Making Architecture – Lecture in Hong Kong University by Dong Gong, Vector Architects

In Dong Gong’s mind, the fundamental of architecture is making, is the involvement of our hand and body, ultimately to create a place with spirit.

Project Specs

Design Firm:

2018年11月8日,直向建筑(更多关于 Vector Architects on gooood)创始人/主持建筑师董功受香港大学建筑系教授王维仁邀请参与2018秋季公开演讲系列“Agendas for the South”,发表题目为“Making Architecture”的主题演讲。董功认为建筑的本质是建造,是通过我们的双手和身体来最终创造一个场所,和场所的精神。演讲中,他回顾了直向建筑近年来的主要建筑实践,并在问答环节中与听众进行了互动。本文记录了董功的演讲以及问答环节的主要内容。

Dong Gong, founder and design principal of Vector Architects (more: Vector Architects on gooood) was invited by Professor Wang Weijen to take part in the public lecture series of “Agendas for the South” at the Department of Architecture of Hong Kong University on November 8th, 2018. He delivered a lecture with the title of “Making Architecture”. In Dong Gong’s mind, the fundamental of architecture is making, is the involvement of our hand and body, ultimately to create a place with spirit. He introduced recent architectural practice of Vector Architects during the lecture and answered questions from the audiences in the Q&A part. This article recorded the main contents of his lecture and his answers to the questions.





Professor Wang Weijen:Dong Gong, his career started to accelerate. His projects to me, not only typological, tectonic, as a concern on structure, construction, material, and also human condition, and here’s about concerns and issues about culture, and very importantly, there’s a sense of place.




董功演讲 | Lecture 


▼演讲中的董功,Dong Gong giving the lecture


我今天的主题是建造(Making Architecture),我将通过项目来详细阐述这个主题以及我对建筑的理解。今天主要分享船长之家改造、海边图书馆和阿丽拉阳朔糖舍酒店。我认为,建筑从根本上说是一门建造的艺术。当然,建筑是一个复杂的问题,它涉及许多其他因素,例如社会,环境,能源,政治。但建筑的本质是建造,是通过我们的双手和身体来最终创造一个场所,和场所的精神


My topic today is making architecture. I will elaborate on this idea, my understanding of architecture later on through my projects. Actually, there are three main projects I like to share with you guys. The first one is the renovation of Captain’s House, the second one is Seashore Library, and the third one is Alila Yangshuo, which is a hotel project. For me, I think architecture fundamentally is the art of making. Of course, architecture is a complex issue, it relates to a lot of other factors, for example, social, environmental, energy, political, but, for me, the fundamental of architecture is making, is the involvement of our hand and body, ultimately to create a place with spirit.

I’m not going to talk too much about the design. The black steel structure is our installation in Venice. The whole point of this structure is to take the people up to the second level, the mezzanine level. So, to create a certain of circulation, the human movement, inside the space. But because we have to take the people to the upstairs, so, we have to be obligated to comply with the Italian code, so that’s where all the nightmare starts. (ha) We had to work with a local Italian Engineer firm, and together with a contractor, which is a construction team. So, I don’t know if you guys can imagine that to work totally with Italian people, but the whole process for me, is a learning process actually. Because to guarantee the final quality of this whole installation, we sent the architects two months before the opening of the exhibition, to supervise the whole procedure of this manufacturing. And, I actually collect some of the pictures throughout the process. As you can see, the whole things are laser cutted in a local factory, near to Venice, and ship transported to the venue, and then installed on site. It’s a very impressive memory to me because as a Chinese architect, when I look at all these precisely controlled, highly industrialized making process, it feels fresh to me, but I’m sure, some big city in China, such as Beijing and Shanghai, will also have this kind of technology, it’s not hard to find. But, the issue is, China is too big. Even though we call it one country right? But we have different zones with different weather, different people, lifestyle, and also the construction capability. So some time is very tough for an architect, especially like us, because our projects are spreading out throughout the whole country, so we have to work in different locations. But, at the same time, I think it’s a good challenge and it’s kind of energy for an architect to create something unique based on the local condition.

