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gooood Under 35 NO.33 introduces Shen Jianghai, founder of DAGA Architects
More: DAGA Architects on gooood
出品人：向玲 / Producer: Xiang Ling
编辑团队：陈诺嘉，武晨曦，刘丹阳，韦紫昭，历剑 / Editor: Chen Nuojia, Wu Chenxi, Liu Danyang, Wei Zizhao, Li Jian
▼视频 Video （全文深度采访见下方文字。视频为4分钟精华版，建议选择蓝光1080p观看。）
“As long as it’s related to architecture, I will fly to any city at any time.”
I have a common study experience, finished the undergraduate course in China, then as planed to study Architecture MA abroad. Fortunately, I got the chance to work in Zaha Hadid Architects before graduation. Although the design director persuaded me to continue to do design when I left London, I would rather try a different direction about architecture, so I went to Vanke. My former colleagues in Vanke started their own business in 2016 and asked me to do some projects, so our design studio was set up under this conditions and developed rapidly. I am innately interested in buildings, as long as it’s related to architecture, I will fly to any city at any time.
▼（左）申江海在扎哈工作，(left) Shen Jianghai worked in Zaha Hadid Architects
（右）申江海在伦敦杨经文公司工作，(right) Shen Jianghai worked in Ken Yeang Design International in London
Real estate and design
“Working experience in real estate company help me to meet the demands of clients in a better way, as well as realizing my own design ideas.”
I have told my friend at home when I was in the UK, that I would go back to work in a real estate company. I do not think it is enough for designers only to make models and conceptual projects. The designers prefer to get hyper by themselves sometimes, but there are many factors in the whole process of a project from scratch, so I am very curious about what is going on during this period. I went to Beijing Vanke when I came back to China, and participated in many different stages, from the early land acquisition, forced drainage project, planning project, to finish the design project, construction drawing, construction cooperation and so on, even will argue with the sales every day. I have benefited a lot in those years. So when I discuss with the clients will clearly know their demands, which is not to say that I want to cater to them, but I know how to meet the demands of them in a better way, meanwhile also can realize my own design ideas.
Creativity is the most important thing for a design company, but most real estate companies in China prefer the design management because the designer needs to coordinate the cost and sales, to mediate among land acquisition, construction and operation, so must know the normal regulation, which required rich work experiences. Not long after my graduation, I started to work in Vanke, so I had to study regulations every day, and treated all things carefully, which has a big difference with the design job. There is a fatal disadvantage working in a real estate company, that is, the design ability will degenerate after working for a long time there, because as an architect of a real estate company, normally will give up their own design in a certain degree. So you will become an excellent design manager but not a designer anymore.
Positioning and scale of the company
“As the need for urban renewal is growing, DAGA is positioned as a design service company trends to do urban renewal projects.”
When I came back in 2012, then Vanke manager Mao Daqing clearly told me that the construction market has been declining gradually, and China doesn’t need so many new buildings, but the urban renewal is the future. Therefore, since DAGA has been set up, we have positioned it as a design service company trends to the urban renewal. Most projects in our company are renovation. In the beginning, the projects were small, only with one or two thousand square meters, some Hutong projects were even only several square meters. The following projects we have done most were the renovation of the whole building or Industrial Park, which can reach to be tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousand square meters. We started to do the street renovation this year, we have some projects in Chengdu, Xi’an, and some other cities now.
▼大观刚成立时的办公室，office of DAGA at the beginning of establishment
Nowadays, the construction market is depressed increasingly, while urban renewal is growing up constantly. Not only the first-tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen need to be renovated, but also Hangzhou, Chengdu and even Western of Lanzhou and some other cities have started renovating. Which is a very interesting thinking direction for architects. I have been in Beijing since DAGA was set up, we found the Shanghai office last year, and we have over 40 designers in total. As we mainly do urban renewal projects, so we did not divide architects and interior designers clearly. Different occupation has their own advantages, the architects are more good at the control of large scale spaces, and the interior designers are more good at controlling details and materials. In order to cooperate with the integration of design and construction, we also have an engineering company, so that to be more clear about the cost, materials, and construction.
▼大观北京办公室，Beijing office of DAGA
“If we wanted to get constant improvement, then we must keep running.”
DAGA is a team with strong execution, do things immediately as the decision made; DAGA is also a very young team, some employees under 30 years old can be project leaders, to be responsible for the project management of a building, and do very excellent work. These young people cooperate closely with the construction and are very familiar with materials, processes and cost control. For new colleagues, which accounts for 70-80%, firstly we value the design ability, secondly is the team work ability.
