A bosom friend afar brings distant land near. The Oversea album shares the lives of Chinese living abroad with all. The No.72 episode is about Gandong Cai, who graduated from Harvard Graduate School of Design and is now working for SASAKI Associate.
Why going abroad?
At the very beginning I decided to go to Hong Kong because my favorite singer works there. After knowing the landscape education in Hong Kong (and Singapore too), I realized I need to do something different. It resulted in the application of Graduate School of Design in Harvard.
What impressed you the most when you are abroad?
I received alert messages from the government in my phone every few month about shootings around the area. For freshman in the US nothing was more impressive than this. In my first year there was an alert about potential bomb attack happened in the campus. Police came and students were encouraged to leave buildings. To my surprise, GSD students never care about that. For us the bomb attack was way less important than the works we were doing!
What do you miss the most about China?
Parents. This year they came to the US to attend my graduation ceremony. It was my mom’s first time oversea travelling. I felt proud to give her a unique experience of attending such a meaningful event abroad. I also miss my cat, but he just passed away two months ago.
Will you come back China? Why?
It’s hard to make a decision at this moment, and it’s also hard to compare the two places, China and the US, in terms of life styles and career. Something small might has great influence to your choice. Thus, I don’t want to push myself too hard to consider this issue.
Is it more distinct to view China in a different environment after going abroad? Any thought?
I never thought of a topic as big as how I see my country. When you are abroad you don’t necessarily have a clearer vision of the place you come from, but at least you are like wearing a pair of colored glasses when you look back. Compare to country, I would say I have a better understanding of people. I knew a lot of new friend in Harvard, whose life experiences were so fantastic and legendary that I started to think about the country I came from might be the best place in the world.
What makes the curriculum of your school different from other architecture schools?
我经常跟朋友打趣说，GSD是个披着血汗车间外衣的名利场，从老师到学生都各取所需，按时出席，准点离场。因此GSD不特别适合哪一类人，它适合所有人来读。很多人会把GSD风格挂在嘴边，但我在GSD两年从来没觉得自己做出过GSD风格的图，倒是绞尽脑汁利用GSD自由进出的风气尝试做自己。举个例子，第一个学期的表现课（representation）要做动画，主题不限但要跟景观有关联。痴迷日本动画的我上课第一天就想能不能借这个机会做一个自己喜欢的小动画。我定下来的研究主题是“用动画（animation as representation tool）来揭示动画（animation as animated story）里被隐藏的景观空间”。第一次我选了《龙猫》。我用了课上学到的动画表达技巧把《龙猫》里的地形空间，植被分布，雨水等粗略的分析了一遍，作为一次过程作业交上去了，意外的还被老师挑出来作为课堂展示作品的其中一个。GSD就是这样一个允许你做任何尝试，只要你自信能做出对得起自己的作品就行的地方。
I always describe Gund Hall as a social place in the camouflage of an all-day-producing factory: people come here for certain purposes, know people they need to know, and then leave the building with their goal achieved. So for me GSD is not for any specific group of people, but for everyone with your mind clear. For example, in the representation course I took during the first semester, we are supposed to make animation with landscape-related topic. My topic was “use animation as representation tool to disclose the landscape space in animation as animated story.” I used methods like landform, vegetation and rainstorm analysis to re-animate the scenes in the Japanese animation My Neighbor Totoro. Quite unusual topic I picked though, the work was selected as one of the demonstration for the whole class. GSD is such a place that allows you to try what you want, as long as you are confident with your works.
What are the characteristics and interesting points of your firm?
SASAKI encourages discussion. We have meetings every two to three days to check process and share ideas, which is quite different from school desk critic. SASAKI is an international work place. People are from different parts of the world and you can easily hear different language every day. This multi-cultural atmosphere is even more obvious than in GSD. The interesting thing for me is that I used to study and work in China before I came to the US, and now I am working on Chinese project as a foreign firm designer.
Who is your favorite artist (in wider range such as art, music, movie)? What is the influence?
