate. The combination of materials that have different levels of intensity will lead to dramatic effects. For example, the coldness and roughness of concrete will be neutralized by integrating with wooden elements. In the project for Beijing Winter Olympics, we adopted a steel-and-wood structure as it is difficult to apply concrete construction in a mountainous region. The mixed use of materials brings peculiarity to buildings, producing an interesting fusion of natural and industrial attributes.

▼北京冬奥会延庆赛区高山滑雪中心及奥运村,钢木混合结构增加自然感,Alpine Skiing Center and Olympic village in Yanqing competition zone, steel-and-wood structure bringing in some natural feelings



As a famous atelier affiliated with a large state-owned institute in China, what do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of its operation and working pattern when comparing to those independent firms in the market?


Atelier Li Xinggang is founded in 2003, and was called Institute Atelier or Expert Atelier, aiming to cope with the pressure of competing with the foreign design firms and studios founded by individuals with an overseas education background. The found of our Atelier somehow adjusted the system of big-scale institutes. It was like to establish an architectural studio in a state-owned institute, which provided suitable environments for the architects to work. There now has been a number of similar studios and ateliers in China. The advantage of this system is that its scale is between independent firms and the large institutes, combining a free working atmosphere with rich resources of history, technique and labor. The completion of a project always requires for effective collaboration of architects, structural engineers, mechanical engineers and budgetary engineers. For independent firms, they have to find and corporate with other specialist and institutes of the industry to proceed a project to the end. This will never be a problem for us because it can be easily and rapidly accomplished in our system. Certainly we have our shortcomings. Due to the system itself, we have less freedom in economic, financial and human resources, which means we must follow the rules and policy set by the government.

▼李兴钢带领同事开会、讨论方案,Li Xinggang working with colleagues



Have you managed to do specific explorations within such a system?


Our work pattern is a combination of research-oriented design and design-oriented research. In terms of design practice, we advocate to push forward the work in a way of doing researches in each of the stages, and ultimately, to produce a building. In terms of design-oriented research, all of our staff will work together to investigate specific themes that correspond to realistic cases, which is different from the purely theoretical researches we did in school. We aim to use the researches to accelerate the process of our design practice, and we have indeed got some achievements. Moreover, as a team working for a large state-owned institute, we have been given more opportunities to play a role in important projects that may significantly influence the country and society. Therefore, we engage with projects in various scales and categories, which can be regarded as a special challenge for exploration.

▼”阅读巴拉甘“展览现场,”Read Barragan” exhibition ©姜汶林

《李兴钢》当代建筑师系列-20128月第一版,中国建筑工业出版社(左)/ 《李兴钢:静谧与喧嚣》建筑界丛书第二辑-20159月第一版,中国建筑工业出版社(中)/《李兴钢:胜景几何》作品专辑(中英文双版本)-20141月,中国建筑工业出版社(右)



Please talk about your plans for the future.


I never make long-term plans because the future is unpredictable, especially for contemporary architects working in China. In this case, I would only plan for the near future. In 2018, when our atelier celebrates its 15th anniversary, I plan to publish a new portfolio as a collection of our thoughts and practices in the last 15 years. If possible, I’m willing to organize an exhibition to invite everyone to come and share his or her ideas. I’m not sure if these plans can be achieved since that we have been very busy this year. However, I hope to encounter more projects that could reinforce our innovativeness and indicate a clear direction to our practice. The experiences and feedbacks from the practice will push us to make further progress in the future.

▼正在接受采访的李兴钢,Li Xinggang during interview

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