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gooood Under 35 NO.51 introduces Li Hao, founder of One Take Architects
More: One Take Architects on gooood
出品人：向玲 / Producer: Xiang Ling
编辑：武晨曦，杨子遥；盖世昕；熊玮 / Editor: Wu Chenxi, Yang Ziyao, Gai Shixin, Xiong Wei
About the past
I spent most of my childhood in a ceramics factory, which was neither an urban nor a rural environment. I was exposed to art craft and packaging-related design since I was very young, and this may have implicitly influenced my later choice of entering the design industry. In 2003, I went to the CAFA, where the architectural education is well combined with art in its kind-of experimental teaching system, which I think is also relevant to what I’m interested to engage with as a founder of an architectural studio. After graduating from the university, my understanding of architecture seemed to be more liberal, making me feel that being and architect means you have great energy, with unlimited possibilities for exploration. This is how I came step-by-step to what I am doing.
I did not attend graduate school or study abroad after graduation, but chose to go into practice first: from a small-scale office to a relatively large firm, I went a long way in architectural industry. After all these experiences I returned to the practice on small projects, which is also what I prefer to do, and only in 2016, about 5 years from now, did I catch the opportunity to started my own studio.
▼学生时代的李豪，Li Hao during his studenthood
the ceramic factory where Li Hao spent most of his childhood
One Take Architects：“All In One Go”
I would call myself a ‘free-range’ person.
The name of our studio came from the idea of “one take”, which suggests our optimistic expectation of “finish a thing in one action”. This is obviously only an idealized statement, since the work of an architect requires constant repetition and refinement, but still it reflects our attitude to be well prepared for every project we do, and then move forward with more certainty. In most cases we only take over the commissioned projects and only do one proposal per round, because we believe that when you are fully prepared and have adequately communicated with the client, there is usually a good chance of getting it “all in one go”. This is also what we extremely enjoy in our working.
Left: part of the team of One Take Architects; Right: the Shanghai Office
The studio started with only two people, and now there are about 10. I want to keep its scale as a small practice that slightly involves with research and development work. It does not have to be too commercial and it needs everyone to be innovative and collaborative. Since I have never been to a particularly prestigious studio or study abroad, I would call myself a “free-range” person. At the beginning there was a time of worries, as you were dealing with the whole architectural market totally as an individual. After a few years of working together with my team, we gradually found that it is in fact a very interesting path to grow, because you can keep moving forward with curiosity and fresh feelings，and this sense of exploration is something that everyone in our studio tries to maintain.
A “nomad” who grows wild
I’m unlikely to be blocked in a frame by the profession of architect. This is why I use “nomadic” to describe my way of working.
The “nomadic” nature of One Take Architects is embodied in two aspects: one is “physically nomadic”, which is because we would like to spend a lot of time on projects sites. It is exciting for us to be on the journey and receive real-time feedback from both the site and the design itself. The second is “intellectually nomadic”, which refers to knowledge and concerns that are not limited to the basics of architecture as a discipline. I have experienced quite a lot struggling finding the right direction, and sometimes I feel strongly that I’m not just an architect, or that I’m unlikely to be blocked in a frame by the profession of architect. This is why I use “nomadic” to describe my way of working, and later on I have done those projects that are related to art, new media as well as commonweal programs, which are all what I’m really willing to do. However, for now I would prefer to use the word “migratory” to describe my state of being, because “nomadic” in some way has a sense of “getting done and leave away”, while “migratory” is to wander between different fields and territories out of curiosity. I think there is a sense of responsibility behind it and I personally prefer to have everyone in the team get something out of it as they explore between the different fields.
Architecture in some way is expected to be “timelessness”, but I hold the view that sometimes a specific place needs to express an “opinion”, to convey a “spirit” or to provide a non-permanent function through the use of space. This has been embodied in many of our projects, such as Program SPARK and some of the smaller spatial installations we have done. Although it still needs to be realized with spatial and architectural knowledge, but the experience and emotion it brings to us is vivid and strong. Its instantaneous burst of energy is greater than what a “timeless” building can bring to me.
▼一本造工作室部分作品拼图，part of the projects of One Take Architects
Between architecture and public art
Public art has the same function as architecture to serve people, but in a less ‘heavy’ way.
The Shelter · Mirrored Sight
Public art, like architecture, is also an expression of space, but it may have to be less considered in terms of functionality. On the other hand, public art is more concerned with the need for spirituality, including the expression of personal consciousness.
