A bosom friend afar brings distant land near. The Oversea album shares the lives of Chinese living abroad with all. The No.100 episode is about Sizhi Qin who graduated from Tsinghua University and Harvard Graduate School of Design.
Why go abroad?
Maybe because of a love for new discoveries. After searching through one place, I will have to move on to the next. If it is possible in the future, I will try to go out of our current planet to take a look.
Who is your favorite artist (in a wider range such as art, music, movie)? What is the influence?
I should say it is the Hobbits and the Lord of the Rings filmed by Peter Jackson and his team.
First of all, the core idea of Tolkein’s original book is a story encouraging people to have their own adventures. I could still clearly remember the dialogue when Gandalf tries to encourage Biblo to take on the adventure seeking the treasures guarded by the Dragon.
“The world is not in your books and maps, it is out there. You will have a tale or two to tell of your own when you come back.”
“Can you promise that I will come back?”
“No. And if you do, you will not be the same.”
Secondly, what makes me amazed and envious about is that the key creative team of the movies, including the scene designer Alan Lee and the composer Howard Shore, all have grown up reading Tolkein’s books. Guided by a fictional picture of Middle-Earth, such talented people with extensive experiences in their own fields worked together to figure out all the details from landscape to architecture, costume, music, weapons and even formations and combating skills. They have created a world of fantasy and yet make it truly convincing. Later I learned that Tolkein was deeply influenced by Wagnar and his Ring of the Nibelung. Meanwhile, Wagnar’s ultimate goal of creation is a work about world views, which he called a “Total Work of Art”. To me, this set up a standard of good work of creation even before I received modern architecture education.
How to figure out all the aspects of a non-existing world? The analysis and study of my favorite work has greatly influenced the way I create. Take my hand-drew collage of scene designs from the Hobbits as an example, the designer probably conjectures their army have the Roman legion style helmet from the machanical social organization of the Erebor dwarves, and then speculates the major profession as miners would shape those dwarves’ aesthetics to adore the hammered metal decorations, the imitation of mineral veins, and the worship of the vast volume of the mountain cliffs.
Which teacher influenced you the most?
I basically try to learn from everyone I encounter. Maybe here I can just talk about those teachers who inspired my thinking on the “right” and “wrong” in architecture.
First, it should be Prof. Terrence Curry. Aside from being an architect and an educator, Prof. Curry is also a carpenter and a Jesuit priest who holds masters of theology and divinity. From his teachings and works, I started to understand there is one other dimension of being “true”, above “strength, utility and beauty”. Based on this, I began to understand why I would have strong resonance with the works of F.L.Wright and Louis Kahn.
And Prof. Zhang Li (click here to check the interview with Zhang Li), famous for his words: “you make your clients’ eyes brighten up, or you make their eyes darken down”. There is no tolerance for just Ok projects. He taught me to be hypocritical about how design concepts should be translated into forms. I remember in one class of his museum design studio, he spoke highly of my conceptual design; on the next, when seeing me adding fancy but unnecessary details, criticized that my design is “bad”. That was the first time I learned a design could be “bad” even though it looks good.
At last, Prof. Eelco Hooftman in GSD. He is a landscape architect of romanticism and helped me initiate my reflection into the systematic way of design thinking I was used to. From his studio I started to feel free to embrace and even express the unexpected and uncertainty in design.
In many cases, I am found spending much more time than “necessary” on a design project. I just feel based on the principles I learned about and thought through with these professors and many others, I can judge how far the design is away from what it wants to be, and my job as an architect is to keep trying until I find it.
What fascinates viewers the most in your portfolio in your opinion?
The very beginning years of architecture education made me very confused. I just could not pretend to be fascinated with those “famous” architects’ work that we were supposed to be fascinated with. Later I was lucky to get a chance to travel all over Europe for half a year. From Sweden to Italy, from France to Greece, I took the train and travelled wherever the next stop could be. In one week, I was appreciating the rational proportions in front of the Patenon, in the next week, I would have my jaw dropped shocked by the reckless expression of Antoni Gaudi under the domes of Sagrada Familia. Then I realized architecture is just a tool of expression under the conditions of a certain time. Creation, by its purpose or its methods, should be a personal thing. The rules made by others are only conclusions for what have been created. We should just do what we believe to be right.
Later I continued my journey to India, Japan, Turkey, Mexico and everywhere. My focus on one hand are the museums, theaters and religious spaces which reflect the spiritual world of a local culture; one the other are the original landscapes where that culture was born. I used to play video games such as Heroes of Might and Magic and Age of Empires, the “birthplace” of civilizations are random in these games. And later when I travelled to these actual places, I could not help to notice the relationship between the natural environment of those “birthplaces” and the whole set of world views civilization later developed.
To take some simple examples: if the “birthplace” is in the midst of a desert, facing numerous bright stars, people tend to believe the world is dominated by one single power; but if the “birthplace” is in the midst of hilly landscape, people will perhaps believe each mountain has its own god; while if the “birthplace” is fertile and prosperous, animism tends to be widely accepted.
This special interest later became an important clue of my design exploration. When our world has long been transformed into a rational society with nothing more than GPA, GDP, KPI and IRR left, I want my design to awaken the primitive feelings towards all things in nature, just like what our ancestors did at their “birthplace”. In Max Weber’s words, to “re-enchant” the “dis-enchated” world. And in plain words, let the world have some magic so that we can keep our curiosity about it.
A Heavenly Theater
Instructor：Maoyan Xu, Xiaoxi Cheng, Mengzhen Han, Hui Wang
Team：Zhimin Zhang, Longji Liu
This is my graduation design in Tsinghua. We are supposed to do some research about renovation jobs and plug in some performance space to restore the Tianqiao area to its former prosperity. I was tired of such topics and proposed to focus our work on the pure theoretical level to discuss how the modern performance space could re-interpret the ancient spiritual meaning of “heaven” in Chinese tradition, as our site was just parallel to the Temple of Heaven.
