Interviews

Neri & Hu | interview [2014]

Ten year is a milestone that suggests a moment of reflection, as you look back on the development of your practice. It generates a mix of emotions. On the positive side, we feel blessed to have been given this platform in China, to have clients that trust and allow us to build what we propose – even designs that are anything but practical. But it’s heart-wrenching to recall projects that were never realized because of poor decisionmaking or inadequately managed design processes. We also face an ongoing dilemma with respect to our modus operandi. We employ a hundred people, which in most countries would be considered a corporate structure, yet we operate like a mom-and-pop shop and not at all like the streamlined organization many people think we are.

Trace Architecture Office (TAO) | interview [2013]

I am interested in projects that have a clear typology, where you can define how the place will be used. This is important, as a lot of projects are very ambiguous in their programme, especially in China. When you face the uncertainty of the market, architecture is very difficult to conceive. I do not believe in this so-called ‘flexibility’, as it often means nothing. I prefer specificity. […] Some people think my buildings are a bit strange, of course, as they differ from local examples. What we do is something of a marriage; I use that word when talking with villagers.

Adi Purnomo | interview [2013]

Mark Magazine#44 | Adi Purnomo | MovingCities
Mark Magazine#44 | Adi Purnomo | MovingCities

Ironwood was used to build the oldest traditional structures in Borneo, which have been standing for more than 300 years. ‘Why does our traditional architecture last so long?’ he asks rhetorically. ‘These buildings have stood the test of time because they absorb both tangible and intangible influences. Architecture is not only physical structures but also an expression of culture. To get a better understanding of the building process, architects should involve artisans and builders in their designs. We need everyone’s expertise. The resulting building will have a far better dynamic than you get when an architect hands exact specifications to the construction workers and asks for strict execution of what’s on paper. Today, we have lost the dialogue between thinkers and makers.

Andra Matin | interview [2013]

In Yogyakarta on a previous visit, I had met Matin on the construction site of a 550-m2 house and studio for Indonesian sculptor and painter Agus Suwage. ‘When I first thought about this house, I imagined it like a finger,’ he told me, ‘the finger as the artist’s tool. But as you see, the final result does not look like a finger at all.’ A porous black wall marks one side of the building. A shifted and elevated volume on the street side gives the impression of an introverted architecture.
But inside, the transition between spaces generates an interesting flow of light and shadow. Inspiration for the design came from his childhood and from a deep-seated obsession with the architectural culture of Japan. ‘When I was a little kid, my friend’s grandmother lived in Yogyakarta. When I slept in her house, light slipping through the façades of woven bamboo intrigued me. I also like those Japanese houses that are a bit dark during the daytime. The rooms are not too bright, and natural light is not too direct.

Liangfu Ni | The Brick Whisperer [2013]

The Brick Whisperer | Ningbo 宁波 | MARK Magazine#42
The Brick Whisperer | Ningbo 宁波 | MARK Magazine#42
  • The Brick Whisperer | an interview with Liangfu Ni 倪良富
    Published in MARK Magazine #42 (Feb-March 2013)

After a walk to the nearby Ningbo History Museum, Ni reflects on his current impression of the building. Since its completion some four years ago, the walls have clearly matured. ‘It is hard to judge my own work,’ he says. ‘I put a lot of effort into this project. However, I think it looks so much better today than when it was just finished. These walls have to age.’ Were they particularly difficult to build? ‘The walls are both tall and thin,’ he says, ‘so I had to make them very strong. Traditional Ningbo walls are not as high as this one. As the brick came in different and random sizes, we needed to make a lot of adaptations during construction.’ How did he make sure the wall wouldn’t collapse? He thinks, takes a drag on his cigarette and hesitates, as if about to share a secret. His eyes x-ray the façade. After a while he whispers: ‘There are hidden concrete beams in the façade. Only I can see them. Without them, the structure would not be safe.

E-GROW | Master of Moulds [2012]

E-GROW | Master of the Moulds | MARK Magazine #38
E-GROW | Master of the Moulds | MARK Magazine #38

How did you come up with the idea for digital fabrication in wax?
Jerry Ku: Prior to 2006 we did moulding in a traditional way, using MDF for simple geometries. Around that time, Zaha Hadid arrived in China. One of her architects, Simon Yu, showed me Rhinoceros 3D. I had never seen it before, and I thought it was amazing. I started thinking about how to work with the parametric shapes that this program allows and about how to construct moulds on a 1:1 scale. After all, who can afford to make panels for a project that requires a different shape for every piece? I tried using ice, which is cheaper than MDF but starts melting at 0°C. Then I thought about wax. The melting point of wax – about 45°C – is also too low, but my wax supplier managed to raise that number to 90°C, allowing me to produce cheap moulds that can be reused and recycled. When I was convinced that it worked, I registered the patent.