Taking the Shelter · Mirrored Sight as an example, which is a small-scale installation we built in the old town of Longli in Jinping county, there was no rigid requirement or even a brief for us to conceive its structure, and therefore it turned to be something like an art piece. We stayed in the site for a whole month to get to know the social and cultural habits of the area, where there was a river that had importantly influenced the production and life of the local people. The connection between the river and the old town inspired us to create a riverfront structure where people can do meditation and in the meantime to have a dialogue with the old town. We used locally sourced wood and bamboos to build the basic frame, while the mono-permeable glass was applied in the façades of the meditation room. In this way we set up a piece of “mirror” on the river, above which there was only a triangular, tower-shaped structure dedicated to meditating. The internal space was not equipped with light fixtures, it was illuminated through the diffused natural light on its glass façades, which made the person inside become an “attachment” of its spiritual world. This project was my first foray into public art, only after which had I realized that public art has the same function as architecture to serve people, but in a less “heavy” way. Sometimes you have to convert yourself to a more powerful creator instead of just thinking as an architect.
▼三角形的冥想屋在夜晚发出微光，the triangular structure for meditation glows at night
Internal Theater is a completely personal creation that I think is closer to the category of public art. It is located in the ceramic factory where I was raised. Not until I went back there in 2017 had I found out that it had been closed for twenty years. Since it was during Chines New Year, the demolition stopped halfway. At that time I had a strong feeling that my childhood and all those memories of the past would soon be vanished, like a beloved elder who was passing away. I suddenly realized that I had to do something to “save” this place and also the memories related to it. In the partly demolished Workers Club inside the factory, we set up a stage inside the existing theatre, hence it was named as “Internal Theater”. This project only existed for two days. It was an ephemeral space for all those former factory workers to mourn for the co-living era never to return.
After the theatre had been established, we started to invite people back their home to visit it. I made a poster for the plan and asked my parents to send it to as many friends as they knew. I was quite surprised when I saw more than 200 people coming back to visit this ruin-like place, and many of them had driven more than 30 kilometers for the trip. It was an extremely impressive experience for me to have met those people I would never expected to meet again in my life. There was also a strong “chemistry” between people who came, as they gathered as small groups just like how they had companied each other as workmates twenty years ago. They spent an extraordinary day in their lives: they were reunited, they hugged each other tearfully as if they were never separated.
When they think of the factory some day in the future, what comes to their mind will be not only the memory from twenty years ago, but also the day they met each other in the theatre that had eventually been demolished. This is what I feel most precious and affecting about collective memories, and also where the value of public art lies in: something that has no function or community-related narrative can be re-observed and re-energized due to the awakened memories of individuals, resulting in a more emotional and spiritual connection. Public art projects can always leave me feeling very impressed afterwards, which is a bit different from what is happening when I do architectural projects.
▼回到陶瓷厂工人俱乐部的亲友们，people came back to the Workers Club inside the ceramic factory
▼一座虚空的“纪念碑”，a hollow “monument” in the center of the club
Space can be regarded as a means or a weapon that can be used in architectural design and installation art in different ways, but in fact it is essentially the same. Architectural design has more of a clear demand, while installation is more like “something out of nothing”, where the specific experience and emotion come first. However, it can be completely reversed, for example, we probably use an architectural method for an installation work, i.e. to give it a function. One example can be given here is the Pop Star project we finished in 2020, of which the idea was to create a symbol or a “neo-city” fallen on the island. It was a kaleidoscope-like installation that also functioned as a viewing platform that allowed people to walk in and observe the outside world. What is interesting is that when we create a space that can be walked in, it is almost inevitable to consider the functional components like stairs and railings, which leads us back to the architectural discussion. Consequently, we move between architecture and installation, and in the meantime, we place ideas from different fields in each other’s contexts whenever it is appropriate.
▼观众可进入中心部位，Spectators can enter the central area
“it will be ideal to make technology and space switch seamlessly between real and virtual. This is what we are very interest in and wish to explore more.”
In some of our projects, like Mandalas Pop-up Digital Art Museum and Uncertain Memory, we used interactive program and technologies. At first I inclined to start the design from solid space. Then I came into contact with some areas related to new media and digital technology. I found these technologies allowed you to achieve some magical things that could not be done in a traditional space. As an architect, I must embrace this technology. However, I also feel confused about the conflict between human and technology. Compared to technology, the operation ability of human brain is relatively inferior and I might lose control of an overly complex technology, which would make me feel technology a cold thing without emotion. There must be a connection between technology and human feelings. Therefore in the design of Mandalas Pop-up Art Museum, in spite of the theme of digital art, we shaped the place in a traditional space. We inserted a extremely natural, non-urban element into the center of a business circle in Beijing, creating an atmosphere that could not be achieved by technology. You have to use space to make people aware of what he or she will face next.