▼董功在威尼斯双年展上的装置作品草图,Sketch of installation designed by Dong Gong in Venice

▼视频,直向建筑在威尼斯双年展,Video of installation designed by Vector Architects in Venice ©陈颢


In the project in the Fujian village, everything is literally made by hand, by human body. There’s not even a machine can approaching the house, because the alley is kind of narrow, so, the workers have to literally carry all the cement to the construction site. That’s how they transfer cement up to the third floor and pour the concrete. Half a year, is the entire process, including the lower two floors actually, it’s a really painful process. I believe in architecture has to based in the very unique condition and try to reveal certain energy behind it.

▼船长之家拱顶施工视频,Construction process of the vault of Captain’s House ©直向建筑


Captain’s House

点击这里查看更多,click HERE to view more)


▼黄昏外景,Evening View

The Captain’s House belongs to the south part of China. it’s actually located in the Peninsula, right on the very narrow neck of this piece of land. The whole village makes their living by fishing, it’s a pretty good profitable industry in that place, so whenever you go to that village, you see a full chain of different generations of people. So you still feel life behind this village. If you go somewhere in the middle of China, especially, in some of the villages there are not even young people, because the urbanization process drags all these manpower to the metropolitan area. So that’s part of the reason why I like this village very much. Though it seemed a little messy, there were many interesting spaces. The experience in this village was somehow like that in European towns, except for the building qualities. You can see different generations of the buildings and the generations how this entire place evolved.

▼鸟瞰,项目位于充满活力的村庄中,Aerial view of the project in a vibrant village

改造前的房子是一栋两层楼的建筑,常年经受海风和雨水的侵蚀,砖混结构单薄存在一定的安全隐患,海边潮湿易腐的气候条件也造成了室内大面积漏水。船长一家人希望在现有条件下加建第三层,以更好地适应他们目前的生活需求,  因为他们需要更多空间来招待每年暑假拜访的亲戚朋友。这对建筑师来说是一个挑战。尽管房子的状况很差,但当你看到这个场地时,就会发现它所处的地点非常独特:它矗立在悬崖上,面朝大海。老房子处在半岛最狭窄的位置,因此他们的住宅有机会在视觉上与两个方向的风景相连。一侧是面朝台湾的方向,因为每年夏天台风都会从那个方向来,所以没有船停在那里;另一侧是港口,船长的船就停在那边。我们开始设计过程的时候,这两片不同特征的海给了我们很多灵感。

The house before the renovation actually, two-story building with some very severe problem of water leaking and structure safety, because it’s along the seashore. The weather there is kind of very, very tough. So to make sure that building a better condition, the captain has another desire that they want to build the third floor to this current structure, because every year their friends and relatives coming to this place to take the summertime as vocations, so they need more space for people to accommodate. So that’s the challenge actually to the architect. Even though the building is in a bad quality, but when you see the location, it’s just a very unique, splendid architecture location, it’s right on the cliff, facing the ocean. I just explained that the location of the building is in the very narrows part of the peninsula, so in their home, there is opportunity visually can connect this both direction of the ocean together, and the one on the right is the direction to Taiwan. But because every year in the summer the hurricane will come from this direction, so there’s no boat actually parking there because of the risk. But on the other side is the port so the captain’s boat actually parks there. So there are two different characteristics of the ocean give us a lot of inspiration when we started the design process.

Original condition of the building before renovation

severe structural problems of the original building


Everything actually starts about the structure reinforcement, we actually had a series of comparison working together with the engineer, Xiao Congzhen, he’s one of my good friends. But eventually, we actually made a decision, the logic of this structure reinforcement is to add a layer of concrete attaching to the existing brick wall. This will give us two advantages, why is that can make this current structure stronger. And second of all, it can have the new load bearing capability for the new third floor. Because of this involvement of the new structure, we have a little freedom to change the layout a little bit because of this structure.

