gooood team interviews creative individuals under 35 years old from all over the world, some are pioneering founders, some are ordinary practitioners. gooood is trying to record the authentic living and working states of this era. Your recommendations and suggestions are appreciated!
gooood Under 35 NO.18 introduces Chen Chen, co-founder of reMIX studio
Study experience from Tsinghua to AA and GSD
“I grew up in a family of artists and designers…Because of my sensibility and rationality, I went into architecture very naturally. The feeling that you get from devoting your talent and passion to create something small and beautiful for the city, is very existing.“
I grew up in a family of artists and designers. My parents were classmates. After they graduated from college, they started a graphic design studio together. Growing up, I have always watched them staying up late brainstorming or working for a deadline together. I think this is the reason why I have always wanted to start my own studio. Because of my sensibility and rationality, I went into architecture very naturally. Architecture brings a concrete satisfaction, and its life span is often longer than someone’s life time. The feeling that you get from devoting your talent and passion to create something small and beautiful for the city, is very existing. I have always been very sure that I chose the right path, since my very first encounter with architecture.
▼陈忱在AA（左）和哈佛GSD（右）学习，study experience in AA (left) and GSD (right)
The architecture education at Tsinghua set me up with a very concrete foundation. At the same time, I also met lots of innovative peers in architecture. This is what I valued the most from Tsinghua.
▼陈忱在清华的设计作品，基础扎实，design work in Tsinghua, showing a very concrete foundation
The AA really challenged my perceptions on space and architecture. I had to unlearn a lot of theories and methodologies about architecture, in order to be comfortable with a very new and radical type of thinking about design. The AA is a very conceptual and disciplined school, so it does not want you to play safe, or to be completely correct. On the other hand, at the AA, you are encouraged to explore your ideas to the acme. The AA really broke a lot of my preconceived notions about design and architecture in just one year. There will never be making without breaking. I think that over the course of my year at the AA, half of the time I was “breaking.” After graduation, maybe only 20% of the students have completed the “making.” I learnt about Landscape and Landscape urbanism at the AA. I thought it was very refreshing and inspirational.
Charles Waldheim, as the coiner of the term Landscape Urbanism, once argued that “Landscape Urbanism is a theory of urbanism arguing that landscape, rather than architecture, is more capable of organizing a city and enhancing the urban experience.” He emphasizes on the significance of exploring the relationship among architecture, the terrain, as well as the landscape elements that once was regarded as an “ornament” for urban environment, which is much more valuable than hunting for the symbolic meaning or the heroic experience in the field of architecture. Contemporary landscape design believes that “landscape” should be categorized as a kind of infrastructure, of which the functionality and spatial experience are supplementary to each other, helping to re-establish the identifiability and sense of belonging of our city. While still with criticisms and doubts, AA offered me an opportunity to see the potential of Landscape Urbanism, which later encouraged me to continue my study on Landscape and ecology in Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
▼陈忱在AA的设计作品，打破原来对于建筑的认知，design work in AA, breaking the previous understanding of architecture
GSD has a complete different system and direction on education. It is a very inclusive and comprehensive space, and it provides you with a lot of opportunities to talk to people from other sides of the spectrum. It is a place where I morphed the avant-garde and extreme ideas from the AA together with my unlearned architecture education from earlier. In this way, I found a very interesting approach to challenge and communicate with the professors and students at GSD. That year was a time for me to digest and to balance, which was very essential. My education at Harvard made me more determined to stay in architecture. Obviously, my definition for architecture has changed significantly from my understanding three years ago.
▼陈忱在GSD期间的设计作品，消化和平衡之前的学习内容，design work in GSD, balancing the previous study of architecture and landscape
Founding of reMIX studio
“When you are talking to people who are from different culture backgrounds, the focuses are always slightly different. Sometimes we have a hard time reaching conclusions, but for the most part, these fractions have brought me a lot of inspirations.”