▼可倚可坐可攀的踏步，the steps for people to lean back, sit, or climb
It is particularly suitable to combine new media and digital technology with traditional space, making them the finishing touches of the project. The boundary between technology and the space is better to be vague because the ways of interaction between people and technology is actually limited. What we can do are no more than screen projection, holographic projection, or tactile and sound capture. Therefore, it will be ideal to make technology and space switch seamlessly between real and virtual. This is what we are very interest in and wish to explore more.
Program SPARK: An open source study camp
“I think any professional skills can be made into courses and taught to the left-behind children in the villages. They have the same right to access to the things which the children in the city have access to.”
In 2017, I coincidently came to know Li Kexin, founder of Wuhan Sunner Social Development and Innovation Center, which was a public welfare organization that we have been constantly cooperating with. They were focusing on the education for the left-behind children in the rural districts then and we talked about the education methods for the children. We wondered if we could bring some professional and traditional skills to the villages in the form of study camps. It means that we as professional architects, could transform our understanding of installation into practical courses for children, and teach them in the rural areas.
We would go to the decided places with the public welfare organization, which are usually Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan and Yunnan because these are the districts with more left-behind children. Besides, we also collaborate with local public welfare organizations and schools, trying to make our professional teaching team to visit all the places in several years. We will set up this kind of study camp every summer holiday. The aim of the courses is to let the children experience the life work of a space creator within a few days. Since 2017, we have made four camps. At the beginning the scale of the camp was relatively small and it gradually became more and more complete. We will design half of the scheme beforehand and teach the children to create the other half during the course. This is the regular process of the camps every year.
Considering the curiosity and patience of 10-year-old children are actually different from the adults, each camp would last about five days. I would tell them that the process of creating and constructing might be boring and sometimes you have to use your patience to conquer your curiosity. There would be 4~5 small classes, such as paper rolling class and airbrush class, interspersed in the course. It allows us to combine the construction with creative process, stimulating the children’s curiosity from time to time.
We would share the course package with the volunteers of all the other camps so that they can teach other children to create works based on the package. Everyone can reinterpret the material, which is like an open source program. It will finally become an open source entity when different camps achieve results in different styles. We would also put the materials on the homepage of Program SPARK. Any similar project, whether it is a public welfare camp or not, can take it directly. Thus we could provide more opportunities to encourage more people to promote this kind of professional rural service. I think any professional skills, architects’, artists’, or even doctors’, can be made into courses and taught to the left-behind children in the villages. They have the same right to access to the things which the children in the city have access to. Maybe it is difficult for them to leave the countryside in their young ages. However, only when they are exposed to these things will they have more opportunities and abilities to communicate with the outside world in the future.
The camp encourages the student to utilize the materials that can be easily found in the countryside
Take the Hi Ladders High project in 2018 for instance. This project used materials that could be found everywhere in the countryside. Firstly, we gave the children prefabricated wooden sticks in different lengths and let them build paper models of the ladders. After that, we let them make models using the sticks and rearrange the ladders in different forms. This process was much like the “workshop” of the “Preliminary Architecture” course in university. When the models were done, each child would give a presentation to the others, explaining and promoting his/her project. For example, one child wished that the ladders would form a space that people could go in and out through every gap. They explained their designs in a very clear way and some children would raise questions, which led to a discussion. It was exactly what architects do during their work. After the presentation, we would choose three schemes and realize them directly. Then the children could experience and share their ideas in the built space.
We have gained some experiences after the completion of Hi Ladders High that we found it very beneficial to use materials from the countryside. In the 2019 Blue Daydream project, we built a large percussion instrument from blue and white rainwater pipes. This year, in the Blooming Time project, we combined second-hand ofo bicycles together to form a large-scale play structure like a carousel. Children rode on it and played happily. All of these programs made use of materials in the country skirt and turned them into installations. On the one hand, it could generate new value from old materials. What’s more, the materials were transformed into devices that could be played, bringing happiness to the children.
“It is like establishing a firework show in the children’s heart. Though you would not shoot off fireworks every day, the moment of fireworks blooming in the sky is so interesting and beautiful that it will be imprinted on the children’s minds forever.”
“I wish to call on more young architects, artists and people from different professions to participate in Program SPARK. The more people join in the program; the more ‘sparks’ it will generate.”
Though the course is just a try, I still hope that it could be continued every year. Actually the process is quite stressful because it would interrupt the work of our studio every July and August. In addition, it is very laborious to complete each stage, from planning and material purchase, making experiment, to sharing with the children all by ourselves. However, as the process is enjoyable and it is very rewarding to see the laughing faces of the children, I still feel that the program should be carried on. It is like establishing a firework show in the children’s heart. Though you would not shoot off fireworks every day, the moment of fireworks blooming in the sky is so interesting and beautiful that it will be imprinted on the children’s minds forever.