Wang Shu constrói a China tijolo a tijolo [2012]

Ípsilon Público | an interview with Wang Shu
Ípsilon Público | an interview with Wang Shu

Four years later I remind Wang Shu about our first meeting and my astonishment to see that today the campus is still evolving and changing: green is taking over the buildings, blending in with their environment. He explains: “In 2007 I talked with many people and they could not understand what would happen. The campus is more similar to the traditional Chinese garden: when it is just finished it is not the best situation. You have to wait, maybe even ten years later, for it to grow. My architecture needs time to change. In the beginning it is like a small chicken without feathers. Or like wine, or tea… it needs time.”

…China changes you | an interview

..China changes you | an interview with John van de Water
..China changes you | an interview with John van de Water

First of all it is a shortcoming of western architects to think that we are equipped to provide solutions to questions. Chinese architects provide possibilities and western architects provide solutions. The second shortcoming is that we always want to change. When you design something you want to have influence on people, how they live, work and experience something. So we are always dominant in what we can or should do. If you really want to work with the idea that you want to contribute to a city, users, client or architecture in general – and that is a discovery – you should not find change within your architecture. But I found this change within myself, so instead of blaming people that did not understand my architecture, or change my architecture.

JR in Shanghai | City Faces [2011]

JR | City Faces | MARK Magazine#30
JR | City Faces | MARK Magazine#30

I meet ‘JR’ – his full name remains a well-kept secret – in Shanghai the day after he was announced the recipient of the prestigious 2011 TED Prize [US$100,000]. The setting is an appropriate one for the French ‘artivist’: a dilapidated urban area teeming with buildings slated for demolition. (…) I ask JR what he thinks of the state of the city. What do these urban areas say to him? ‘My work relates strongly to architecture, but in a paradoxical way,’ he says, ‘because I go to places with interesting architecture, but I’m there to highlight people. I use architecture as my canvas, while setting up a dialogue with the city in areas where walls are not covered with advertisements.

Sun Jiwei | Major Forces [2011]

Major Forces | Sun Jiwei | MARK Magazine#31
Major Forces | Sun Jiwei | MARK Magazine#31

I always feel a certain regret regarding China’s national large-scale development projects. Many leaders and participants involved in urban development have rushed to the fray without care or consideration. I like to compare the current urban development in China to an inexperienced driver speeding down the motorway in a car with broken brakes. As a result, the number of casualties in our urban development is very high. […] Originally, ‘Made in China’ was an international symbol of cheap, low-quality goods. Today, ‘Constructed in China’ has the same connotation that ‘Made in China’ used to have. To improve the quality of our buildings, we have still a long way to go. Two factors are important. One is the improvement of quality, standards and technology during the construction process. The other is a need for better maintenance of completed buildings.’

Atelier Deshaus | Slow Down [2010]

Atelier Deshaus | MARK Magazine#28
Atelier Deshaus | MARK Magazine#28

A couple of hours earlier, in their office, I had asked Yifeng and Yichun about their company’s German-sounding name. According to Liu Yichun, they based their choice on phonetics, pragmatism and preference: ‘Deshaus is German, and we feel its connotation as something that belongs to the house. It also bears a relationship to Bauhaus. But in Chinese the word, pronounced the same way, is ta-she, which has two definitions: “large house” and “to let go”. She is the ancient word for “architecture”. You have to let go in China, but at the same time you have to control everything. This is our reality, our design philosophy.

Atelier Zhang Lei | A Simple Man [2010]

A Simple Man | an interview with Zhang Lei | Mark Magazine#26
A Simple Man | an interview with Zhang Lei | Mark Magazine#26

Basically, I want to continue the trajectory I’m on now. There is one challenge, though. I’d like to extend my practice to include different kinds of projects. In the beginning, I avoided projects from developers, but now I’m beginning to like them. The two houses we just discussed are very special. I would like to do more run-of-the-mill projects, do a business building in a commercial city like Shanghai – that is a big challenge for us. Designing a building that gets published is a lesser challenge. So my next step is to become more middle of the road, while still doing projects with an architectural edge.