Chinese ancient worship of the sky has symbolic meaning related to the legitimacy of ruling. And that was the purpose of the Temple of Heaven. What could the sky mean to modern people? Inspired by the photography work of Hiroshi Sugimoto, our design created a pair of “Sky Walks” that are raised to submerge people into a clean view of the sky and its reflection. We believed the modern meaning of the sky is personal. It is about the “awayness” from everyday experience, a place of peace and reflection.
Indoor performance spaces, on the other hand, have no view to the sky. Instead, it is full of darkness. Inspired by Baroque traditions, it is designed for the sublime imagination of the “heaven” by those instrumental elements integrated into the architecture and space.
Team：Tian Nan, Peiran Qiu, Changyue Liu
This is the design for a tourist education center of a forest park. Right before doing this competition, we travelled around Japan. One curious thing about Japan is even though its territory has basically been connected into one continuous metropolis, each village still kept its own shrine. And within each shrine, a small forest is alway preserved for religious purposes. One can easily understand the meaning of a forest in Japanese post-industrialized culture from the anime works of Hayao Miyazaki: Castle in the Sky, Spirited Away, Totoro … Later through research we learnt that forest culture was believed to be something “original” before any medieval Chinese and modern Western influences on Japan. Around the 1980s, a movement of reflection on the industrialization promoted the idea of going back to the forest and build up the affinity between people and nature thus creating sustainable awareness.
Our design is based on that philosophy. The education programs are organized with a spiral circulation right from the bottom to the top of the trees. We know the forest is a layered ecosystem, so species of vast different sizes co-live on different heights. Our design leads visitors from the park climbing all the way up to be able to observe the forest in all directions and on all levels. So the sports and knowledge are intertwined together both spatially and experientially.
Phantom of the City
Team：Chengzuo Qin (Coding), Changyue Liu, Qiyu Li, Yushi Chang (Photography), Yingbo Sun, Yiyi Qi
This is a piece of interaction installation we created for Beijing Design Week. It was about cityscape. During my study in the city (2008-2013), numerous landmark buildings rose up from the ground. I believe anyone who has been through the 12-lane driveways in Beijing can understand that powerlessness an individual has in face of the monumental buildings. Our idea then was to create a projection installation that has very simple interactive mechanisms. Patterns representing all types of landmarks in Beijing were projected onto a wall. The massiveness of the city was then condensed down to a pleasant scale and became touchable and responsive for people.
The technology we use was pretty simple (for my teammates, not for me). Ultrasound detectors collect the information about the person’s movement and transform it to the movement of the LED light source. Our attitude towards technology is not showing off, but use it to make our humanistic vision possible.
So when I later decided to go to the U.S to study, many of my friends tried to convince me to go for YSOA, where I could be more focused on developing these concepts. But I went to GSD in the end, thinking that I should still try to see more different things while still young. Maybe after understanding more perspectives and mastering more ways of thinking, my understanding about what I set out to do could be deeper.
What makes the curriculum of your school different from other architecture schools?
You have to look at a school’s role in its social background. GSD was founded by a group of Bauhaus founders who “escaped” from Nazi Germany. Back then the school represented a progressive power to embrace all the new trends of social change. GSD is the Bauhaus 2.0, English version. The year I went to GSD, there was a huge campaign with the slogan: “This is no small project, that’s why we are doing it.” You can also sense the impact of International capitalism’s influence on the school’s mentality.
To be more specific, I want to talk about three aspects of how GSD institutionalized its mission based on my experience in the MArch II program and some observation of the other programs. My perspective is very limited to my personal experience, and I welcome different ideas and discussions.
First of all, the intersection of disciplines. With a mission to transform society with design, each discipline is no longer treated as an individual form of art, they work together to instigate new possibilities. Such cross-disciplinary vision was spatialized: the Gund Hall is a connected terraced working (and living) space in which you can observe and exchange thoughts on each single student’s work, if you want to. And if you have a clear plan before you come, you can just customize your curriculum into a non-existing degree. One of my classmates even used his March II’s freedom of choice to make it a pre-PhD degree of political economics. And GSD welcomes that and wants her students to be different.
Secondly, proceduralized syllabus. This is very obvious in the core studios. Once I asked my friend in the MAUD core studios how are the studio advisors. He answered that the advisor’s personal judgement makes no big difference. What matters is the syllabus is designed so comprehensively that you just need to follow its instruction step by step. At first many students including myself could not accept it, we called it a “factory”. But later I understood such training was essential to prepare ourselves to solve complicated problems. You have to think logically and systematically to be able to describe the work you are doing and fit it into a much larger and longer creative process.
Thirdly, an openness for criticism. Like anywhere else, there are “mainstream” thoughts and methods in GSD. But unlike anywhere else, it is confident enough to invite tutors of contradictory ideas, or people who oppose the GSD way. And they will come. I remember the first semester our dean invited Peter Cook to fly from London to teach the option studio. Peter didn’t even try to hide his criticism towards the way GSD teaches students. On their first class, after going through a female student’s undergraduate work done in Princeton, Peter was very happy. But after looking at her work later done in GSD, he told her:”I think you are wasting your time in GSD, you should go back to Princeton”. For us students, you will learn here nothing is absolutely right or wrong. You can take a little bit of everyone’s theory you agree with, or you can create a new one if you truly cannot agree with anyone.
The Function of Time: Cultural Complex
Instructor: Farshid Moussavi
The first studio in GSD is with Farshid Moussavi. Every Chinese architect should know her book – the Function of Form, the Function of Ornament and the Function of Style… They are thick, documenting buildings based on elements of architecture with 3D diagrams. At first, I started my study from the terraced space of Gund Hall. Farshid was happy about it. And the project moved on to address our topic “the Function of Time”, I talked about what function of time makes me feel great – when I was standing beside the monumental pools of the WTC center, watching and hearing the waterfall running into a deep hole, I feel the eternality of time. I can imagine that the family members of the victims could also feel the comfort in this space. Farshid agreed:”It is like…life goes on” But, in her studio, we have to use the diagrammatic way of research to analyze the timespan of opening hours of different institutions in our complex, and see how some of these programs could be combined. I totally understood the method and I totally understood the goal of this studio, but, this design was afterall a piece of work under my name. I can’t allow myself to do something I don’t feel excited about. So in the end, neither of us managed to convince one another.
