A bosom friend afar brings distant land near. The Oversea album shares the lives of Chinese living abroad with all. The No.84 episode is about Wei Huang who graduated from Delft University of Technology and is now working for MVRDV.
Would you like to share some special experience of studying abroad?
You should always keep in mind that to pass the exams or to graduate easily are not the reference for choice of choosing courses or doing study in general. Instead, it is key to constantly rethink and keep the critical thinking from the very beginning of study till the end so that finally to extract and fulfill your own position as an architect. Now looking back, I appreciate that during the 2 years of study I have the passion to always follow the lectures of various architectural schools’ online platforms and always keep my concerns and coherent thinking while facing the doubts from tutors. Besides that, it is encouraging that recently I got an email from Bjarke Ingels to praise my works.
Personally speaking, I think it is crucial to explore and practice your own way and path of study. During bachelor time in China, the education systems and modes for everyone are more or less similar, which leads to a relatively safe and comfortable zone. When moving abroad, the diversity is gradually obvious due to different countries, universities, even different preference within the same school. All of these conditions lead to the consequence that almost no one can be find with same path as yours. Thus, in that case it is key to keep comparing and building up your own study concerns and future professional path so that to construct relatively autonomous study framework. Before around four year, I wrote a paper to conclude the thoughts and to explore future design position, named as “architecture of vacancy”, attempting to discuss about the unpredictable parts of designing a building. Through years, I am glad that I have attained lots of understanding and clearer, sharper position.
Would you like to share some special experience of living in several countries abroad?
The short period of life in Japan after graduation somehow rebuilds my methodology of architectural design, which is a surprise. Compared to the experiences in Holland and Chinese background, I have a strong feeling about relaxing attitude deep in the whole Japanese architecture system. Specifically, it is the modest attitude, not regarding architecture as a big gesture, not to compete with the natural environment, in order to achieve the moment with pure relation of human beings and environment, without the present of architecture.
Firstly taking European architecture as comparison, it indicates that the values of modern architecture of different regions are all inevitable born of their own traditions. For instance, compared to European houses of stone, Japanese houses are made of wood which is much more flexible in terms of materiality. Thus, the Japanese wood house is constantly changing its appearance. Relatively, the stone house is quite static. In this sense, there is no much evidence of pursuing static architecture image in Japanese architecture tradition. Since along with the change of physical environment, the wood house changes, indicating that the pure gesture of house is not able to be drawn, not insisting on the persistence of architecture is the result of limitations. After the early modern architecture trend and then the metabolism, the relaxing attitude inside the Japanese tradition is gradually exploited and become characteristic and mutual Japanese modern architecture contents.
Then compared to Chinese traditional landscape garden, Wangshi Yuan, which always facility long benches on the sides of overhanging platforms, in Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto, the terrace directly expand towards the nature without any other benches for sitting or lying. This is actually a sort of reduction of lifestyle to sit and sleep right on the floor, and even taking off shoes when indoors. In this case, the house is barely perceived. In fact, the more objects are attached to the building, the building itself is more evident as a barrier to interact with environment freely. It is hard to judge if it is traditional theme or contemporary entering in the Katsura Imperial Villa.
What are the characteristics and interesting points of your firm?
MVRDV grows very fast in these years to be a big architectural firm. It is barely seen the solid division walls throughout the whole office. The open layout maximizes the freedom of view and also the movement, which serves as a great platform for sharing knowledge and information. Besides, a number of unrealistic ideas are come up and proceeded and even put on ground finally, and accordingly public discussion arises. As a firm actively heading for the future, the “New” is right its characteristics.
How do you feel about working as an architect compared to the role of architectural student?
Since from the beginning of working, the meaning of architecture as a tool for making a living becomes increasingly evident while architecture for studying and research becomes relatively invisible. The change of life condition after graduation forces you to rethink the role of architect in personal life. In other words, you need to try to balance work and other parts of life. For now I am still on the way to balance, expecting finally that I could deal with this smoothly and well.