It is often very difficult to find like-minded partners. I met Nico at the AA, and afterwards I met Federico, who was also working in London. We have very similar experiences, because all of us have a very clear and grounded architecture background, but at the same time, we all have a great deal of interest in ecology and landscape. That is why we really got together and started to set up the studio.
Federico and I are more focused on the early stage of design, and Nico, on the other hand, has a lot of experience on construction, and therefore is always a strong support in our practice. In a day to day basis, we work in parallel with each other, and each one of us leads one or two projects. We also routinely look at the designs and discuss the projects.
▼reMIX三位合伙人，three co-founders of reMIX
陈忱（左）/ Nico（中）/ Federico（右），Chen Chen (left) / Nico (middle) / Federico (right)
▼reMIX成立早期在胡同中的办公室，early office in Hutong
When you are talking to people who are from different culture backgrounds, the focuses are always slightly different. I have a lot of preconceived notions when we are working on projects in China, and sometimes I think that they are too obvious to even discuss about. However, Nico and Federico see things very differently because they are foreign to this context. When they arrived in Beijing, they see it a lot of differently than I do, because of their own expectations. Therefore, sometimes we have a hard time reaching conclusions, but for the most part, these fractions have brought me a lot of inspirations. For example, I rediscovered Beijing and also the hutongs with them, with a more critical perspective. It is certainly very interesting to look at your own culture and tradition in this way.
When they first moved to China about six to seven year ago, they insisted to work and live in the Hutong courtyard houses. I thought I was very familiar with Beijing, because I went to school there, and I also did a lot of urban regeneration projects and research on the old parts of the city. However, after they forced me into living and working in the Hutongs, I realized that I did not have a full understanding of it at all. We have had all kinds of encounters with the neighbors which I never could have imagined before. Living in the Hutongs is such a valuable experience that we had from the first two years of our start-up. It is a first hand experience that turned into an essential foundation for our renovation works in the Hutongs.
▼reMIX现在在胡同中的办公室，current office in Hutong
Holistic Design combining Landscape, Architecture and Interior
“We want to blur the boundary of architecture and landscape and challenge the traditional design disciplines, approaching holistic design combining landscape, architecture and interior design.”
“There are two keywords that encapsulate the mutuality of our projects, ‘relationship’ and ‘experience’.”
The first four years we did a lot of small-scale projects to have more experience by practice, from two to three square meters designs for furnitures and installations, to hundreds square meters for renovation and interior designs. At the same time we were also interested in urban scaled research and designs. However, when we first started the studio, it was hard to get commissions like that, therefore, we mostly applied this interest to academia and also speculative architecture and competitions. Recently, because of our growing experience and our built projects, we started to get projects with a bigger physical scale and more social impact, such as some public architecture commissions. We started to be able to talk about what we really care about, which is to discuss architecture, landscape and urbanism as a whole, and to design a coherent built environment. We like the scale of the city better, and I think that it is the best scale to showcase our identity and characteristics as reMIX.
▼reMIX部分作品集合，从小尺度的住宅设计到大尺度的城市设计都有，part of reMIX design projects from small-scaled residential
We are an interdisciplinary studio. Shunyi House was one of our first attempts to combine landscape and architecture together. At first the residents only commissioned us for landscape design in their garden. After many conversations, we discovered that they also wanted to have a public space for discussing and editing scripts and plays (they are screenwriters who work from home.) We worked together to organize a brief for the project, and suggested that the client should take this opportunity to realize a remake of a space that combines architecture and landscape. Taking advantage of the architectural extention, we connected and activated some unused space in the house, and then created a spatial sequence with a series of stairs and ramps. With this project, we not only talked about the continuity between the interior and the exterior, and also that the relationship of the new and the old. Even though it has a small scale, it is still one of our most important early built projects. It encouraged us to be more determined to convince the client to challenge the boundaries of traditional design disciplines, in order to apply our holistic design approach which combines landscape, architecture and interior design.
