gooood team interviews creative individuals under 35 years old from all over the world, some are pioneering founders, some are clients, 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.44 introduces Zigeng Wang, founder of Pills Architects.
More: Pills Architects on gooood
出品人：向玲 / Producer: Xiang Ling
编辑：武晨曦 / Editor: Wu Chenxi
Zigeng Wang during the interview with gooood at CAFA (guest interviewer: Yang Ye) . Part of the article content comes from the interview. ©王子耕
Study and Career
I grew up in a university environment, but there is no one in my family who engages in architecture. I feel quite lucky to have “accidentally” spent my college time in Chongqing, since Chongqing is a place full of hormone, a barbaric and energetic city to live in, which I think had contributed to the shaping of my ideas and concept. I went to Princeton 5 years after graduating from my undergraduate school and returned to China to teach in 2015. I had been worked at the Art School of BFA before I became a lecturer at the architecture School of CAFA, and I started my own studio about 2 years ago.
▼重庆大学时期大学五年级时期的照片（左）；普林斯顿大学研究生毕业时期的照片（右）；M.Arch1和M.Arch2年级合影（下）。Wang Zigeng at his fifth year of undergraduate study (left); graduation at Princeton University (right)；M.Arch1 & M.Arch2 Graduation photo (bottom) ©王子耕
Graduation speech at the school’s church in 2015 given by Christopher Nolan ©王子耕
我的本科作品集是2008年左右做的了，还有我在普林读书时候做的“A Beautiful Country”三部曲，两者有大概5年的时间跨度。（点此查看王子耕本科和研究生期间的作品集）我是做了几年建筑师再出国的，我很清楚学术训练和实践之间的区别和关联。
▼“A Beautiful Country”三部曲之一，《苦塔》局部， 2014
partial view of Dukkha Tower from “A Beautiful Country” trilogy, 2014 ©王子耕
The portfolio was made around 2008. When I was studying at Princeton, I made a trilogy called “A Beautiful Country”, and the creation of these two collections had a span of about 5 years.（Click here to see Wang Zigeng’s portfolios during undergraduate and postgraduate period）I had been worked as an architect for a few years before I went abroad, and I’m well aware of the difference and connection between academic training and practice.
Running a studio means that you must have your own value and way of perceiving the world. In fact, after the founding of PILLS, the concept of “thesis” that I focused during my graduate study has been continued and strengthened in many of our exhibition projects, in spite of that each of them might be challenged by specific restrictions and requirements. I think it is precisely the value of exhibitions, each of which can be regarded as an externalization of architectural or non-architectural criticism.
The interpretations and thinking about each of our exhibits can be found in our official media posts, but it also caused us a certain difficulty, that is, the more exhibitions and installations we have done, the less architectural commissions will come to us. We are probably the architectural studio that has been invited to the most exhibitions in recent years, which might be attractive for a studio in other situations, but for us it has become a source of problems.
▼“A Beautiful Country”三部曲之一，《渔村童话》模型局部
“The tale of fishing village” from “A Beautiful Country” trilogy ©王子耕
▼“A Beautiful Country”三部曲之一，短片《Beijing Blue》，2013
“Beijing Blue” from “A Beautiful Country” trilogy, 2013 ©王子耕
“Contemporaneity is important to us, while “questioning” and “the form of answer” are also important to us. I believe this is the key to maintaining our uniqueness among the other studios and firms.”
▼Pills工作室（左）；王子耕办公室和被收养的“副局长” （右）。Pills Architects’ office (left)；Zigeng Wang’s office with the adopted cat called “deputy director” (right) ©王子耕
▼Pills办公室内景，Pill’s office view ©王子耕
Our approach to practice is conventional if it were put in the Western context, where we accumulate recognition in the industry through exhibitions and installations, gradually growing from small to large, progressing from concept to construction. It is another story in China, but I do feel that things have improved a lot. Some of my friends and teachers have provided me with opportunities to work on architectural projects, and there are also more and more clients coming to find us. The studio has only been established for 2 years, to whom the current amount of projects, including exhibitions, is not small. Furthermore, as a university staff who have daily teaching tasks, I’m already saturated with the studio’s work. Our project sources are also transforming to architectural fields. Our collaborative project with China Architecture Design and Research Group has just been shortlisted as the last bid for the Top 10 Cultural Buildings in Shenzhen, while there are several important domestic architectural exhibitions and cluster designs ongoing.