I think education is irreplaceable and it is difficult to measure the value of the effort in education by money. I wish to call on more young architects, artists and people from different professions to participate in Program SPARK. The more people join in the program; the more sparks it will generate. Currently, the most crucial issue is to persist the idea. It is the fifth year of Program Spark this year and we may greet the tenth in the future.
▼快乐的营地记忆，the happy memories in the camp
First we must understand that regionalism and non-regionalism are not two extremes. Both Silver Linings and Cloudy Courtyard partially used the idea of regionalism, showing it on different levels.”
云见民宿 + 清溪行馆
Silver Linings Boutique Hotel + Cloudy Courtyard
Discussion of Regionalism and Non-regionalism
Silver Linings is a renovation project transformed from an ordinary four-story building in the village. There was not much of a story in the building so that we were more inclined to create a new form with selected regional materials. The immediate decision was to make a space related to bamboos because bamboo is the most representative material of the local characteristics of Zhuhai and every household is engaged in bamboo-related industries. Then we hoped that the architectural form of the project would be a contrast to the traditional bamboo elements. All the warm colored objects were composed of bamboos from the Bamboo Sea. The railings on the façade were made of raw bamboo with protective treatment capped by bamboo steel. Interior furnitures were cladded by bamboo panels. Even the painting in the lobby was handmade by myself using cut bamboo roots. These materials were manifestations of regionalism. The form of the building, such as the orientation of the 18 windows and the ribbon shape of the courtyard, was decided by the functional needs and the site conditions, which was the result from non-regional thinking.
The Silver Linings Boutique Hotel is renovated from an ordinary four-story building in the village
▼竹材料的使用回应了竹海的地域特征，the use of bamboo responds to the local characteristics of Zhuhai
Cloudy Courtyard used the opposite strategy and it could be regarded as an interpretation of the traditional house in west Anhui, from which we took the structural order but not the form. In order to meet the requirements of modern architecture, its materials, including the stone and wood used on the façade, were completely sourced from around the site. However, we transcend the usual space by using the language of modern architecture, such as the interlocking angles of the volumes and the interweaved spaces. Finally we got 24 small courtyards in 3 big courtyards, providing a familiar sense to the local inhabitants. However, as there was no trace of tradition on the architectural form, they could not figure out the reason why they felt familiar with the project. Like in the project of Internal Theater, you leave an opening to the memory and people will vaguely feel the connection between the venue and the original lifestyle when they are staying in the space. Therefore regionalism cut in these two project in a formless way. For those who don’t now the project very well, they may think it is a new building on the first sight. We wish that people could feel some differences between looking at the pictures and experiencing the real space, which would increase the readability of the building.
▼优雅的屋顶折线，the elegant roof lines
“From a designer’s aspect, I think there are two key points in Chinese villages. One is education and the other is the common view after the design.”
The integration with the countryside is the main trend and we feel pleased and excited for it. From the reformation program of “Beautiful Village” to the strategy of Rural Revitalization, it is in fact a process of introducing both aesthetic structures and industrial resources to the rural districts. From a designer’s aspect, I think there are two key points in Chinese villages. One is education and the other is the common view after the design.
Frankly, making design intervention is to build houses. We will put more effort on what else we can do after the design is completed. Take Cloudy Courtyard for instance. It is no longer a pure guest house. It has become an example of rural revitalization in the village on a certain level and will stimulate the construction of more cultural buildings in this district in the future. As soon as the project was completed, it drew attention from the local library institute which came and asked for long-term cooperation. When introducing books into this project, we had to in turn think what kind of library it would be, which I think was the most interesting part. Currently, we are considering to build a small library beside the Cloudy Courtyard. It will be a library that could stimulate sentiment communication. There will be merely one book every week and people will build up their relationship with the book in a space of a mirror-stand size. It will also hold new event and performance as a village cultural center.
Another important issue is education. Unlike material and economy, education cannot be improved in a short time. Only after the overall level of education is improved, will more people return to the villages. This will be a slow process that will take generations of people to accomplish. It is the goal that we want to reach in Program SPARK. I think that people with professional skills are obligated to go to the countryside and make their contribution.
▼在乡村中工作，working in the rural environment
The pandemic has turned people to be more cautious in the past two years. To be realistic, I have to ensure the survival of the studio first. On the perspective of design, I will focus more on installation, thinking more on a spiritual and mental level. Sometimes I wonder if I should concentrate on one area, a certain material, technique or skill. However, I am not the kind of person who will be limited by one form or material and it is difficult to frame myself in one place. Perhaps we can keep on “playing” for several years and find a relatively clear direction in this process.