The Bamiyan competition project was located on a site that had a more appropriate scale, which significantly enhanced the value of our discussion. In a country with the tradition of cave dwelling, and in front of the Bamiyan Buddha in a steep terrain, the site is on the outer edge of UNESCO’s world heritage zone. How does a cultural center define its spirit and identity in this terrain? With this project, we proposed a carved in infrastructural architecture that is almost disappearing into the ground. One can hardly define where the architecture starts, and where the landscape finishes. With this project, we wanted to discuss the ways in which we blur the boundaries of the artificial and the natural, and also that of the architectural and landscape. This is also a topic that I am personally interested in.
One of the key features of our the Shenzhen Qianhai Landscape design proposal, is the tidal dynamics. The site contains all the unpredictability and uncontrollability of the ecological and the natural system, which is a very unfamiliar concept for architects to grasp. The understanding that architects have with architecture is that it stays eternal, ponderous and impermeable. However, the ecological and the natural is constantly changing, moreover, it appears in a different condition every each time, such as the tidal dynamics, which has a water level difference of 3.5 meters throughout the year. We wanted to use an approach that is in between landscape and architecture, to embrace the constant changes in nature. By precisely designing the contour lines of the micro topography, we proposed a series of differentiated and safe experience with water on the shoreline. In this project, natural dynamics are not only tolerated, but also highlighted. All of our interventions with the micro terrain becomes the climax in the middle of the island, and the steep rock climbing walls and skate park give the place a certain architectural identity. Some commented that it is difficult to see if this is a proposal from architects or landscape architects, because it is almost impossible to see this kind of approach to organizing spaces anywhere else. I think that what reMIX is pursuing is shown here in this project.
One of our recent projects is in Shenshanyan in Shanxi province, despite the poverty, it is located in a beautiful natural environment with a rich amount of foliage. The client wanted us to design a hotel with 30 guest rooms, and also to build a series of small buildings as facilities in between the forestry and the valley. Even though this is an architectural commission, we convinced the client to put more focus on the ecological infrastructure from the very beginning. By using our self-invented parametric analytical tool, we examined the natural terrain and also waterways very carefully. After securing the best area for man made interventions, we then started to design the buildings, and then connected them with a sequence that brings differentiated experiences. For these series of public spaces, the architectural identity and form are not as important as the relationship that it has with the terrain, vegetation, and its location on the general circulation. This relationship does not need to be in tune with nature all the time. It can also be conciliatory This is what we think the most interesting part of introducing landscape into architecture.
Futian High School is a project for which we congregated landscape, architecture, and urbanism as a whole. It also sits in a very architectural context. Futian High School is in a very dense urban environment. It is in the center of the city. that explores the method and technique of shaping a new prototype of school campus area from the perspective of urbanism and landscape. We extended the skyline of the original campus, and connected the lower side to the central park on the west side both ecologically and spatially. By using an interesting vertical design strategy on this edge between the campus and the city, we realized a campus without fences, which is also opened to the community. We introduced the concept of “multiple grounds”, a continuous spatial system that encourages students to explore and socialize, as a way to maximize natural elements in this very dense and intense context. As a result, we elevated this space with a 3.87 FAR into a unique condition where the “vertical campus” exists as a continuous social space, for the purpose of imagining how a contemporary campus in a high dense urban context ought to look like spatially.
In conclusion, there are two keywords that encapsulate the mutuality of our projects: “relationship” and “experience”. It is less important for us to concern about the symbolic meaning of a building as an isolated object, but its relationship with the urban context, the terrain, and the eco-system that actually exists and functions. There always be a strong circulation path in our design which embodies our landscape way in architecture design. We pay much attention to the real path of users in the project as well as the space experience it brings. This is the idea we are trying to convey through projects in different scales and functions.
Young architects in China
“If the government can use public funding to give young architects opportunities, our situation would be much better.”