The final design majorly discusses the possibilities to combine programs in section. So after the first semester, I started to understand in some studios, the students’ work is also seen as part of the studio’s product. Maybe from Farshid’s research perspective, patterns that could be summarized are valuable; but a flash of “good ideas” is not within the scope of attention.
Instructor: Preston Scott Cohen
Prof. Scott Cohen was an architect I admire for a long time. I have been to his Taiyuan Art Museum. His mastery of forms is excellent.
John Portman is admired by our father’s generation. He started the type of atrium hotels. His mastery of form was excellent as well. Besides, he designs the project he develops.
Just a little background knowledge/fact, in the U.S, the academic architects and the commercial architects are two types of creatures. When architects like Jon Jerde, John Portman passed away a few years ago, there was no major reaction in the U.S. Many people didn’t even hear about them. However, in China, as many architects work inside real estate companies, many people know about their contribution. And it happened that Scott had been a fan of Portman since he was very young. That was how this topic came into being – learn how to play with form , and study Portman’s contribution.
The second most important thing I learnt from Prof.Cohen is his extreme sensitivity towards the geometry in architecture, as well as his obsessions with form research. Many architects would be Ok with something roughly there. But in his studio, every geometric relationship should be accurately described. The manipulation of form is just like an experiment with some little mice – it is a process of test, failure, record, review and repeat. For example, the overall form of this hotel is an outcome of the slight angle change of its hotel rooms’ wall.
But the most important thing I learnt from Prof.Cohen is that, as a teacher and a designer with a very strong personal style, he would invite a group of people to criticize himself in front of his students. I think that is great. When we were visiting John Portman and his family in Atlanta, I asked Mr. Portman how could he balance his role as an architect and a developer. I didn’t expect this question to turn the discussion into the purpose of design. John claimed his architecture (while playing with form) is focused on people while sort of suggested Scott is too obsessed with the form itself. And this debate continued all the way to the end of the semester and became more interesting than playing with form. In the final review, Scott invited the entire Portman family and many other “supporters”. We had a great time watching him debate with everyone.
By studying so far, I started to understand the meaning of GSD. We don’t come here to get some more advanced design methods. In real work, we care much more about efficiency and execution. But coming to this school, we have to forget everything not related to design, like titles and fame. We come here to happily argue over right or wrong till the end.
What impressed you the most when you are abroad?
There were many interesting people. We hold a series of discussions on a weekly basis and invite students, professors and visiting scholars of all backgrounds to have discussions. It was very precious that despite whatever you are outside the school, everyone coming here is very open to new ideas and exchange thoughts equally.
Reimagining the Tradition (2016 Ivy League Spring Festival Gala)
Operation Team: Lu Sun (Producer), Qingnan Liu (Director), Liuchuan Tong (Finance), Yunfei Xu (Ticketing), Ge Zhang, Chi Gao (Marketing), Xian Gong, Qing Chang (Stage Manager).
Site: Sanders Theater
Design Team: Jiawen Chen, Wei Xiao
During my second year in Harvard, Lu Sun, the president of the HCSSA found me and talked about her vision for the coming Ivy League Spring Festival Gala. She wanted it to be big news and started with asking for permission to hold the event in Sanders Theater. At that time, I was taking a course called the Art of Scenography taught by Julia Smeliansky. So I proposed the idea to the set design for the Spring Festival Gala performances in Sanders Theater to Lu and Julia. Well accepted.
I am excited about being able to have my work in the Sanders Theater, but it is also very challenging. We are doing a Chinese festival in a Neo-Gothic church looking building. By the New Year Eve, how can the 2,000 students and scholars relate this environment to their culture and tradition?
The first thing to design is the LOGO. It is basically an “H” standarding for Harvard, and many other Ivy League schools. At the same time, it embodied the basic character of the Sanders Theater – the gothic arches, the rose window and the pointed arch domes. And the Reds I decided to use show a gradience from Festival Red to a more romantic and magical velvet color.
And how to do the magic in space? Tina Bowen, the theater manager was the protector of this historic landmark. She gave us a 50 pages regulation on how to use the theater. This is the bible of that place. After studying it, I figured out there is nothing we were allowed to do. Not a single nail or even tape were allowed to be attached to the wood structure. At one point, our director almost even gave up the idea to do a “set design”. But as our preparation continues, we found the conflicts between our performances and the site. There is no “back” stage of this “theater”, it is basically a lecture space. The performers need to come directly from the basement, and that means they have no sight to the stage while in preparation, not to say preparing their instruments.
So we decided to do a big backdrop to divide the stage into front and back. Even though it would just be a big piece of cloth, two egresses were still mandatory. Tina and I examined all the possible sightlines from the seating area to make sure at least one escape sign could be seen.
After that I talked to Julia. Her advice is in set design, you need to think using light to create space. This is different from architecture. In architecture we use materials, walls and columns to create space. Light is something to express the space. But in set design, light itself can drastically change people’s perception of space and even time. So I proposed this design. The front side of the backdrop is printed with simple patterns consistent with the neo-Gothic architecture style of the site. Empty space in the center was kept for projections. The back side of the backdrop has one layer of opaque materials attached to it. It shows a very magical and chinese image.
During the intermission of plays, the front lights would all black out, the church images would disappear. A row of back lights would light up, and the traditional Chinese roof and flying lanterns would present to the audiences. Imagine the audience’s faces when they see this magic happen.
Together with the lighting operator, we created different light themes for different types of shows.