DAGA is also a learning studio, we invite external designers to share experiences every week, we hope to get constant improvement through continuous learning. In addition, we also summarize our own problems and try to make our ideas more divergent in the design process. With more projects, it is very easy to fall into a cycle unconsciously sometimes, we will think about how we used to do before when starting a new project, which is a terrible phenomenon. So even if the client did not ask for, I still will force the teams to try different designs. Although it will spend more time and labor, in the long term, if we wanted to get constant improvement, then we must keep running.
I don’t want our team to be too tired. Most of the architects are very tired, many of my friends gave up design finally because they worked too much overtime. We keep busy from Monday to Friday but must try to be free at weekends. I usually play badminton on weekends, and to watch movies, at least three a week. I think life needs ceremony. I go on business every week, and I will read a book on the way. Family and personal health are the most important things, under this premise, we will try to do more interesting projects.
▼公司中举办经验分享会，study meeting in the office
Because I have stayed in the real estate company for five years, and have done several good projects, many people in this filed know me, so when they have a new project will contact me. Our projects are half office, half residence, the real estate projects account for 80%, and the remaining 20% are the projects are just for fun, even will not make money also be ok.
▼大观部分作品一览，selected projects of DAGA
5Lmeet and UCOMMUNE
“If we wanted to save the old buildings, we should not only have a good design concept, but also the concept of excellent operation and development.”
Because of 5Lmeet then have DAGA，our office is the first project of 5Lmeet. The founder of 5Lmeet Mao Daqing, the general manager, who was my leader when I worked in Vanke, most of the founding members of 5Lmeet were my colleagues in Vanke. At that time, they asked two design companies to do designs, but they were not particularly satisfied with them. So my friend asked for my suggestions, and they thought my suggestions were great, then decided to let me do it. I asked Ren Xiaowei and Xu Yunfei as partners to do this project. The completed effect was very great, there were about 100 activities a month in this building. Instantly we were known by other real estate companies in Beijing, they also came to us for projects, so that our design studio continued. The founder of UCOMMUNE is also Mao Daqing, and UCOMMUNE is our major shareholder, we have done seven 5Lmeet projects and dozen of UCOMMUNE projects.
The UCOMMUNE is a co-working space, while the 5Lmeet is mixed format including eating, drinking and playing, which represents the typical demands of urban renewal, and it was very fashionable at that time. It was a rare experience for common design companies to participate in these projects at the beginning. The cooperation with them has helped us form a leading design concept, which ensures that we can smoothly cooperate with other real estate companies with the same demands in the future. If we wanted to save the old buildings, we should not only have a good design concept, but also the concept of excellent operation and development. On this point, 5Lmeet and DAGA have the same view. Every project is a growing process for us, and the market also forces us to change constantly, there will have an update or even a subversion in half a year. Marking time is the most terrible thing for a designer, under the background of the rapid development of Chinese cities, the city operators, development companies and designers must face those new challenges together.
▼贵友大厦优客工场，Guiyou Mansion UCOMMUNE
(left) Kunming Joy City UCOMMUNE, (right) Guiyou Mansion UCOMMUNE
Experience and technique
“To design shared space, we should free our mind and pay attention to the operation.”
To design shared space, we should first indulge ourselves and active our minds.For the shared space design is not only to change it more delicate, but the more important thing is the space operation. Who will use this place? How to use it? It will be a company, or will be shared by different companies, different ages or different classes people? We should think about these conditions first, then start to design the space. If we only think about how to make it look good, we may only make a beautiful cavity in the end, beautiful but no one cares.
Renovation and urban renewal
“For Chinese architects, It is our responsibility to make the city better.”
For me, the new buildings and renovation projects both are very interesting. We will not treat them differently just because of the project type. Our company chose urban renewal as our main direction objectively related to the market. With the decrease in the demand for new buildings in the city, more and more old buildings need to be renovated. I have met this kind of situation when I worked in the UK: there are no many new buildings in the UK, almost all are renovation projects; new projects are in the Middle East, China and even India. At present, not only the first-tier cities in China but also many second and third-tier cities also have a large number of renovation needs. For Chinese architects, this is our responsibility and mission. We should make the city better.
“Renovation projects need the designer go to the site frequently to ensure the final result will be relatively close to the original idea.”
Firstly, we must know what functions the space will undertake when doing the renovation project. Most of the renovation projects are old industrial parks, office buildings, and even poorly operated shopping centers, which are relatively large. New developers need new development models and concepts. Second, 80% of the renovation projects are with very low cost. For developers, the renovation project is slim profit and with very low design cost. Take the office renovation as an example, RMB1500 per square meter can only paint or change the air outlet; if increased it to be RMB2500, then can make some interesting renovation at the public activity area; if increased to be RMB10000, then can design it at your will. Third, unlike the new project, the renovation project site often does not correspond to the drawings, so need the designers go to the site for surveying and mapping frequently. In the renovation of Traders Hotel, we have designed the ceiling shape, but when the old ceiling was removed, we found that it was densely packed with three meter high wires, so it could not be changed. There will be many different situations from the imagination in the reconstruction site, so we must go to the site at least once a week. When we did the first project, which was a 2000 square meter site, I went there hundred times during the three months of construction. Only in this way we can ensure the final result will be relatively close to the original idea.