▼结构加固示意图,Diagram of the structure reinforcement


So basically, is the original layout, but what we did is we move some facility space, for example, the bathroom, from the place that, you know, blocking the light and air from the ocean side, but we move this kind of space to another location, because this wall is shared with a neighbor’s building, so we consider this particular location is not as valuable as this place. The first floor is basically a lobby dining room, and also the kitchen. One open kitchen together with a closed kitchen, the sliding door. That’s the window of the kitchen to the front yard. On the second floor,we did almost the same thing. Originally, there are two bathrooms, facing the ocean, but we actually relocated to the place along the back wall to open up the main facade to nature. The second floor is basically the living room and bedrooms for the family. There is a corner like a study room, which is actually the only location you can look up to the third-floor concrete vault. And the third floor, for them, it’s a multi-function floor. They actually did different kinds of things there, they do karaoke, and they actually have this running machine there. So it’s basically no specific function, and it could be shared by their friends and relatives in the summer vacation.

▼船长之家改造模型,Model photo of Captain’s House

First floor plan before and after renovation (left: before, right: after)

Second floor plan before and after renovation (left: before, right: after)


The shape of the newly added floor is the arch or it’s a vault. There are different reasons why we make this design decision. The very first important reason is that it’s a good shape to resist the water because no water can stay on top of this shape. So it’s kind of running very fast. That’s the first reason. The second reason is that I have a sketch later on. The vault inherently has a direction to both sides. So as I explained already, that because when you stand on that level, you can see both directions of the ocean. So the vault can actually make this feeling, the perception stronger. To let the people feel, you know, the location of the building, and it’s like an anchor from the architecture to nature. That’s the second reason. Well, obviously, because of the load-bearing concrete wall underneath, so it’s a natural structure shape to converge on the top, which can save a lot of column beam. So the vault itself is also a structural shape.

▼设计草图,Design sketches



As the wall is thicker than the regular buildings. So we actually played a thickness. Each window, we try to insert a small like space or small, you can call it like a furniture in between the interior space and outdoor space. So there’s, this is like an intermediate medium to be between the architecture space and nature, which kind of allows people to have some activity going on there.Steel rod actually extend inside the hole, because that will allow the new concrete to interlock with the old brick wall. So it’s kind of structured reinforcement. Concrete casting process is made by pieces of wood, and put together to the right dimension, and the shape.

We found this picture shows you traditionally how people make a boat after the whole building was constructed. Actually, the captain told us, we didn’t have this idea, when he walking into the building at the very first moment, he feels like in a floating boat.

▼造船场景与拱顶施工场景,Photo of ship building and vault construction scene

▼施工现场,Construction site


At the nighttime, it’s a little bit jumping out because the new contemporary technology can let us to a more transparent facade without, you know, be damaged by the hurricane. But you can see the neighbors’ houses obviously dark condition at night. But day time it’s kind of blending into the neighborhood, I guess, maybe it’s because of the color, the tone of the material. And also maybe, you know, the shape of this arch is kind of humbled, to be adapted to the environment.

▼建成后的建筑鸟瞰,白天与周边环境和谐,夜晚脱颖而出,Aerial view of the building, which merges into the environment during daytime and jumps out in the night


And the lower two floors are actually based on the original structure. But we still try to because we have to reinforce it by the new layer of concrete. But as you can see, we try to expose the texture of the original brick as much as we can. But on the third floor is a totally new structure. And to give a little bit difference between this new and old we actually leave a narrow gap in the middle which actually allows light to slide at the floor of the third-floor space. Their whole family’s actually religious people, they believe in Christian. So for me, this is almost like a family chapel for them, hopefully.

▼改造后的项目外观,立面更加通透,External view of the building after renovation with more transparency

▼三层拱顶与二层间设有一条狭缝,A narrow gap left between the vault and the second floor


You already can notice the ocean view is very different. In this side, it’s a very busy port. We just can see their father’s and their husband’s boat inside the port. But on the other side of the ocean, it’s just very peaceful. But in the summer because of the weather sometimes it’s kind of hard, it’s a very horrific scene. Actually, the floor of the mezzanine level also play as a structural component because this can hold the arch to avoid breaking apart, so structurally is actually a tension structure to hold the arch. On the other side there’s a beam, actually to support the glass brick at the top, at the same time is the structure member too. It’s kind of rough in terms of the quality of the concrete, as you can see, actually, we use this small wood slate formwork. It’s like a cave.