The manufacturing of this backdrop is in Nanjing, China. The manufacturer looked through the entire city to find laser cutters big enough to make our “panelized” opaque images. Then those panels were attached to nine stripes of the front side image. Then HCSSA volunteers one by one, helped us to transport it from Nanjing to Shanghai, and then to Boston then drove to a small town for a fireproofing burning test. The backdrop was supposed to be pieced together and hoisted to a fix rod above. But the backdrop turned out too heavy on the site. Out of safety concern, the theater management team forbade rigging operations by ourselves. So we changed our plan to do 10 extendable free-standing pillars. Around 20 volunteers were put into three groups (because we only managed to borrow 3 ladders) coordinated to raise the pillars inch by inch carrying the backdrop to the same height.
It was such a simple idea in the beginning and took the efforts of so many to realize. I think the architect’s job is first to picture a dream that is worth the efforts to make it happen, and stick to Plan A, always. The most touching moment for our team is when I was arguing with one dance group leader from Pennsylvania about whether to use side lights for their performance, Tina, who had been watching closely aside to make sure these Chinese guys would not ruin her theater, suddenly stepped out supporting us: “Listen to what he says. I was a lighting designer. Use the side light. It shows your headwares better.”
The Foot of Harvard (Arts First)
Client: Harvard University
Team: Changyue Liu, Kou Qin, Qingman Wu
Following that, there was an open call for an art installation from Harvard for “Arts First 2016”. I was walking through the Harvard yard one day, thinking I was going to leave and miss everything about this place soon. Lots of tourists were taking photos with the sculpture of John Harvard. Tourists always touch his left foot, thinking that could get their kids into Harvard. And then I walked a few more steps and noticed a side wall with eight “blind windows”. Why did I never pay attention to them? As an architect, I felt very uncomfortable about a wall pretending to be a window, so I wrote an email to the organizing committee of Arts First expressing my concern about this issue. And they quite understood my uncomfortableness and after we talked about all the possibilities, gave me the commission right away to do some art about it. I hope all other projects can be acquired in this way.
I panicked because this time everyone from everywhere would see it, and I didn’t even have a good idea what the window should be like. I quickly called a few friends. After days of discussion and communication within ourselves and with the school, we decided to use John Harvard’s left foot as an icon. Qingman, who was studying fashion in Milan, did all the actual painting. We want the windows we create to look into different disciplines. Chemistry, physics, geography, biology, architecture, music and everything. What we created is John Harvard’s left foot interpreted in the visual language of different disciplines.
We were very excited the morning we managed to get those images glued to those blind windows. We hope the students passing by would be curious to discuss it. But I went to the hospital that afternoon and was kept there for the next chapter of my life.
What is special about the firm you worked for?
Studying how different firms work is my long time hobby. I am fascinated with how the unique “tools” of these offices can satisfy its mission. I believe only by studying that, we can generate knowledge that can be described, repeated and improved. Among the offices I myself had worked for, there are three of them many people may not be familiar with, I think worth sharing today.
Guan Zhaoye Atelier
Strictly speaking, this cannot be counted as an “office”. It is more about Prof.Guan, his students and the students of his students and their way of design. The Tsinghua University campus is divided into two parts by a little creek: the east side is full of modern, post-modern and futuristic buildings of massive scale; while the west side is famous for pleasing human-scale, courtyard gardens, classical spatial hierarchies and proportions and red bricks. Prof.Guan played a vital role in respecting and preserving that tradition and developing that tradition into a style and method.
Upon my return from my internship in MAD, I was caught off by my thesis advisor Prof. Cheng Xiaoxi and was lucky to work with Prof.Guan’s team for three projects. Our internship at that time was called CD practice, however what i did everyday in MAD was fancy rendering practice. To be honest, it was hard for me to switch from making freeform “Shanshui Cities” to doing very classical facades. So I tried to walk around in the west part of the campus very often, and try to imagine how those computer models should look like in the real site. Also, why the built environment on two sides of the river could be so different.
Prof.Guan gave us many lectures about his attitude towards architecture: “architects should go for decency, not for novelty”. I think it is a very good warning for China’s urban development.
After working on a few projects and numerous “site visits”, I started to understand the reason behind the differences between the east and west part of the Tsinghua campus. Architects are not designing the architecture, we are always designing a medium (drawing or model) that we think can represent the architecture. But any medium ignores certain aspects of reality. CAD ignores everything that can not be represented as lines, perspective rendering ignores the accurate depth of space, digital models present the architecture as an object to play with and so ignores the actual feeling when standing by the side of a building. We never want to but we are always misled by the tools we use. Prof. Guan (probably with 60-70 years of experience in architecture) is the first architect I know that can easily overcome this obstacle. “Sketch” usually means something about initial ideas, but every sketch I got from Prof.Guan is a representation of the full imagination of the final built environment. He sketches perspectives on a blank sheet of paper (usually the backside of used calendar paper) with unbelievable accuracy.
This is very hard to achieve nowadays: on one hand, the architecture professions had become highly subdivided and specialized, modern architect’s role has been far away from the “master builders” of the Renaissance. On the other hand, the west district of Tsinghua campus is a work by generations of “students and students of the students”, which is a luxury in today’s highly fluid job market.
Peter Marino Architect
In between the two years in GSD. I was trying to take a look at some different offices than architecture ones. I applied for Blizzard Entertainment and Disney Imagineering, but didn’t succeed. Finally I got into Peter Marino Architect, the most renowned interior design office in New York, famous for their flagship stores designed for Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, Fendi, BVLGARI… all over the Fifth Ave in New York, Champs-Élysées Ave in Paris and Via Condotti in Rome.
Well, Peter pursues both decency and novelty. Running a business majorly serves the luxury brands – without decency, your client loses old customers; without novelty, your client can’t win new customers. Personally, I am not that into fashion. What makes me very curious is the way Peter structures the office. The fashion store teams are organized under different brands. Very different people work under Peter for these brands. For example, the BVLGARI team has two Italian guys sitting next to me, listening to their jokes about the German was an everyday fun for me. The younger guy Stefano Pasqualetti would love to show me why the Americans have really bad taste about everything and also showed me the references they use for BVLGARI Rome store – Sir John Soane’s Museum. He was shocked why I never heard about John Soane, and I was shocked why he’d thought I should hear about John Soane.