Pill’s Research plan 2019, part of which has been transformed into exhibitions or essays ©Pills Architects
Pills has been founded for about 2 years. It still needs time to grow and become stable. There are about 10 members in the Beijing office, in addition to a part-time team in the US. A big part of our projects relate to art and exhibition, which are also acknowledged to be our strengths. Honestly, it will be hard to financially afford an office focusing on such types of projects in China, and we therefore have adopted a multi-faceted way of practice, mainly including urban design, architectural design, exhibition design and some of my personal installation pieces. When we first started to do a magazine, our interests were mainly in the intersection of architecture and other kinds of fields like capital and contemporary media, spatial modernity and identity, environmental control and philosophy of technology, globalization and infrastructure, as well as video and media technology. After establishing the studio, we still hope to investigate a specific topic every year and produce some research results on the premise of maintaining our economic viability. Contemporaneity is important to us, while “questioning” and “the form of answer” are also important to us. I believe this is the key to maintaining our uniqueness among the other studios and firms.
▼Pills工作室部分项目，selected projects of by Pills Architects ©Pills Architects
“Exhibitions and art now are tools for us to counteract the excess of brainwork.”
I think what I’m doing is conventional, and the things I’m concerning about are quite practical. There are more and more projects to deal with, but typically we work on one or two exhibitions a year, through which we would like to convey our perspectives on the topics that we care about. Last year we revealed two exhibitions, “Manufacturing Human: Eve’s Choice” and “Artificial Nature: the Other Fruits”, respectively discussing on human evolution and tools, as well as data and surveillance. This year we have finished “1994”, a personal narrative installation telling the story about a small house I lived in with my father when I was a child; and the design for the solo exhibition by Polit-Sheer-Form, featuring a blue house with a narrative about collectivism.
“Unity Is Strength Solo Exhibition of PSFO” by Pills, at Pingshan Art museum ©Pills Architects
点击查看该项目详情，Click here to check more about the project
“1994” narrative installation at OCAT Shanghai ©Pills Architects
Basically, I tend to think academic thinking and actual projects are two different things, and they have an influence on each other. It sometimes becomes a trade-off, where you need to decide what you want and how you could handle it. Exhibitions and art now are tools for us to counteract the excess of brainwork. It is not necessary to shoehorn your ideas into a building project. Most of the valuable things in down-to-earth projects are difficult to theorize. You are supposed to visit the site personally, or work enough to understand them.
One of Pill Architects’ ongoing architectural projects (render): The Five Cereals Foodcourt in Yuncheng, Shanxi Province
Steel Home Still
Exhibited at Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2018
Bo Hongtao from CCTN was the first to find me. Both he and I were interested in transforming a display of stylized architectural projects into an exploration of places and memories. In that case we broke away from the conventional description of architecture and typical events and put our eyes on “people”, whose personal life experiences and individual memories formed an intertextual relationship with the enterprise’s history. We hope to reproduce the collective memory of this legendary factory from a micro-historical level of individual and family narratives, having a glance of the path of China’s modernization, represented by the renewal process of Shougang industrial park. At the exhibition level, we introduced an immersive way of presenting the exhibits to help international audiences who lack context to understand the collectivist life of typical Chinese laborers in the 1980s following a clear sequence, evoking the viewer’s sympathetic response to the life in that era.
Jiang Fangzhou’s story of a father and a son reset the order of time, giving narrativity and the depth of multi-layer reading experience to a limited space. The visitors could slowly go through the box-like space to explore the life of the two generations at that time. The diary and drawings by the father, the table where the father and son played chess, and the bedroom and study where they spent time together, this series of scenarios were presented one by one in front of the viewers, while each of the rooms hid an untold story. Just like stepping into a unique space and time, the visitors were allowed to follow the perspective of the father, or choose to listen to the interpretation given by the son. The immersive experience integrated the visitors into that situation unconsciously, as if they walked into an old house they once lived in, attempting to piece together the story from the past. The writing provided the space with the density and structure of time, locking the viewers in the designed scale of time. Only when we approach the entirety from a microcosmic perspective, can we master a warm and concrete language to express the grand narrative of time.
Steel Home Still for Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2018 ©Pills Architects
Pingshan Art Museum, 2019
点击查看该项目详情，Click here to check more about the project
Black Maria is a commission for China Contemporary Architects and Installation Art Exhibition, the first exhibition of the new opened Pingshan Art Museum. It was designed as a spatial allegory that have two opposite faces. A space dedicate to producing falsehoods. The model is a structure wrapped by three layers of skins, whose inner core is a green screen room with a crib in the middle. The room becomes the terminal of a machine supply system, and the latter is concealed in a fake facade for filmset, while the fake facade comes from the Overlook Hotel where the protagonist were imprisoned in the film The shining.