To be honest, there are multiple ways and possibilities for architects to development and explore, which means the architectural profession is no longer pointed to building a house. Even the definition of ‘House’ itself is gradually unclear along with the revolution and development of technology. It is, therefore, hard to predict that in the coming future how we should define architect. In this sense, you must explore your own position which means it is much more important to define yourself in the ever-changing world rather than define architect.
What makes your projects and production unique in your opinion?
First of all, I intend to keep distance with so-called ‘professional’ grammar of architecture. Moreover, compared to the relation of space and human being as individuality, I am more concerned about the effect of space towards the community. Personally, there are always two key words as my design guidance, retrospect and everyday life. Architecture for me in this sense is the agency for me to look back. Besides, I know clearly that my interest in architecture mainly comes from the communal life of my childhood. It is quite impressive of sleeping on the rooftop with starry night, catching cicadas with flashlight on during night etc…, which are the important reference when designing. For me architecture design is based on experiences which partially indicates personal life experience, and partially are about the experience of specific site of project. As far as I am concerned, the experience of personal life mainly comes from my childhood life.
Several years ago during a village investigation in Lishui city, the house owner – a grandma tried to keep us out of her house when we were mapping a house, planning to transform it to an Airbnb hostel. After that, she turned round time and time again while walking away, viewing her house. At that moment, I was deeply moved and then took a picture to set it as the cover of my WeChat till now. I am not going to expect to stop the village renewal projects arbitrarily. Instead, I just want to keep awareness not to make mistakes during design. Hence about the village construction program of exploiting the touristic value, I have some instinctive doubt.
W O R K
The project is located in Havana, Cuba. Since the whole country is facing the lack of building materials and the issue of poor living condition, he aim is to give a place for both the settlement of building constructing professional teams and also a productive communal hub, which specifically provided for local people to learn and share the knowledge of house construction and building material production. Through the two project, I attempt to explore the relation of formality and informality and the impact of them towards the result of architecture construction, of which one is a community of constructing professionals, as a certain incubator for local community to building own houses, the other is the community built by local people with the base of the first professional community.
Chapter I: Home of Production
The aim group of this community is the constructing professional teams. The government provides the financial support, and the professionals design and build the project which will be as the incubator for solving the issue of housing shortage. The living style as a context is characteristic that people occupy every spacial resources, no matter public or private to contain the everyday life. It finally makes the strong interaction of public and domestic events and the boundary of space merges with the other. The project is to come up with a kind of functional integration to solve the issue and simultaneously to give a special form based on modern architectural language to adapt to local sharing culture.
When the need changes, the building can evolve without changing the structure system, that large scale public functions can be evolved to separate units for housing. The longstanding structure and the space framework make it possible to replace all the public functions to housing units, to separate each cell of the building and make sure each unit is accessible from the street. This is how the community itself grows along with the city’s context and changeable demand.
Chapter II: A Prototype
Advisor: Paul Cournet
The proposal is to shape a dynamic building, continuously change with time correspondence to flexible life demand. Therefore at the beginning the architects only provide a building workshop on the ground floor and concrete skeleton above under the generic grid. Along with residents move in to fill in personal housing units, the workshop is hardly needed and gradually replaced by other communal programs. Simultaneously a series of new public units are constructed with the assistance of architects. A participatory process which architects provide the long-standing structure of community and afterwards residents fill in their housing units, on one hand facing the shortage of materials, on the other hand this is where flexibilities come from.
The proposal does not locate in a specific site but based on Havana context in general, aim to engage maximal local environment for the flexibilities. The participatory proposal of community prototype is aim to release some parts of a project to users within a smart system architects provide.
Mutant: A Complex
Advisor: Xianfeng Zhang
This complex project is seen as a continuous changing object reacting to the transformation in demand and the regeneration in events.