Stefano’s Photography on gooood. Thanks to him, I knew early in my life I had no talent for fashion and luxuries.
The other Senior Italian guy talked just like John Soane himself back to life. Everything around us is about all the antiquities seven levels down from modern Rome. I even got a silver sculpture placed on my left side and an agate chandelier on my right side of my workplace. In contrast, the Louis Vuitton team is made up of very newest-trend people from all over the world – Korea, Hong Kong and Peru. They have very different lifestyles and even have a Louis Vuitton meeting room setting up with all the “art pieces” that belong to the Louis Vuitton universe. Then a few meters away you will see 50 pieces of “different” black marble samples on the Chanel team’s desks. When asked what Peter said about these “different” black marble samples, they said Peter picked up two identical samples and asked them to find 10 more blacks in between these two blacks.
You see, the design for fashion has a totally different logic than design for real estate. There is not too much concern about the land value, economic cycles, even about the site (the same site goes through redesign every couple of years). What matters is the story of the brand. That story is ever changing and the designers should be able to envision and craft every detail of that story into materials, with all the knowledge, skills, and imagination, to make the story convincing.
However, I was then put onto an architecture project 239 Tenth Ave. It was a luxury condo right beside the highline park. The client, SHVO, got the land at the highest price per square foot ever in New York’s history and wanted to make it most unique. Peter’s strategy is to make all eight units different from each other. My supervisor told me there is probably the Italian mentality to value everything handmade behind this concept. I agree that should make the buyer spend twice the amount of money (they truly did) since every single line (bathroom glass, kitchen counter, ceiling lights) of these eight totally different units had been hand drawn and hand adjusted by the hands (of people like me).
A brief introduction of the design: The highline park offers a great view as well as tourists’ uncomfortable gaze into private spaces. The 8 units are laid out in response to different view and privacy conditions on different heights. L3 and L4 are 2 units duplex sharing a courtyard on the backside to avoid tourists; L5, L6 and L7 all have living, dining and kitchens on the east side to overlook on highline, they varies in floor heights; L8 and L9 are facing south enjoy the view along the highline, but varies in color theme; L10 is double height with a swimming pool on its roof. We choose to express truthfully what happens inside onto the envelope. Then the challenge we face is how to reduce component types and control the flatness on the facade. We make operable windows’ sizes typical and adjust their location to create a randomness in facade divisions. Also conditions of window-wall joints are avoided to be done onsite, the whole facades are subdivided into window-wall panels, prefabricated and assembled onto the slab edge. If you have a chance to visit this building on the highline park, you can see the flatness of the curtainwall of this building is way higher than the silver building on its back side.
From that experience, I got an idea of the highest standard of the architecture design industry. Everyone except me on that project team were experts of their field around 45-55 years old. And we have 42 communication folders under each consultant’s name. As I had talked about previously, working in a typical American architecture firm does not necessarily require you to have brilliant ideas, it is more about working and communicating systematically, for you are working with a highly mature and specialized industry. Understanding procedures, standards and the role of different consultants is a must before you can be creative and break the rules.
At the end of my internship, I pointed out to the team Peter might, all this time, have been using his own image as the design concept. We all agreed that is probably true. I told them the other boss I worked for had “Rockery” and “Pine Tree” in his name and guess what I did everyday. We should all try to be architects like them.
Back in 2014, right before I went to GSD, I had a few months’ vacancies and I decided I should throw myself into a completely unfamiliar environment. Back then, people all around me for no reason despised “commercial” buildings. Everyone wants to win a competition, design a museum without budget constraints and become a star architect. But I thought I should at least get an idea of “commercial” buildings by myself and went to an office at that time called Callison in Shanghai.
I learned there that retail planning is a science. There are patterns about people’s shopping behaviour and how businesses could work together. Architecture form is not the only way we as architects can influence people. Energetic spaces can only be created by bringing leasing and management perspectives into space design.
However, later after travelling by myself to most of the provincial capital cities in China, I found most of the shopping centers look boring in the same way. I couldn’t help asking myself, as perhaps the most important public spaces (one can argue they are privately owned) in most Asian cities, could shopping centers be a little bit more than these?
The day I arrived in Shenzhen, my highschool friend working there suggested to me “you have to go to Happy Harbor”. I went there in the evening and found it was truly the “common room” for the city. All age groups could find what they love to do here, and the architecture together with the landscape were able to create vastly different spatial experiences while you could still sense something was there to string them into a whole piece of work. (I wasn’t able to back then but) you can get a sense of what I mean from this aerial photo of the “Happy Harbor”.
Two years later, When I was interviewing with one principal from Laguarda.Low Architects, it occurred to me that I had visited their project. At that time I was obsessed with creating “Wonders” in my student work and thought to myself maybe it is not a bad idea to start my formal career with the group of people who have proved highly skilled at creating great work at huge scales in city hubs.
Then I spent almost four years working in this office. I tried to learn as fast I could, but the office can just generate new knowledge faster than I learn. So why and how? I remember that Sarah Whiting, the current dean of GSD, once said:”design is to design a design to produce a design”. That perfectly explains how LLA has been designed to function. The type of sketch below unifies the entire workflow. Sketching standards are simple and straightforward to include all the essential spatial elements (tower locations and orientations, anchor stores, retail circulation, parking access, waterfront…) to make our type of project work. It is an open system to absorb everyone’s (usually by design principals, sometimes with 1 younger designer) idea to fully explore all possibilities of a certain piece of land. Within maybe two rounds of charrette, a best-and-only solution could always be found.
This project is what LLA designed for Shenzhen Longhua District – Hongshan 6979, also a TOD mixed-use development. The way those sketches are drawn downplayed the boundary between buildings and landscape. In fact, you can never find a LLA project in which the indoor & outdoor experiences are abruptly cut off. And the public spaces should always be varying in size & proportion and yet connected so as to create a rhythm of excitement.