▼拱的两侧可以欣赏到截然不同的海景,Different views of the sea on each side of the vault

▼木纹混凝土墙面,形成洞穴般的空间,Wood-pattern concrete walls create a cave-like feeling


Seashore Library

点击这里查看更多,click HERE to view more)


The second project has already been three years after the construction. The nickname of this building is the loneliest library of China. That’s the name of the internet. Architecture wise, it’s just the exploration about the relationship between this man-made space and the nature of this vast ocean. And as well, the light condition, the changing quality, the perception of the space. When we built this project, actually, the reason it’s called the loneliest library is because there’s literally no building around this site. But if you go there right now, it’s already full of buildings. In the recent three years, there’s a lot of bets and drastic speed, this is the urbanization of China.

▼海边图书馆外观,External view of the library


Well, the story I’m going to talk about is right after the opening of this project. There’s a very popular Chinese online media post a very short clip on the internet and all of a sudden it becomes a touristy spot. So you can see here, the whole space, we only have 75 seats. But during that one month, originally, averagely, there is like 2000 or 3000 people going there, just taking pictures. And, you know, nobody’s actually reading there. And later on, the client applied an online reservation process. So right now, the condition is already much better. There are only 200 people maximum could allow going there if you reserve online, one week early.

▼图书馆内部空间,Interior space of the library


What I like is about I see the different status of different people using this space. Maybe that’s the students nearby. And you see the kids doing their homework there because it’s a public space for neighborhood actually. Family, elderly, kids, sleeping figures. We have some other construction site nearby, so you see some construction workers stopped by the space. Pretty girls, friends, and lovers. There are also some very famous people, the one in the corner is my idol actually. His name is Cui Jian, a hard rock star in China. And models and actress taking pictures there, advertising. That’s a guy from Japan Kenya Hara, he’s the very famous designer visiting the library. At some time they have some concerts or if they have some poetry sharing, things like this. This is also Beidao in the library. There are odd figures, some artists, so-called artists, and there’s a lot of public activities too, lectures, discussion panes or class, different kinds, And they even have this fashion show in front of the building, and they used the building as a changing room actually,  over here for the models. Concerts, of course, I talked about this. So it’s a kind of unique experience for me as an architect to see one of your design can have such a way to engage with the society and the public. But this project because it’s posted online two years ago, three years ago, it caused a lot of discussions and criticize in the whole society, not inside architecture. It’s actually exposed to the different kinds of people and there’s a lot of arguments. But for me, I just believe there must be something healing to some very mysteries energy of our current time to generate such kind of energy between the architecture and the society. But we can discuss this later. For me, it’s hard to clarify at this moment. It’s quite an experience actually.

▼图书馆内会举办不同活动,成为社区公共空间,Various activities in the library, which became a public space for the community


Alila Yangshuo 

点击这里查看更多,click HERE to view more)


The design of Alila Yangshuo project started even earlier than the library, but because this project is much more complicated so it takes a longer time. The project is also located in the very southern part of China, Guangxi province. Yang Shuo is, everybody knows that “Gui Lin Shan Shui Jia Tian Xia”, meaning that mountain water landscape in that is supposed to be the best scenery in China. So obviously, how to deal with this relationship with the landscape definitely became one of the very important design topics.

▼鸟瞰,项目周边风景壮丽,Aerial view of the project with breathe-taking scenery


The landscape, it is very unique, beautiful landscape, especially for people from the north area of China, this is very fresh because normally we see a much more gentle contour of the landscape, but this is almost like a vertical. And that’s the site here, the factory. That’s another very important factor and I’m going to talk about besides the natural landscape. The factory was a sugar mill, manufacturing sugars from the sugar cane actually. In the 1980s this Chairman Deng Xiaoping actually once visited the area, along the Lijiang, and he said we have to protect the Lijiang environment at whatever cost. So after this, all the factories were shut down after this, and this sugar mill was one of them. But very fortunately because the factory is not inside the middle area of the Yangshuo county, so it’s not demolished, it just stayed there for several years. When our client one day driven by the road and saw the structure and fell in love with the structure. So he decided to buy this piece of triangle land, together with the existing abandoned structure.