Working mainly as a merge of co-working space and communal center, of which the former one is more like the loose space, and the latter is relatively static, to produce a kind of contradiction and complexity through the “collage”. The site is in between the boundary of a residential community and a university. The assignment is to make use of the resources of the university, to build a creative working place. Because the location is right in the boundary, with multiple communal life in the whole area, I propose to integrate the diversified life, activities and the working functions, to finally generate a complex project harmonious with the overall environment, which I think is an elegant way to give the possibility for the local in the community to really engage with what is happening besides their homes, to participate in the whole urban development rather than being isolated from that.
In the so-called Domino System, each floor is isolated from the others, which leave a great gap. The space is fragmental and fixed, hard to break the limitation and the restriction of the solid construction form. But for the constant slope spiral in my design, the conception of “floor” no longer exists there, which means the continuity make it possible for the whole building to become a flexible and dynamic system in every moment. When the demand for functions changes, the whole system will react actively through the gradual reduction or the expansion of every special function. The Project is composed of two loops, with outside stairs system and inner slope system. When the basic building is no longer adaptive to the new coming demand for functional spaces, for instance, the increasing residents and the demand for more offices because of the great success of this mode, the building itself is able to positively expand the building along with the change of time.
Street of Transgression：A Communal Center
Collaborator: Yue Wu
The project is located in Qianliang Hutong, a old historic area in Beijing. Owing to the fact that constantly incoming people from elsewhere in China, the urban fabric becomes increasingly crowded and chaotic, in which we see many informal constructions by inhabitants because of the increasing demand for domestic space for daily life and at the same time, the absence of service from government. In this situation, however, a lot of social activities always happen everywhere in this chaotic historic area. Therefore, through rethinking urban leftover space, here the alley specifically, by the way of Hutong renovation, to on the one hand respect the existing status of Hutong, on the other using the leftover as the base, to construct and redefine the building typology of communal center, tight bend the social everyday life with the “everyday space”. I show great approval and respect to the existing situation of environment, which is the living dependence of local residents. I hope to improve their living environment and minimize the disturbance to their original life as well.
The conventional community center is a proper “isolated center”, requiring people to visit specially. It is a space of heroism, which is set as a center isolated from the community to build a center-toward “center”. There is no direct relationship between it and resident behaviors and routes home. Therefore, I expect to change the rigid status quo and dispel the sense of center.
The micro communal centers distribute around the whole area. It provides a platform for each independent community to communicate and compete. A macro communal center is a system consisting of many micro communal centers. The micro ones in each Hutong serves for the living behavior of residents. And they also implies the residents that, once they want to do any activity, they can easily realize it considering the nearest community. As soon as these activities are totally blended into the daily life of them, these continuous spatial activities can really become an indispensable part of life. I hope the micro communal center can really serve the residents conveniently for their daily life. It is inlaid on the necessary path to home for everyone, which is an ordinary way from Hutong to the gate of house. Maximum connection has been created between the community miniature center and the community itself, owing to the concept of public living room of compound.
Shape of the House: A Café
Collaborator: Yue Wu, Yi Zhao
The project is located in Fushun which is a city affluent in mineral resources. Through years, overwhelming exploitation has badly damaged the land condition. The land subsidence happens everywhere. As a result, a number of villages near the mines has been buried underground, replaced by lakes in various size. The aim of the project is to make a place for people who former lived here to look back. An upside-down cafe above the lake, of which the reflection is just like a pitch house laying in the water. The definitions of public building and memorial object are actually cross programing here.
Dialogue: A Terrace
This is a project for myself of childhood. The site is right in the farmland of my grandpa. During busy period of farming, I usually take a basket with food for my grandpa when lunch time. However, since the wheat is too tall for a kid like me at that time, I have to wait on the alley, calling him very loudly. Thus, I expect to provide a platform, on the one hand for me to easily find people in the farmland, one the other to let my grandpa to view his harvest of planting.
Name: Wei Huang
When: 2015 till now
Where: Netherlands, Japan
From: Anhui, Bengbu
School: Delft University of Technology, Dalian University of Technology
Firm: MVRDV | Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects | Sou Fujimoto Architects | Mecanoo Architecten