“It is very interesting for me to make people with high demands of life quality to feel relatively comfortable in a small space.”
As a Beijing architect, it is impossible to miss Hutong projects. Except for its geographical and cultural attributes, Hutong is also celebrated by its residents. Dongsi 5Lmeet is our first Hutong project with a large scale, the whole Hutong can be seen from the roof after the renovation, which is unusual. The most common Hutong projects are small houses, such as the project I did 3 years ago, a 12 square meter mini villa in Dongluoquan Hutong with three people live in. The household kept sending the photos of the house to me in the past three years, which is almost the same as when the renovation was just finished. They have the second baby now, so it has four people living in the 12 square meter space. Those Beijing residents living in Hutong are not because of money, but for the convenience of their children’s school and life. Our another Hutong project is a house more than 20 square meters with a three-person family living in. The parent drives the electric bicycle to send their child to school every day, and then drives the luxury car to work. I feel this kind of living status of Beijing Hutong is very real and cool. How to make some people with high demands of life quality to feel relatively comfortable in a small space is a very interesting thing for me.
“Brand some new marks that belong to our own generation under the conditions of without affecting the tradition.”
After finishing more Hutong projects, we have refined a set of design techniques gradually, which is called “Transparent Hutong theory”. We hope the additional houses built between the old buildings will be as transparent as possible. Firstly, it can get better lighting and ventilation. Secondly, it can restore the urban fabric of the Hutong district, so as to distinguish the old buildings from the new ones clearly. “Transparent Hutong” is a theory of respecting the old buildings and let the new ones blanking. Therefore, we have used a lot of transparent techniques in designs, and we hope to promote this theory to the whole nation. If the client would accept this theory, we will cooperate with him; while, if not, we will let it go, no matter how much money he would like to pay. There is an old house in Xiangxi, which has three courtyards. We restored all the old things and put all the new functions in a transparent box. We will also make some virtual space. For example, in No. 3 transparent Hutong, the bearing keel of the glass box extended into the courtyard to form a public courtyard. These bearing keels can not only be used as stairs connecting the roof but also can be used to hang clothes or even to swing. The people living here can drink tea or do anything they want in the courtyard. The glass box is a concrete interior space with a virtual appearance; while the courtyard is a virtual space but could define the boundary psychologically.
We do respect history, but will not just repair it without any changes. Once Chinese designers encounter traditional things, they will be very careful and not dare to change anything. I think for young designers, they can brand some new marks that belong to our own generation under the conditions of without affecting the tradition.
Integration of Design and Construction
▼设计师在施工现场，designer at the construction site
For the integration of design and construction, we should consider the following several aspects: first, it is hard to find a good construction team in the market now, many projects have beautiful renderings, but with very poor completion. To improve the completion of a project is one of the most important reasons for us to promote the integration of design and construction. Second, we want to try more fields related to architectural design, to explore the potential of DAGA. The integration of design and construction is the first direction we touched. In some office and residential projects, we deliberately to do design and construction together. The construction effect of such projects is much better than those only doing design because, in such a form, the designer is Party A of the construction team, so for any unsatisfied place can be required to be redone. Third, through the integration of design and construction, designers can know more about materials and construction technology. Now in our firm, even the young post-90s designers know how to make joints at corners or junctions, and will consider the materials and technologies during the construction design. Finally, in the integrated design and construction project, we will order materials and allocate labor by ourselves, so that we can better control the cost.
▼设计施工一体化的作品，品质更高，construction and design integration projects, which have better quality
（左）春萌园，(below left) Chunmengyuan
（右）西红门，(below right) Xihongmen
“Lost projects have their own significance.”
The renovation of Steel Factory and Laitai Flower Market are bidding projects, but we lost them, because of the over-exaggerated design. In fact, when this project was processed half we have known that we were closer to the lost, at that time we needed to make a decision, to be a little arbitrary or tried to make it more regular and safe, but we chose the former, so it was made more and more exaggerated.
The Steel Factory client demanded to make film and television creativity. The whole project has 100000 square meters, including three workshops. We had made some staggering floors according to the height, made some slides combined with the chimney, and set up a circular glass runway on the roof, to connect the three workshops. The landscape fluctuates with it, and we also made a lot of interactive space. Objectively speaking, we have replaced almost half of the workshop, a large area of the roof was demolished, partially hollowed out, partially covered with glass, only this kind of space can meet the content requirements of “interesting”.