The project I am using as an example is a recent built project in suburban Tokyo. It quickly became one of the most popular shopping destinations. It is a TOD project that satisfies all aspects of social needs at a transition hub from car to railway. LLA’s scheme created a new type of experience by merging shopping experience and park experiences into each other.
Next step we will move on to test design in 3D. Many “retail experts”, all the time, ask for “clear” retail circulation. Our design principals always use the street web of Venice as an example – “clear” is not equal to “boring”. It is the ever-changing space orientations, collision of forms, surprising landmarks, the fusion of plants, water and natural materials that together create a subtle and pleasing sense of lostness for visitors, which serves the ultimate goal of place-making – to create the affinity of the space and lengthen people’s stay, in other words, maximize the retail value for the client.
We are always required to pay extra attention to “break down the scale of the buildings and landscape” and to “make our facade design simple”. I think the mentality behind these “rules” is not treating architecture only as a pretty object to be photographed, but as a background to empower the activities in between. People’s feelings are the core concern of space design.
As I had mentioned, the way LLA works is an open system from which, when the client truly asks for amazing design, amazing design can really happen. This project is right in the central axis of the Bao’an CBD District in Shenzhen. OCT, the client was expecting an integration of all cultural and commercial programs in one piece work of art. When I came into the office, this grand piece of sketch was already there on someone’s desk. I still had no idea how they made it. But in my numerous attempts to study how it was done, at least I can introduce what the difficulties are:
The project consists of ALL types of programs – office, hotel, condo, retail, museum, theater, education, tourist center, ferris wheel, observation deck, playground, pier, hill and winding river… Each of these programs needs to be planned strategically about its location and configuration. Then everything got stringed together by free flowing strokes that intertwined with one another meanwhile keeping the overall composition geometrically unified.
We have got used to freeform buildings nowadays, but most of the freeform part is just the building envelope. In this case of the O Bay, each of these curves on the masterplan is representing an edge of an actual circulation, throughout the entire building and landscape. In other words, the form is an expression of people’s movement. People’s anticipation, exploration and detours were carefully studied and manipulated on the masterplan and then turned into a series of spatial experiences. From the varying heights, views with infinite changes unfold for the visitors wandering through, and visitors once in a while will find themselves to be part of a view in the midst of a much larger overall composition.
This project is approaching its completion. I can’t wait to go there to take a look. The ferris wheel and the three alien mushroom looking structures (we called Pergola) have already been finished. As the architecture and the roof planting are going to be completed, I believe the real work will be even more breath-taking as a whole piece of art than our design model. I can’t wait to go there.
Is it more distinct to view China in a different environment after going abroad? Any thoughts?
I suspect more than a century ago, the first group of Chinese students sent abroad by the Qing Dynasty had been asked the same question. China might be the country that cares most about how she should be viewed. We go abroad, try to understand the world, use our observations as a scale to measure our progress or being behind. This is a good virtue.
However, I think both China and the U.S. are facing the same challenge – to understand the differences within themselves. Take architecture design for example, suppose you want a very unique project, highly possibly neither Chinese nor the U.S firms could offer you a satisfactory solution nowadays. We might need to try our luck in Europe, Japan or South East Asia, where cultural diversities are better preserved. I think while seeking for higher productivity and capital returns, we should preserve some attention and spaces for practices that focus on special and minor fields.
Besides, based on my own experiences and information from my friends with other professions, the U.S is different from China in a significant way: we can easily find many leaders of architecture firms, lawyer’s offices, clinics to be in their 70s or 80s, happily doing hands-on work. However in China, I heard one should be worrying about being replaced by younger people once reaching their 35s. Well, if everyone fights for the same thing and the trend of the society turn over every couple of years, that is what we get; and if everyone can find what his/her interest, and the society can provide job opportunities for him/her to keep accumulating experiences, that would be a much more ideal state, either for individuals or the society.
Will you come back? Why?
By the time this article gets published, I should be on my flight back to China already.
I think architects naturally prefer a society full of change. The U.S society has already become very mature and stable. The majority of the most active american architecture firms were established no later than last century.
If we look at all territories of the entire world and use hundred of years as a scale of time, we would find large scale infrastructure construction of a certain area to be an occasion instead of a norm. Chinese cities are ever proposing new tasks for architects to solve. It is lucky for us simply getting involved in this process. Besides, I believe as China’s urbanization enters a new phase of urban-renewal, the experiences we got from this massive experiment will benefit other regions of our world which are accelerating their urbanization process right after us.
I can briefly talk about some of the practices I have been working on besides my employed job:
Competition Holder: China Merchants Group
Location: Qianhai District, Shenzhen
Team：Fangzhou Jiang (Literature), Shenwei Jiang (Illustration), Xiaodi Yan (Landscape), Xiankun Zhou (Planning), Zhao Ma (Structure), Yu He (Curation), SoS (Visualization)
Fangzhou and I were high school and undergraduate schoolmates. Earlier last year, Fangzhou had been claiming many times she was about to start writing novels. Coincidentally, I had been complaining to myself for too long that I have to design something other than shopping centers.
After learning about this competition to design a landmark for Qianhai Shenzhen, we decided that we have something to tell. We can have joint-work through Literature and Architecture.
The competition called for a comprehensive proposal covering aspects: planning, architecture, landscape, structure and curation, that’s why we summoned a team of the most thoughtful people from different backgrounds. If interested, you can check Fangzhou’s novel and our ideas through these links:
But unfortunately, the jurors didn’t seem to get our point, nor were we selected for the last round. Even the competition itself disappeared for some reason. No worries. We can be proud of our own work. If you don’t have enough time, you can quickly go through the selected illustrations and my short version of the story:
Protheu dug the egg, everyone else just watched.
Protheu kept digging the egg, everyone else left him.
Protheu finished the egg, everyone else returned.
Everyone else left again, Protheu gazed at the stars.
The character Protheu in the novel is a wordless man polishing lens for living. The place he lives is called the little town of innocence. One day a giant egg came to the seaside, he started diggin on it without a second word. This started the dialogue between humans and other civilizations of the universe. The egg turned out to be a telescope that civilizations can use to look at each other.