My list of favorite artists is consisted of people in the fields of animation and pop music. Akiyuki Shinbo is my top one favorite animator. He directed the animation Monogatari Series based on the fiction written by Nisio Isin, which became one of the most influential animation in the past decade. The way he let texts overwhelmed in the animation, with the sensitive topics he reached through the design of characters, motions, and the selection of music, made the animation ironic yet successful in business world. Khalil Fong is my favorite pop music artist. I have watched one of his concert video for more than twenty times, just to feel the atmosphere of a concert that not decorated by shining costumes and lighting effects, but filled with the pure sound of his voice and guitar. As an amateur singer and guitar player, that’s the perfect show I can imagine, and I am looking forward to have such moment happen in my life. I don’t think my love of these arts and artists have any obvious influence in my design work. In opposite I would rather say that I love this profession because it gives me ways and skills to develop my hobbies, like the representation course I mentioned above.
What fascinates viewers the most in your portfolio in your opinion?
我的作品集最迷人的特质是固执。申请留学的作品集是思考了将近一年，捣鼓了起码三个月，所有图都重新制作的作品集。里面没有一张渲染过的图，也没有参数化，大数据，更没有实体模型，都是用最直白的分析图来说故事。GSD毕业申请工作的作品集则是一本自己用laser cut制作封面，自己裁纸装订的“一页到底”的手工作品集。这些作品集从酝酿到成品都没有找过老师或各路大神指点，评价，修改。并非自大如此，而是我从小就有一个一手包办作曲作词编曲乐器主唱顺便把MV拍了的心愿。如此固执的作者就有如此固执的作品。（但最新作品集book binding的环节，是从女票那里得到的知识，她目前正在RISD一边读景观一边学习插画、珠宝等，也正在努力走歪当中。）
My portfolio is quite stubborn. I call it stubborn because I always choose a harder way to do it without asking for help, which resulted in longer time of producing, “immature” style, and unbalance contents. The portfolio I used for graduate school application was one that I spent a year for the concept, and another three month to produce, with all drawing re-made. The one I finished a few months ago for applying jobs here is a hand-made portfolio. The whole process of cover making, printing and binding was finished by myself only. I want to give special thank to my girlfriend who took courses of booking making during that time and gave me lots of suggestion for the binding style.
When did you start to follow gooood? Any suggestions?
I have been paying attention to gooood for years, probably since my third year in college. I specially watch the oversea album for knowing talented Chinese students and designers study and world all around the world. I hope one day gooood would be the first place I consider when I want to check out some great things in the design field. I think that’s my best wish to gooood.
W O R K
Gandong Cai, September 2016
GSD studio work
Advisors: Eelco Hooftman, Bridget Baines
这是一个从不缺兴奋点的studio。第一天选课时Eelco穿了一件桃子花纹的衬衣来演讲，我果断的就选了他的studio。当天下午开会决定第二天就去field trip，内容是在波士顿出海看岛！整个课程每个学生做的东西完全独立且各不相关。我的思路建立在两个方向上：1.通过研究富勒的地图，提出陆地/海洋图底关系颠倒的可能，绘制出海洋位于中心被大陆包围的新地图，从而确立“海洋即是岛”的命题。海洋中心地图也成为后续大量mapping工作的底图贯穿整个studio。2.同样是从富勒地图出发，通过分析地图产生偏见的不可避免性（一是无论哪种地图投射技术都会产生视觉形变，二是地图几乎都是政治产物，不同地图的构图中心，边界划分都是带有强烈政治倾向的），提出放弃用视觉而用听觉感知地球，并通过收集来自世界各地的声波绘制听觉地图（sound map），确定另一个主题：声音。
This was a studio full of excitement. Every student has their separated topics that never overlap with others’, but match the topic of the Possibility of Island. My idea was constructed on two ways: 1.Base on the study of Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Map, I put forward the issue of upside-down the “figure/ground” relationship between land and sea, and established the argument of “sea=island” after I drawing a new map with oceans in the center. The new ocean-center map became the base of the following mapping study; 2.I discussed the inevitable prejudice occurred in the mapping process, which was result of distortion of projections and the political inclinations, and suggested that we should use ear instead of eye to perceive the world. Then I draw a sound map in compare to visual map, and decided my second theme which is sound.