▼老建筑设计图纸,Construction document of original buildings


To have a better understanding of this current structure, we actually found out a whole site of the construction drawings document, done by Guilin design Institute. But very interesting, as you can see that, at that particular time, because of the ideological stage, in every construction drawing, you have to have a slogan on the top. The worker has to lead everything, We have to follow the chairman Mao closely, things like this. So, the whole factory was actually a very representative model of that time. And I was very lucky because I had the chance to have lunch together with this a number of people who were working in that factory many years ago. And when they talked about their memory about working in that factory, they still feel proud of it. Because at that time, if you have a family member working in this kind of state-owned facility, it’s kind of pride for the family. They talked a lot of old stories to me, actually. So I feel this factory is kind of a very deep emotional relationship to the local people. It’s our only piece of structure, physically.

▼董功的速写,Sketch of DONG Gong


Normally we started design on site, when we’ve visited the site, we use sketches to record the feeling, and then start thinking about how the new space intervene in the currently existing condition. It’s not really about recording the whatever I see, I already start thinking about, you know, some design issues at that moment on site. So there are two important factors I mentioned, one is dealing with the relationship with nature, obviously. And another one is how to deal with a relationship with an existing structure. We have believed that in the ultimate result, the existing structure it has, has to be the spiritual main factor of the whole compound of the hotel. So as we can see in the early sketches, we placed the new volume alongside this existing structure, you know, to make this whole compound to follow the certain order, and normally we will go through these comparisons at the beginning of the process to make sure that the design direction, is more or less accurate. Because this is a very kind of big project, the overall area is about 18 thousand square meters. So we’ll have to make sure that the decision we made, we have to have a device to believe that we make the right decision.

▼设计草图,Design sketches


Because of the verticality of nature we ultimately we try to do a very simple horizontal building to somehow in balance with this with the characteristic of nature. And again, the existing structures in the middle and the new additions are on both sides. On the right side is actually the typical room volume, they have 102 typical rooms inside the space. And another side is the villa, garden Villa, much smaller volume and the current structure was transformed into a series of public programs of the hotel, for example, the restaurant, the coffee bar, and gift shop, things like this. In the very beginning, actually, we do a flat roof building. But later on, this was criticized by local government, because we have to make sure that all the new buildings have to be pitched roof in the area. But actually, I like it. So somehow, I don’t know some compromise through the design process may not be a bad thing.


▼总平面图,以老建筑为核心的建筑布局,Site plan, the original building was the core of the layout design


Of course, there’s another reason is that we want to make this new volume as simple as possible, not fighting with the old structure. So we try to keep this volume simple. And all this spatial design is actually cutting in carving in. So we actually create a continuous walkway throughout the new building. So it’s a linear walkway connecting three node space as a public terrace of hotel. In the center is the old structure, and we actually take advantage of the fire extinguisher water to make a reflective pound in the middle, in the center of the whole compound. The sunken road is actually a ramp so you can go one side cross the pond that to another slide. By changing the height you change the eye level and the relationship from your eye and the water is different. This old structure really looks like a castle, has some very mysterious spiritual quality. And this is the gate of the compound and that’s the front desk. So when you check in, you can go either through this corner to the new building to the site, or you walk across this pond to another side of the villa part. Faster corridor space, you see the light filtered by this concrete block. When you go into each of the guests room you will across this kind of bridge like space, which has a narrow atrium go all the way up to have a natural light on the top. We also kept a truss originally carry the sugar cane from the Lijiang River to the factory.