During the digging into the egg, Protheu and the residents of the little village had experienced confusion and quarrel. Their imagination was first trapped by their limited experience and tradition, but finally they helped Protheu finish the telescope out of curiosity and brought prosperity to the little village. This process reminds of Plato’s allegory of the Cave, and it became one inspiration of our scene design for the landmark.
Going back to the design, “watch and being watched” is the concept proposed by the client in the design brief. We don’t want to answer this only on the level of form manipulation. I wanted to answer the question first: what is the spirit Shenzhen should share with the world? Fangzhou gave her anwer by scaling up “watch and being watched” to universe scale in her literature way.
In this design, the landmark itself is formless. People are presented as observers of the universe. The meaning of a city is symbolized by the gathering and connection of the people.
Besides, our team also submitted basic proposals for structure, curation and so on. But unfortunately we didn’t get financed to develop the idea further. But we are all very happy with the infinite mood of distance in this work and agreed once we have a better chance, we can develop the world of Protheu further.
业主：上海万科 + 华谊兄弟
Compeition Holder：Vanke Shanghai + Huayi Brothers
Location: Minhang District, Shanghai
Team：Sadie Zhou (Concept), Shenhan Zhu (Architecture), Xiaodi Yan (Landscape), Shenwei Jiang (Signage), Jianing Zhang (Architecture), Yue Hu (Interactive), Aimage (Visualization)
One day, a friend of mine who was working for Vanke Shanghai found me, saying they want something “striking” from us. They were working with Huayi Brothers to transform the old factories of “Dazheng” into offices. One side of the factory faces the city’s light rail and main road. They want to have an integrated design for the main facades and the landscape as an open gesture to the city.
Five teams all over the world were invited to compete: from Shanghai, Hangzhou, Shenzhen, London and New York. We were the one from New York and made it to the final round when only two teams left competed with each other. Unfortunately again, our proposal did not become the implemented one. No worries, at least we made some progress than last time.
In our first round scheme, I have made two basic design judgements: 1. The grid of openings on the original facades are very powerful, I want to keep and address them; 2. Each building should have its own unique character but unified under one family. We were joking about the family of “Little Zheng”, “Big Zheng” and “Old Zheng” (“Da” means “Big” in Chinese.); 3. The number of each building could project itself onto the site as landscape structures so as to activate the entire site.
“Big Zheng” is planned as a group of office targets for corporate tenants. We added one layer of perforated aluminum sheet “detaching” from the original facade. On one hand, it is a “screen” to create privacy for the office building behind it; one the other, it fosters a relaxed, natural atmosphere for the plaza in the foreground that encourages social interaction between the office uesrs. We want to create a scenario for people to touch and feel the sense of community as a more lively attraction for tenants.
“Old Zheng” is a museum showcasing the history of the tyre factory. We would like to create an interactive and playful space fit for family weekend outings and extend this all the way onto the building facade. We also used perforated metal, but created a more formal character as a cultural building by adjusting the proportions and symmetry. The projection is behind the skin and arouses curiosities for people to step in. There is also a public circulation colliding with the building volume. It led to an observation deck that looked back at the people on the plaza. We hope the culture to be exhibited is participatory and forges stronger emotional ties among people.
This diagram illustrates our idea of the double skin for “Big Zheng” and “Old Zheng” respectively. As any changes to the original structure would cause more trouble for city approval, we keep our preservation of the existing openings to conceptual level. So the new facade with a depth for activities is designed to be a free-standing structure outside the original structure.
This invited competition greatly boosted our team’s confidence in dealing with real and complicated projects. If anybody wants anything “striking” in the future, please feel free to contact us.
42 Book & Space
Team：Fangzhou Jiang (Concept), Sadie Zhou (Operation Consultant), Xiaodi Yan (Landscape), Muge Wang (Lighting), Zhihang Fu (Architecture), Yichen An (Architecture), Shenwei Jiang (VI), Jingjing Wu (Architecture), Yue Hu (Interactive), Aimage (Visualization)
The client of this project is a young real estate management firm under a much larger business group. This bookstore is part of a much larger renovation project. The client himself is a literature lover. He wanted to create a space for being alone inside a crowded and noisy shopping center. As this is the first time during my few years of experience designing a shopping space to see a client who doesn’t want too many people to come, I sensed a precious opportunity to do something different.
Besides, as the initial restrictions from the clients are not too much, we need to undertake much more responsibilities than interior design: concept proposal, marketing and operation proposal, visual identity, interior design, interactive experience and some of the roof garden design. We quickly put together a team based on the tacit understanding from previous collaboration.
Fangzhou was again invited to work together. We thought what could be less crowded and less noisy than the universe, proposed the concept “the constellations of masters”. She reads lots of books and sees the “masters” illuminate one another through books just like stars illuminate each other. And I was thinking instead of doing a high-tech universe, we do an ancient temple to look back on the history of the stars. So the wood cut works of Piranesi’s imagined ruins of ancient Rome became an important inspiration for us.
We have three stories in this project, we made the major vertical circulation into a space to commemorate the history of the stars. The relief on the ceiling is a small part of an infinitely huge “wheel of time”. A series of abstract configurations recording a star’s birth to death is inscribed onto a curved ceiling. Our lighting design tried to hide all the light source in order to create a more mysterious mood.
The client was very excited about the idea and started to think about design with us too. One day they told me very excitedly that they got a wonderful idea – a “wormhole” – to connect far away places. I thought that was not a bad idea actually and refined it with one more layer of hint implying the star trails.
The space is not just about books. The client and us both believe books are the means to connect people. We created a new set of fonts and used them to create “crossword” light ceilings. We embedded one more layer of information to the space hoping to intrigue discovery throughout the space.
“The answer lies among the stars”.
Part of our bookstore extended onto the roof of the shopping center, thus creating a small gathering space. We tried to find a balance between the solemn of a cultural space and the dynamic of a social space. Everything is centered around a glowing “sleeping” moon, a familiar image presented in a very unfamiliar way. We want its presence to be able to calm down the atmosphere of the place.