My study included the introduction of Sonar Technology into the action of protecting marine animals from the threat of be trapped during the ocean garbage collection; the re-evaluation of Sound Mirrors as new landscape, which were utilized before the invention of Radar by military during World War I for detecting enemies; and the renovation of an abandoned military tower on the Thames Estuary that had been occupied by illegal broadcaster as radio center, and transformed this infrastructure into a sound tracks lab with multi-scalar sounds broadcasting in different floors.
Maunsell Forts是一处军事塔楼群。在开始构思改造设计的时候我联想到了同样位于英国，由盖迪斯设计的Outlook Tower。这是一个六层塔楼，盖迪斯在一层放置了世界地图，二层则是欧洲地图……越往上登塔者将会看到更小尺度的世界，直到顶层天台的能俯瞰爱丁堡的观景台。正如颠覆视觉地图创造声音地图，我尝试把塔楼想象成一处声场试验馆，设置海面上三层海面以下两层的展馆，从顶层到底层分别播放塔楼尺度–泰晤士河口尺度–英吉利海峡尺度–海洋旋涡尺度–以及地球尺度的声音，而这些声音的声源都来自于我前期的研究成果。
Maunsell Forts is a series of military towers. It reminded me of the Outlook Tower, which is a six floors tower in Edinburgh designed by Patrick Geddes. Geddes put a world map on the first floor and a Europe map on the second…… on the top floor there is no map but an outlook platform for visitors to enjoy the view of the city. Such as how I inverted the idea of visual map with sound map, I tried to bring the experience of the Outlook Tower in the Maunsell Fort, and made it into a five floors sound tracks lab with three floors on top of water and two below: from the top to the bottom floor, visitors can experience the sound of multiple scales, from Thames Estuary to the English Strait, to the Ocean Gyres, and to the world.
通过这样的设置，我想用隐喻的手法模拟一场从视觉到听觉缓慢切换的“失明者”体验之旅：从顶层观光塔到底层暗空间，能看见的越来越少，能听见的则越来越“远”。把Outlook Tower和 Maunsell Forts并置起来，得到的是指向天空的“向上”攀登和指向海底的“向下”探索的行为模式对比，是扩大视域的控制欲与延展听觉的好奇心的情感模式对比。
By doing this I tried to metaphorically replicate a journey of “becoming blind”: as you walk down stair what you can perceive with your eyes becomes less, but instead you can hear “further”. The juxtaposition of the Outlook Tower and the Maunsell Forts generated a series of dramatic comparisons: between the action modes of “climbs up” toward the sky and “dives down” into the ocean bottom, and between the emotion of fulfilling the desire for control by expanding eyesight and the curiosity reinforced by expanding hearing.
THE ECOLOGY OF POWER
Gandong Cai, January 2016
GSD studio work
Advisors: Pierre Belanger, Robert Pietrusko
Collaboration work of 12 people
This was a studio treated political power as the issue of ecology, and juxtaposed military and power with environmental topic in the scale of territories. If I am asked to recommend one studio that can represent the landscape professional education in the building, I will definitely choose this one.
几十号人的一个班被分成若干个大组，每个组研究一个美国军事基地，每个小组内又分成三到四人的小组专门针对一个话题进行更细致的研究，最后所有成果以多样的形式展示，把期末评图办成一场大型展览，这就是这个studio的玩法。我所在的大组研究的是位于加州Lompoc的范登堡空军基地。这里原来是土著Chumash的居住地，西班牙殖民者，墨西哥军队，以及后来的美军的到来让他们失去了家园；而Lompoc这座小城镇所处的地区长年缺水，地下水位每年下降，该地区全美产量第一的草莓竟是罪魁祸首；西班牙人带来的牛曾一度在这片土地上繁盛，而如今却成为了这里生态危机的重要关系者，并影响到了美军基地……这些像悬疑剧的情节就是这个studio我主要研究的内容，也回应了The ecology of power的主题：生态学是关于关系的学科，而社会、政治、军事、经济的力量从来都存在于关系之中。
Students were separated into groups to study different US military bases, and every group were required to demonstrate their works in an exhibition way during the final presentation. I was allocated to the group studies VAFB — the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Used to be the home of Chumash, this piece of land was colonized and occupied by the Spanish, the Mexican and the US army chronologically. The falling down of underground water level, the prosperous fruit industry, the cows brought by the Spanish centuries ago, all together made it a complex ecological crisis on the territory. To study the relationship of these powers and to project new scenario for the region by design approaches became the main goal of this studio.