▼项目鸟瞰,Aerial view of the project

▼穿过水池中间的坡道,步移景异,Walk through the ramp in the middle of the pond with changing sceneries

▼泳池,保留老糖厂的工业桁架,Swimming pool with truss of the original factory remained

▼溶洞空间,Cave Space

▼从别墅看向老建筑群落,The existing building complex view from the Villa


Normally, we think about this construction detail at the very beginning of the design process. I talked about you know, this building has to find out the proper relationship with the existing structure, we actually spend a lot of time on this the building facade. We chose the concrete block as the main material because we want to keep the logic of this stacking masonry structure. The original structure was made by brick so but we don’t want to simply copy the brick to the new building, we’re still trying to find some contemporary quality of the material. So we spent a lot of time in the design process to study the material.

▼镂空砖组成的半透明立面与老建筑的青砖相呼应,Translucent facade composed of concrete blocks, corresponding with the black bricks of the local buildings

▼半透明混凝土砌块立面近景,Closer view of the translucent facade made of concrete blocks


The whole project actually took us about five years and tries to find the right collaborator to make this concrete block we spent one year actually, because of the issue of the price and also the issue of techniques. But eventually, actually we failed to find the right collaborator. So the client decided to make all these concrete block by themselves, they open up a small factory right across the site.

▼施工过程,工人发明脱模机器,workers invented a kind of machine to pull the concrete block out of the mode during construction


The whole concrete block is actually a cast in the plastic mold. And then they invented a kind of machine to pull the concrete block out of the mode. They put a steel rod inside the mode to reinforce the cement. They have to put this plate of steel at the bottom of the mode. So later on the machine can push this steel plate to push the whole block off the mold. And they started the stacking process.  As you know that this kind of the masonry wall, not only the gravity they have to think about. Together is about the lateral force resistance. So literally in each of the block, we have a steel bar hidden inside. Technically, this bar will connect to floors, the floor below and floor above. But think about it. If they weld this bar all the way up in the very first hand, you’re not able to stack the block. So they have to start that one-meter height. And when they finish this part, they weld another piece of bar connect to this current bar. So this just makes piece by piece. And then there’s the detail of this masonry wall. There’s one layer of concrete block and there there’s another layer of local stone, actually. It’s just layer by layer. And the local stone will have a piece of hole in the middle to reinforce that natural force. But for the concrete block, remember that wood stick is the half circle so when you put two bars together there will be a circle to allow the bar to penetrate and hidden inside. So that’s a stone and that’s the concrete block so later on, eventually, you won’t see the steel bars. That’s all hidden. That’s a reason why this building is actually 110 meters long, but you don’t see the reinforced column for the facade. It is a continuous block, translucent facade because of the steel bar hidden behind. But the trick is the last piece because ultimately this steel bar has to connect to the structure above. Then how you actually stack the last piece, it’s very difficult, need some wisdom. And the answer is actually provided by the local workers too. They’re very smart. The way they do it is they leave a room to put another additional local stone like this, and then they weld the bar, and then they push the stone up and then slide the concrete block inside. So the whole building, at the very edge of these upper floors, it’s all made this kind of process. We actually had a lot of struggle to figure out these details. It cost us two weeks without any answers, but the local workers actually provided that for us. We have to try to avoid too many construction joints, so normally we suggest a big size of the formwork as a continuous texture. In each of the public terrace, we actually designed this bamboo installation, and later on, the ivy will climb up. We don’t have a landscape designer for this project. Ju Bing and I were landscape designers.

▼砌块与结构相连处处理方法,construction method of how to connect the steel bar to the upper structure at the last piece of block


The very next day of its first opening, the whole Yangshuo County was flooded. It was claimed to be the biggest one of the recent 50 years. So it’s very unfortunate, and the whole hotel was shut down because the basement is flooded. They have to change all the mechanical systems and machines. So the second opening was the end of the October last year, actually. They’re doing well now.

▼码头上的工业桁架,industrial truss at the wharf

▼泳池及码头,swimming pool and the wharf


I believe in that every site, before the architecture was, there’s already certain energy, and what architecture can do is to use device and intervention of the space to review that, and transform something this kind of stuff, to something that’s perceivable for the human being. I think that’s the power of the space. So as you can see in this picture, you can imagine that the water is flowing. Without this piece of stone putting there, you probably won’t be able to notice it. As long as the stone is there, you see the ripples actually around it, so you start to feel the waters flowing. I think architecture for me, has a similar power of this piece of stone, to reveal the energy of the site.