The opportunities in major cities in China are getting fewer and fewer, but there are still a lot of projects to be built. Therefore it seems that the difficulty which lots of young architects might experience is not actually too bad in China. Most smaller and younger firms start with renovation or smaller scale projects. However, young architects have very few opportunities with bigger scale urban and public projects. This is related to our system and policy, because the governmental design agencies always take control of these projects. Obviously this is a very common situation around the world. These projects have longer life spans and bigger budgets , so young architects who are not so experienced are rarely allowed to try it out. A lot of international organizations are actually trying to challenge and change this condition, such as the Europan competition in Europe. They use public funding to support young architects to design some public projects. This would often be the first time these young architects have ever tried large scale projects, both the client and the architect have to take quite a risk. This is a reality that we have to face. It would be impossible to have someone with private funding to be comfortable with this type of responsibility. However, if the government can use public funding to give young architects the opportunities, our situation would be much better. This competition that we attended for Futian High School was lead by the Futian Authority of Shenzhen Municipal Planning and Land Resources Committee. Under great pressure, they hosted this open competition to redistribute opportunities in a very fair and transparent way, to create a platform for both young and experienced architects. In the last round of the competition, there were three or four winning proposals that were designed by young architects. They really came up with proposals that are both innovative and practical. This competition showed great hope for young designers in China.
Family and Career
“I feel very lucky to be able to work and create at the studio with Nico. However, this type of partnership also brings some challenges into our private life.”
“I don’t think that women nowadays have to choose between work and family, there is a way for us to keep them both running.”
The reason why I started our studio with my husband is because of how I grew up. I really liked the way my parents worked and lived together. I feel very lucky to be able to work and create at the studio with Nico. However, at the same time, this type of partnership also brings some challenges into our private life. Working in architecture is a very immersive experience, it is also a very long career, thereby, it is difficult for us to draw a boundary between our family and career clearly. Sometimes we really do bring the conflicts at work to our family life. Last year we did a competition on the shoreline of Hainan together. We didn’t have much time or a full team of people, and basically we had to pull all nighters to finish this project in 30 days. Because both of us were very into it, and we had diverging and strong opinions, it was a real tough period for both of us. Therefore, we do avoid working on the same projects with the same exact roles.
▼海南海岸线规划竞赛，陈忱和Nico合作完成的项目，competition on the Shoreline of Hainan, Chen Chen and Nico collaborated to complete the project
I am actually a very relaxed and liberated mother. I can still fulfill my career in whatever ways possible. Even though I do have to change in some ways, for example, now it would be impossible for me to work extra time and leave whenever I want. For example, the Futian High School project requires a period of highly intense work, and if I were not a mother, I would have left today and move to Shenzhen to work on site tomorrow. Now I have to give more considerations. However, in general, I don’t think that women nowadays have to choose between work and family, there is a way for us to keep them both running. My way is to bring my daughter to meetings and discussions or even going to site visits. I don’t think that there is anything that she should not see. When I was at the AA, our program director Eva, an excellent architect proved that this was possible, and her way of mothering was eye opening for me. With this strategy, we can spend more time together despite the intense schedule at work, and at the same time, it provides her with the environment to grow into a more adaptive and curious kid.
▼陈忱一家三口的照片，photo of Chen Chen and Nico and their daughter
Expectation for reMIX
“Keep a core team with 10 to 20 people, having more freedom to explore type and scale of architecture that we are interested in, doing more interesting things together.”
▼陈忱和同事开会探讨设计方案，Chen Chen discussing the design with her colleagues
I don’t really see our firm growing too rapidly, and I hope that we can keep a core team with 10 to 20 people, so that our team can work with attentiveness and flexibility. We do flatten out our structure and organization to allow more communications, and to encourage the partners to devote themselves completely to the projects. In this way, we have more freedom to explore the type and scale of architecture that we are interested in , so that with every project we can innovate by design and research consciously, instead of becoming the “experts” who only repeat themselves with their work. However, obviously, team building is pretty difficult for smaller firms. Our staff often come and go, and most of them are young and inexperienced architects, and sometimes they leave Beijing because of personal reasons. We hope to attract more people to work together long term, and to do more interesting things together.
▼工作中的陈忱，Chen Chen during work