Manufacturing Human: Eve’s Choice
UABB 2019 主展场
点击查看该项目详情，Click here to check more about the project
Eve’s Choice is a reinterpretation of the Garden of Eden. The history of modern human evolution can be regarded as a history of the degeneration of animality and the enhancement of external technological capabilities. Technology is produced by human, but also makes human become “human”. Through the upgrading of tools and skills, human beings are constantly creating a non-biological mirror image of themselves. Tools are invited by human beings, and they are also recalibrating the definition of mankind. Through this work we tried to explore the ambiguous zone between human and tools, thinking about the old questions：what are human beings, and what are the creators.
▼《制造人类：夏娃的选择》展览现场，The exhibition venue ©Pills Architects
▼人偶及塑封正投影图，The puppet and the PVC Blister film – orthographic projection ©Pills Architects
▼轴测图 & 人偶3D打印分割模型，axonometric drawing & 3D print model of the puppet ©Pills Architects
Artificial Nature: the Other Fruits
UABB 2019 宝安区分展场
点击查看该项目详情，Click here to check more about the project
For the Other Fruits, we have used closed-circuit television facilities that are common in cities to create a jungle of data, consisting of monitors, telegraph poles and construction dust nets. Human beings, as the fodder for data, become the fruit that provides nutrition for the jungle. The new world offered by the intelligent city is just a new coat for the old world, by which the government, the scientific research institutions and the enterprises are firmly bounded together. The new “digital complex” catalyzes the demand for innovation and the desire for capital. It seems to be an inevitable fate for human beings to become the “fodder for data” in the future city.
▼第一版定稿方案图，proposal version 1 ©Pills Architects
These three projects have different commissioners and topics, but they do concerned themselves with the entangled relationship between people and the systems they create.
Films: another tool for narrative
Films are a comprehensive tool for narrative, of which the production process, the way of representing the reality, the visual techniques and the methods of creating spaces are all greatly inspiring and instructive. We used some kind of technical means or features of film making in Steel Home Still and Black Maria, as well as the upcoming “1994”, and I also want to continue my engagement of films to my teaching program in CAFA. In 2019, I started a public lecture course called “Film: As a Narrative Medium”, and this year I’m planning for “Theatre: As a Narrative Medium” as a counterpart, making narrative and media a clue to connect the different sections of teaching.
Public lecture course called “Film: As a Narrative Medium” ©Pills Architects
Being an advisor for Jiang Wen’s film
The collaboration with Jiang Wen for the film “Hidden Man” lasted for about two years. It was a long period of preparation, and I was pretty much involved in the whole process before the filming started. My basic task was to lead the preview team to complete the construction of digital assets and scenes, bridging both of the art team and the director team, as well as some complicated historical research work to cope with. Director Jiang Wen’s artistic instincts are admirable, and he has an almost obsessive pursuit of details. I was greatly impressed with the part where he narrated the script. Each sentence clearly dedicated to a scene, and the film was engraved in his mind that even no storyboard was needed. The film tells a story that happened in Peking in 1937, but almost none of the scenes were shot in true sights of Beijing. The rooftop scenes were finished in Yunnan, the ancient city walls were shot in Xi’an, and the bell tower was created as a filming setting. Not until I did this work had I got the opportunity to seriously understand the city where I was born and raised. Of course I would say it was a pity.
▼和姜文导演在《邪不压正》的拍摄现场，Zigeng Wang and Director Jiang Wen at the shooting site for “Hidden Man” ©王子耕
The rooftop scenes in the film “Hidden Man”were finished in Yunnan
Approach to teaching
Higher education is supposed to be a journey of discovering one’s self, mission, preferences, values, and also defects. I would say my job is less about passing on knowledge and skills, but more about creating an environment that can catalyze this process of moving forward. For anyone it will not be a smooth path to go through, and I would never try to build an illusive hothouse for them. I expect them to be exposed to different values, challenge themselves to surmount their safe boundaries, establish their own ways of working, and most importantly, find their distinctive personalities.