▼演讲现场,lecture venue

More: 直向建筑, Vector Architects on gooood




问答环节 | Q&A


























Question 1

Wang Weiren: I have two questions but you don’t have to answer. First is, you have so many good projects in the South, why don’t you just move from Beijing to the South? Secondly, what is exactly the relationship between you and the daughter of the captain? (ha)

Dong Gong: That project was not a regular case like clients commission architect to design for them. It’s a TV program called “Meng Xiang Gai Zao Jia”, meaning dreaming House Renovation, something like that. And the system is that every year there’s a lot of applicants coming from all around the country apply to the TV station, which is “Dong Fang Wei Shi”, a Shanghai TV station, and they select whatever they feel potential one, and then they will select architect too. Before, most designers they work with are interior designers, because it’s usually about interior space renovation. But this time it’s a building renovation. As I know Meng Yan was in this year’s TV series. So it’s becoming more and more influential. And so, what I’m trying to say, is that it doesn’t mean the captain like me, because it’s really actually connected by the TV station. At the very first moment, Captain walking to the finished space, especially in the third floor, I see his facial expression, is kind of not, because obviously he doesn’t feel quite relevant or engaged with this concrete finished. And he asked me, is this finished? There’s no other cover, you know, in front of it. And I said, yes, it’s finished. But his daughter likes it. But through the recent one or two years after construction, I feel the whole family start liking the space, I’m talking about the captain and his wife, because there’s a lot of visitors and their friends and relatives, give them a lot of confidence. And I feel they live comfortably in the space. So the daughter helped me to convince the father not change the design after the construction.


Question 2

Student A: You seem so wonderfully engaged with your projects. It’s really rare to see because, you know, usually the client standing there, and then like a workman will say oh it’s so troublesome. And this takes a long time and so forth. But, you know, you seem like infinite patience. During the process, I’m sure, it’s not really easy for you, you have to be patient with the workman’s and convince the client and be there a lot yourself. And you don’t really live there. It’s just really refreshing for me to see.

Dong Gong: It’s kind of very exhausting process, actually, more and more, I feel that I have a kind of different conditions comparing where I was five years ago, maybe because of the age, and I’m losing the patience actually. I just said forget about it, Just try to find some other architect. I’m just trying to say that if you want to build something decent things in China it still takes a lot of extra effort comparing, because I was working in the States, I know how the system run there. So it’s very different. But that’s the condition you have to face. At some certain condition, this kind of chaotic sort of status, you can find some energy behind that. This kind of lack of clarity, means that you can play with it. As long as the client was convinced, you can change everything. It’s different system. I think it much easier process as long as you can convince the client.


Question 3

Student B: I just got one question to ask, like a project, the seashore library. Do you feel like the project actually makes it lost its real function under the spotlight of the social media? Yeah, because the usage of social media is reshaping people’s behavior nowadays, and how do you see this phenomenon as they affect?

Dong Gong: I thought about this, actually. A lot of people asked me, this is no longer a library.  But for me, in the very first moment, this was not a library. It is called library, so called library, but it’s just like a public space inside the neighborhood. And the client is actually trying to build a series of this kind of public space inside the compound. Try to sort of stimulating you know, a kind of lifestyle between this neighbors, so it’s not a struggle for me. I think it’s really about me the misinterpretation in the very beginning, because it’s a library so you have to be quiet, to be silent, and then people have to read, but this one is kind of fuzzy, in terms of the definition. I’m okay with it actually. But I really took a lot of pressure after this internet posting. I received a lot of criticizing, which I’ve never experienced that before. But for me, it’s a valuable memory as an architect, but through that half a year, you know, CCTV just talked about this project for five times, and there are some newspaper wrote very tough comments on this commercialize advertisement and library…This kind of very, you know, I think that represents some something for our time in China, but I can’t really explain what it is. It’s not really about the right or wrong, it just like a phenomenon that we have to consider it.


Question 4

Student C: I see a very good workmanship in the Alila Yangshuo project. They can do all these effectively, they can even figure out how to building I mean, this kind of construction could not take place everywhere. My question is actually about the outdoor space. Is there any problem with weather issues, I mean the climate there?