There were two parts of the works: narration and intervention. I made several collage pictures as my narrative storyboard to reveal the paradoxical relationship between those stakeholders, and designed intervention infrastructure such as check dam and seeding machine to improve the ecological process of the territory.
最后的展览在Pierre“Exhibition as Design”的概念下，每个大组自主布置展区，把策展本身理解成本次设计的一部分，使出浑身解数让一场历时多月，以军事基地为契机开展的全球生态讨论，投射到GSD的阶梯课室Piper里。
In the concept of “Exhibition as Design”, we projected the months-long discussions of global scale issues in the framework of military bases, to the comparatively tiny space of Piper Auditorium, for allowing a further communication of the ecology of power.
BOSTON 3.0: Sequestropolis 2060
Gandong Cai, January 2017
GSD studio work
Advisor: Martha Schwartz
In the last semester I entered Martha Schwartz’s studio which focused on shifting the global warming trend by rethinking the process of sequestration. Though important the topic was, only seven students selected this studio. The first part of the studio was about study and research on literatures, reports and data. Martha invited specialists from lots of domains to give lectures to us, included ecologists, scientists and managers of Harvard Forest, except designers. It forced us to give up the usual work flow but concentrated on work out together a series of research papers about the topics.
After the research and writing section, we started to think about the issue of design. We used the Greater Boston Region as site, and set the time to 2060. The logic of Sequestropolis was simple but full of idealism: in 2060 we will get rid of private vehicles but use self-driving cars as share transportation tool. In the benefit of accurate drive and share cars, we don’t need wide roads and large area of parking spaces. Instead, those spaces could be transformed into “sequestrate zones”, by planting trees that are well-performing in terms of sequestration and can live well in the city in 2060.
This studio also forced to shift the current status of Landscape Architecture as a profession being excluded from the decision making group. We wanted to quantify the influence of landscape to the city by including the data of total increase area of sequestrate zones, the numbers of trees we are going to plant, and even the quantity of CO2 we can capture by planting those trees. By showing people number, landscape designer acquire the power as architects and engineers have.
For the final site design, I chose the greenway park on the top of the Big Dig, and imagined it to be the new waterfront of Boston in 2060, based on the estimation of sea level rise. According to the data, the harbor area of the city will be entirely inundated under water in the next 50 years, and the greenway park will become the new waterfront. Thus, the park need to be transformed into a vital landscape infrastructure to project the city and people, and also serve as the new harbor to keep the logistic industry of the city.
Gandong Cai, September 2015
GSD studio work
Advisor: Chris Reed, David Mah
Teammate: Jenny Liu
This studio could be described as a series of workshops. In each workshop we explored a dual task of technology study and landscape-related topic discussion, and produced a prototype. For example, we examined the possibility of using parametric modeling to test out the best landform in terms of water ecology, and manipulated FAR to control the density of a single urban block.
After the study of prototype, the studio entered the step of site design. The site was a complex piece of land occupied by highway, subway lines, residential zones and university. In the future a new Harvard campus will be moved into the site. It generated a set of interesting paradoxical pairs: the future residents and the local dwellers separated by the subway trails; the old Boston University and the new campus of Harvard, and so on. To deal with these relationships, my teammate and I proposed a superimposition method for the site: to build a Mega-infrastructure as a bridge to connect all these issues and solve the problems.
I decide to introduce the first studio project in GSD in the end of the interview because I consider this studio as the typical one as a GSD studio. The fast pace of work and discussion, the emphasis of modeling and technologies, and the high standard of presentation and demonstration, are typically representing the education here in GSD. As a collaborate studio, I need to give my big thank to Jenny Liu, my teammate, who was energetic and positive all the time. After “warming up” myself through the exploration of this studio, I have the chance to try more different courses and design studios through my two years study, and make my time in GSD fulfilling.
When: 2015 to present
Where: Boston, US
From: Guangzhou, Guangdong
School & Firm: Harvard Graduate School of Design / SASAKI Associate.