▼和刘家琨老师合带央美实验班课程（左）；和刘晓都老师一起带清华及央美的学生在798调研（右）Experimental class tutorial at CAFA with Jiakun Liu (left); site visit with students from CAFA and THU, led by Zigeng Wang and Xiaodu Liu (right) ©王子耕
▼中央美院实验班评图（左） ；在北京电影学院任职期间带学生参观调研特效工作室（右）。Experimental class review at CAFA (left); Zigeng Wang leading his students visiting the vfx studio during his tenure at Beijing Film Academy (right) ©王子耕
▼王子耕在TEDx上的演讲（左） ；带学生下乡，和当地村民一起放烟花（右）。Zigeng Wang giving a speech on TEDx (left); Taking students to the countryside and playing fireworks with local villagers (right) ©王子耕
我最近一次能够自主命题的教学是雪城大学本科今年的Visiting Critic Studio。题目叫 “The Boundary of Selves: Domestic Space in the Age of Digital Screens”。我们通过对全景画（Panorama）， 活动电影放映机（Kinetoscope），电影荧幕（Cinema），电视屏幕（Television），电脑屏幕（Computer Screen (Early Internet)）以及智能屏幕（Smart Screen）六种历史上出现的屏幕的研究去介入这个议题，课题讨论的不是一个具体的家庭空间，而是试着讨论在数字屏幕时代下公共和私人的边界，以及建筑领域公共性的变化。这和我们一直以来对于技术媒介的关注是一致的，我希望让学生理解今天建筑学面临的挑战和机遇。建筑的底层逻辑在发生变化，而不是简单的消亡。
This year I was able to teach a self-proposed course by leading a Visiting Critic Studio at Syracuse University. The title of the course was “The Boundary of Selves: Domestic Space in the Age of Digital Screens”. It was intervened mainly through a research on the six types of screens that have ever emerged in history, including: Panorama, Kinetoscope, Cinema, Television, Computer Screen (Early Internet) and Smart Screen. Rather than discussing on a specific domesticate space, this research managed to examine the public-private boundary in the era of digital screens, as well as the changes in publicity of the architectural field. It was consistent with our long-term focus on technical media, and I hope that students can understand both the challenges and opportunities that architecture is facing today, and also get aware of the fact that the underlying logic of architecture is changing, not simply dying out.
▼王子耕受聘为雪城大学建筑学院2020年秋季学期访问教授，他将带领雪城大学建筑学院的部分学生完成为期三个月的工作室课程。Zigeng Wang is leading a studio at Syracuse University as visiting professor in 2020, through a three-month studio called The Boundary of Selves: Domestic Space in the Age of Digital Screens ©Pills Architects
点击查看该课程详情，Click here to check more about the course
▼雪城大学“The Boundary of Selves”工作室课程终期评图海报
Poster for the final review of the Visiting Critic Studio “The Boundary of Selves” ©Pills Architects
The midterm review at the office of Pills Architects in Beijing ©Pills Architects
Everyday life filled with work
Actually I don’t have a good solution to my overwhelming busy schedule, especially since I have opened my studio. I’m envious of those who are full of energy. As you can see, I’ve been putting off this interview for over a year, which I must say sorry for. I probably need to be more self-disciplined to arrange my work and life better, but meanwhile I clearly know I’m not that type of person.
I’m now working on an exhibition at Pingshan Art Museum in Shenzhen with Polit-Sheer-Form and Liu Zhizhi. An installation about house of childhood at OCAT in Shanghai. A musical installation collaborated with Zhang Yadong. The design of exhibition hall for Vanke’s headquarters in Shenzhen. All of the above are planned to be implemented this year. Other ongoing projects include a cluster of small scale houses, a seaside book store, a restaurant, a renovation project of a museum from an abandoned power station, as well as the masterplan for a school campus cooperated with Atelier Li Xinggang. Our studio also has annual programs on researching and derivative products, as you can see, its practice spans a pretty wide range from research, education, publication, artwork and exhibitions, to interior, architectural and urban design. There are always a lot of things to do. While working on the courses, research assignments and school affairs at CAFA, I’m also leading a studio at Syracuse University this year. I have numerous hobbies, however, they are mostly taken up with work at this moment.
The last time I was so attracted by a physical space was on the site of one of our projects. It was a Soviet-backed power station built in the 1950s, abandoned for over a decade, with equipment removed and irregular holes left in the floor slabs. Steel columns were cut by machines and thus have unique shapes in their sections, while the weeds spread into the structure, struggling to drill out from the cracks. Beams of light were diffused by the haze and filtered into the massive wreckage, reminding me of the first time I was shocked by the Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba. The power that time leaves behind is not something that can be described in words. I stayed there for hours that afternoon and did not want to leave, as the building seemed to be telling me something.
▼最近让王子耕深受感动的废旧发电站，The abandoned power station by which Zigeng Wang was greatly impressed ©王子耕