The other garden we proposed is a quarter of a maze. The reflective glasses on two sides complete the maze with its reflection. In the heart of the busiest hub of the city’s shopping district, we want to create a tiny corner of tranquility, a place where you can look and speak to yourself and think about “the answer to the universe”. As with the selection of plants, our landscape designer Xiaodi’s name seems to mean “Bamboo” and “Silvergrass”. I think that is probably the reason.
This project is about to start construction. The client is trying their best. We hope after learning many lessons, this bookstore will finally come out beautifully. Any type of advice or help are most welcomed.
Prisoners of the Star
Team：Fangzhou Jiang, SoS (Visualization)
This scene is what we have created for Fangzhou Jiang’s new novel collection Taking A Walk with the Only Person Who Knows Why the Star Shines. We collect the major scene of each story into one fictional planet. The main character of each story is a prisoner: A Prisoner of Time, A Prisoner of her Time, A Prisoner in the Egg, A Prisoner of Eternal Life. We will try to turn some of those scenes and many more interesting stories into animation, stage play or any other possible forms. Anybody or any organization interested in collaboration, please feel free to join us!
Finally, let me use this article that I write for this novel collection as an ending.
What possibilities could Literature bring to Architecture?
In the time of Kant, people gradually traced out the past and present of the world they live in. When people think about the purpose of Architecture, they start to tell the difference between “beautiful” and “sublime”. The Stonehenge, the Pyramids and the Colosseum are inscribed with their builders’ understanding of how their short lives were positioned in the universe, and clearly pass it on to us. Such structures that answer the concerns that surpass an individual’s everyday experience, we call them Wonders.
Unfortunately, what human kinds have gone through in the 20th century successfully deconstructed all meaning systems. Huge and novel monuments went up one after another, demonstrating the power of accumulating capitals. But their sense of power could never give us an aesthetic experience of “sublime”.
How could a world that has been “Dis-enchanted” be “Re-enchanted”?
The Egg at the Seashore starts with my invitation for Fangzhou to together design a new landmark for Qianhai, Shenzhen. In 2019, both in China and the U.S, many people have changed their view of the outside world. When Fangzhou proposed a crystal egg for the two civilizations of the universe to look at each other, I saw an opportunity: we can create a wonder to connect the physical world to the world of literature – an infinite open meaning system. In this allegorical story, both Protheu who is at the starting point of a civilization, and Romeus who is at the finishing line of a civilization, managed to keep the curiosity like a kid in a world full of suspicion, confusion and cynicism. In the universe Fangzhou has created, curiosity is a virtue to be awarded. It is as precious as the fire Prometheus had brought to mankind. And the Egg we created is no symbol of any existing meaning system, but an inspiration for people to start their own thinking about the possibilities of this universe.
When Looking at the Stars Shine got started, the world entered the year 2020. What we were used to left us one after another, became memories. What have the stars witnessed in the universe of literature? Would they experience the plague and war, love and betrayal as we have? Luckily, we got the commission to design a cultural complex in Hubei Province. We agree on naming this space with the number “42”. “42” are the first two digits of Hubei born ID number, and bear the common memory as the first people struck by the pandemic. “42” is also the “Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything” in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Just like the intertwined storyline of the fantasy and reality, the architecture space here is also inscribed with the history of a star’s birth to death, mapped with the constellations of masters who illuminate one and another. Here encounter and departure can all find their traces in the sky – “the answer lies among the stars”.
A Stranger at the Border is the newest work by Fangzhou when 2021 approaches. When we were about to step into the 21th century, we once were longing for an era never imagined before. However, after going through all these that had come to us, we have to question whether history is going to repeat itself. Whether what had happened would become our destiny depends on how we treated our memories. We are working on creating more creative spaces to present sensible memories and realities.
When asked about what the “South Crossians” look like, Fangzhou answered without any hesitation – they are all “mirrors”. They look like the world they look at. Based on this description, we pictured out the universe from the “South Crossians” perspective. Please keep this in mind: what we are reading, thinking and creating, is being watched by a silent “South Crossian” in a far away corner of the universe. In their eyes, every thought and creation of us is a wonder of the universe.
What do you miss the most about China?
I heard that earlier this year, when my home city Wuhan was first struck by the Covid-19, Mongolia donated 30,000 lambs to the people of Hubei Province. They should be arriving soon. I have been missing about my potential bite of them.
Any plans after returning to China?
In the past few years I made some efforts to overcome some trouble. I want to take a long holiday and travel around China with my parents and then visit my friends. Anything good to eat, to visit or to see, please feel free to recommend to me.
After that I want to find some design firm in China and someone with a lot of practical experience to learn from. The road of architecture is long and there is much more to learn. Feel free to recommend it to me as well.
When did you start to follow gooood? Any suggestions?
过了几年我也交了《We Work for MAD》。很多在谷徳上了解到的人，他们的作品都被我下载到了硬盘里，再后来在现实中也产生了交集。隔几年看到这些人的变化，或是没什么变化，就很欣慰大家都还在这条道路上往前走。
Ever since you were still a blog. I remember I first learnt about cutting edge offices like BIG and MAD from gooood. After that I found the blog keeps growing and has a very good taste. The growth of gooood is also an inspiration for us.
A few years after that, I also submitted my story for We Work for MAD. And many people who have been onto gooood and had their works downloaded into my hard disk, later came into my real life. Every couple of years, I see these people’s change, or see these people haven’t changed, then feel very happy that all of us are still on the road.
Once submitted works and thoughts for gooood, you will find the following day as the first day of the preparation to submit for the next series. Then everyday after that became very purposeful. So, actually I have been putting my greedy eyes on the No.100 of Oversea series for a long time. I am happy to get this chance to share my thoughts and experiments.
Where：Stockholm, Boston, New York
Who: Sizhi Qin
From: Wuhan, Hubei
School: Tsinghua University, Royal Institute of Technology Sweden, Harvard GSD
Firm: Laguarda.Low Architect