▼首钢二通厂效果图，renovation of Steel Factory
In the Laitai Flower Market project, we kept the original steel structure of the flower market in the rear, put on the glass top, and the main store interspersed among them. Those three buildings in the front were integrated with glass curtain walls, which were high in the middle and low on both sides. On one side, we built a floating swimming pool, on the other side, we built an air restaurant, which was also an interesting plan.
▼莱太花卉市场效果图，Laitai Flower Market
对外宣传的时候，我们从来不会因为某个项目输掉了而觉得不好意思。作为设计师，我们没有为了拿到项目而委曲求全，回避自己内心的诉求，我为这点感到自豪。现在我们正在写一本关于城市更新的书，最后一章叫“We are loser”，就收录了我们输掉的项目，这些项目也有它们自己的意义。
We have never felt embarrassed because of the loss in one project in external publicity. As designers, we didn’t compromise for getting the project and dodged our inner demands. I’m so proud of that. We are writing a book about bout urban renewal, the last chapter is “We are loser”, were listed all the projects we have lost, and all these projects with their own significance.
“Even micro innovation can make us progress.”
Most of the projects need to be built, but even for the very difficult projects, we also try to design and make a breakthrough, even if only little innovation which can make us get small improvement. If we encountered a project with an inclusive client, we should catch the opportunity to realize the design as fully as possible. Considering the normal operation of the studio, we must guarantee 70% of the projects to be built, as for the remaining 30%. if they could make it “fun”, we can do it even lose money.
▼其他未中标项目 – （左）前门中服免税店，（右）西单农业银行
other lost project – (left) Qianmen Zhongfu Tax Free, (right) Xidan Agriculture Bank
“Innovation is endless. in addition to being different from others, one also need to be different from the past self.”
After opening my own studio, I finally found the chance to be a teacher. I chose to teach the highrise design of the fourth grade architecture students. I raised three requirements to Dean Shu: first, I am the one to decide the subject of the course; Second, don’t interfere in class; third, the academic record is up to me. The school had offered me a lot of freedom and convenience. I had two months of classes every year and they were arranged on Saturday. I drove to Tianjin every time. There were about 10 to 12 students in each class. During the four-hour class, I did not answer any phone calls. Each student had 10 minutes to present, 10 minutes to discuss, and the last 15 minutes was time to tell an inpiring story. I would get angry when I saw a student was in a particularly good mental state because it showed that he/she slept too much and did not push himself/herself to the limit. Many students had to move out to rent a room and stayed up to work during the two months of my course. However, they would be full of gratitude at the end of the courses.
I stopped the AD international education after initiating DAGA. When I did the international education, there were more than a thousand students from China or abroad contacting me every year. I could see design works of architectural students from all over the world. My first reaction to these designs was sadness because from south to north, 90% of Chinese students did the same thing, all in one pattern. It made me feel very painful. Could there be such little difference in design? I don’t think this kind of design education institution should exist at all, because the students should have completed these studies in university already. It is a kind of malformed development to attend training institutions after the university. So I gave the AD international education up.
I feel very happy to teach at university now. I will tell my students to be prepared well mentally because the things they designed might be loved very much by some people, but also be hated very much by other people. As a design major, it’s normal to have arguments, which can be seen from gooood obviously. Is it good to let the students all over the world make things in same styles? In real work, the first sentence of every client will be: we need creativity. I will ask students to try to innovate from the university and try their best to do something unique. I don’t hope the Chinese students to be slaved by decades of unchanging patterns. It’s a pathetic phenomenon to be restrained by scores. Innovation is endless. in addition to being different from others, one also need to be different from the past self.
Suggestions for young architects
“It is very important to be persistent for young architects.”
For young architects, persistence is very important. When I attended the Beijing design week a few days ago, an old architect said: “I hope young friends not to drop out.” I have worked for ten years in this field and have seen many excellent designers left gradually. Second, creativity is very important. It’s impossible to survive in the new market if we just repeat the old things. We need to emancipate our minds and strengthen our innovation capability constantly. Third, I suggest paying attention to urban development. Just like in western countries, many Chinese cities have entered the semi-urban renewal stage, which will be a new opportunity for architects. Although it is hard for transformation, it is a direction for us to survive.
▼正在伏案工作的申江海，Shen Jianghai working on a project
Our company is focused on urban renewal. Different regions are with different urban renewal issues. The key area of urban renewal is Beijing in the north area, Shanghai in the Yangtze River area, Chengdu in the southwest area and Shenzhen in the Guangdong area. So we plan to establish offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Shenzhen respectively, so as to get a deeper understanding of the urban renewal market in different regions. We also hope that the teams in different regions can communicate and learn from each other constantly. We often have video conferences among the offices of Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu to discuss the design.
(left) Chengdu office, (right) Shanghai office
We are also working on the integration of design and construction, which accounts for about one third of the turnover. It is a very good beginning but still needs to be perfected constantly. In addition, we hope to develop some design tools, such as material database and software etc., to prepare for the future.