Dong Gong: It’s warm and it’s rainy actually.  Well, the air went through pretty easily. If you go into the local building and you always see the exterior corridor and balcony. It’s a very typical local way of dealing with the circulation. In comparing with northern areas, where we have this always covered part by the glass or by walls. So this is not a problem for locals, as long as it can resist the rain. This space is not air-conditioned at all. So it’s really about you walk outside for a little bit longer distance and for this vacation hotel, it’s okay. It’s not like a business five star hotel. But your question actually reminds me, very important issue I was mentioned at the beginning of the presentation, is about the different unique conditions of China. Because, for me, I cannot imagine this masonry technique can happen in Beijing. That will cost you a fortune, because of the labors. But the local it’s okay, because the labor is cheap. And it’s also really about the determination of the client. They insisted to, you know, to push this process forward to achieve a certain quality.


Question 5

Student D: The three that you showed up tonight are located in the countryside or even rural area. And that reminds me of another really hot topic right now in China, which is the countryside construction like Xiang Jian. Just talk about architecture, it seems a lot of people choose to do or pretend to know vernacular construction, tend to be vernacular, choose so-called local materials. Your projects I can see it’s a little different, you use some new materials, or at least not pretending to be, which doesn’t seem very local. You mentioned the building should be rooted in the site, should come from the local, but then, for example, the first example that you show is a very difficult construction with concrete, would it be also a bit foreign, in a sense? I just want to hear your opinion on how to balance these two sides?

Dong Gong: I agree with you that I’m not trying to pretend to be local. Or more accurately, look local. So I don’t think merely the building appearance is that important. I think for architecture to relate to the specific condition, there is really a different aspect to be adaptive to the environment. Material appearance is only one part of it, and also, for example, the perception and the atmosphere. So I don’t believe in only using appearance to be a judgment, and what I’m doing, I don’t believe it’s a vernacular architecture. I still believe in the contemporary quality, including technical part aesthetic, whatever, to somehow have a chemical reaction to the local. I always address local conditions, you know, it’s very kind of specific conditions. So I hope I answered your question.


Question 6

Student E: I think all of your projects are very site-relevant, like you are inspired by the context.  I just have a question as, if method is the energy that’s given by the site, and to use architecture to express it, what happens when you design in a dense city, when, you know, when there isn’t much landscape, as beautiful as Guilin, what if you’re going to the site in Hong Kong. It’s like very dense.

Dong Gong: I think that’s a very good question. And I like to explain a little bit about why in the first 10 years of our practice, there is a lot of this kind of projects in the rural area, in this landscape, you know, surrounded by the beautiful landscape. It’s because we don’t have a chance to work for an important project in the city. In China, we have two kinds of design firm. One is we call this like a state-owned big design Institute. Another is like us, this independent architect. For us, we have to be able to accumulate whatever or experience and our fame to a certain level, to be allowed to do something important in the city or in the urban area, which we are doing a couple of projects now, which will be finished probably in a couple of years. But in the beginning, it’s really about this countryside or suburban project. But when I talk about this energy of the site, it’s not necessarily only means that the landscape. The energy could be, for example, the lifestyle of people, or even this kind of whatever, this open space in the urban area. So that’s the energy I was talking about. But probably the three projects I show today are really about the natural landscape. So you have this question. So maybe after a couple of years, you will see more of our projects, urban projects coming out. I think architecture design is really a kind of method, you have logic in mind, but the architect has to be able to react in different conditions, including urban or natural. It is not about there’s only one building type you can do. It’s really about this idea-generating process to interact with the different projects different conditions.


本文整理自2018年11月8日晚18:30在香港大学建筑系举办的主题为“MAKING ARCHITECTURE”讲座,文字部分由徐之非整理、翻译,尚京京校对。本文相关图片信息由直向建筑、香港大学建筑系提供,项目摄影:陈颢,苏圣亮,夏至,何斌。 

More: 直向建筑, Vector Architects on gooood

Post a Comment