Xu Tiantian | Songzhuang Artists’ Residence [2010]

Songzhuang Artists’ Residence | an interview with Xu Tiantian | Mark Magazine#24
Songzhuang Artists’ Residence | an interview with Xu Tiantian | Mark Magazine#24

‘We have these rectangular living spaces,’ Tiantian explains, ‘but the neighbours did not like it. They said it was bad for the feng shui in their own house. They also wanted the balconies and windows facing their way closed. It’s all political. It’s about money. We argued for a long time but it didn’t work out. In the end, the client paid them.’

Rory McGowan (ARUP) | Learning from CCTV [2010]

Learning from CCTV | An Interview with Rory McGowan | Mark Magazine#24
Learning from CCTV | An Interview with Rory McGowan | Mark Magazine#24

Basically it is about the amount of material you use. If you start from the point of view that the client wants an iconic building and had been given a standard tower as option, the amount of material used would have been similar. What we demonstrated is that by using the same material in another way you can create a completely different geometry and building typology. The same goes with the budget. The question is how to use these parameters to obtain additional design value.

SAKO Architects | Mr. Blunt [2009]

Mr. Blunt | An interview with Keiichiro Sako | Mark Magazine#20
Mr. Blunt | An interview with Keiichiro Sako | Mark Magazine#20

For me, the most important issue is to find a theme and express that in my design. The clue is to make sure my ideas totally make sense when the project is finished, to make the drawing reality. In the Mosaic project in Beijing for example (published in Mark #15), we applied a mosaic on a very large scale. By doing so, I believe I can give a new meaning to a design method that already exists. In the Bumps project in Beijing, a 100,000-m2 residential and commercial building, I pursued the same by stacking black and white boxes. In that way, I can create diversity in a very simple way.

Amateur Architecture Studio | Local Hero [2009]

Local Hero | An interview with Wang Shu | Mark Magazine#19
Local Hero | An interview with Wang Shu | Mark Magazine#19

In China we have lost the tradition of building cities and of creating architecture that is part of the landscape. In my design for the Hangzhou campus, for instance, I positioned the buildings at the foot of the Xiangshan (Elephant) Mountain in such a way that each building enters into a different dialogue with the mountain, offering various views of it. To me, a building as an object isn’t important. It’s the building’s relation to nature that most interests me. I have tried to develop some new building types on the campus. In China we have a limited amount of building types we can put together to make a city. We’re in need of some alternatives, so we developed new prototypes – like the courtyard building and the water building.

prof. Peter G. Rowe | The Chinese City in the East Asian Context [2008]

While some cities, like Beijing, developed very much along the lines of canonical forms of the classical imperial city, other cities, like Shanghai, never were of that status. One answer to your question stems from the level you are looking at it: East vs. west, Japan vs. China, and in what flavor: is it about pure morphology, building type and so forth. The Chinese city can be analyzed from different perspectives, from something quite similar to what we know in the West up to something that is absolutely unique. My own point of view is that when you look at the middle level, there are probably enough distinguishing features suggesting outcomes that are East Asian in their complexion but not necessarily Chinese.

Decolonizing Architecture [2008]

We started the Decolonizing Architecture project as a way to inhabit the place, to have an active position, instead of being passive. Part of our audience is an art audience and they say this is not art, than an architecture audience and than they say this not architecture, than an academic audience and they say this is not academically correct. As such you find yourself always surrounded by tensions and problems. But at the other hand I like more the art world because it allows something that in another field you would not be allowed to do.

prof. Moshe Zwarts | City under the City [2008]

The system of the canals dates back to 17th century. It is so strong, beautiful and a really fantastic structure. Along the canals a lot is changing. When you analyze which houses are from the 17th century and which are not, there are more buildings from other centuries, than from the 17thcentury. So the system is strong, you can change things without disturbing the structure. I do not mean to change all the old houses, I am against this, but the structure has potential, and the plan continues to exploit this structure.

City/State interviews

In the future the middle class will become more and more the force that supports the power of the country. The middle class will be those citizens that make the visions for the government and as such become a more self-organizing society that is responsible for the regulated development. Cities should represent the middle class, because the upper class is a small class and the objective for the ‘no class’ is to improve their quality of life into middle class. Every developing country is like this. The problem is that people have difficulties in thinking about the future, as they only care about today, but for creative industries, and architecture is just a small part of the creative industries, I hope that in the coming twenty years we will make a great leap forward and architecture could be part of that.

The Chinese cities deal with an articulation of different problems, different markets, different forms of production, different ideological basis from those in Israel and the occupied territories of course. What you see very clearly in the Chinese cities is that the speed of construction, combined with a technological breakthrough in the capacity to organize resources, and especially to allows a much closer relation between financial mechanisms, financial cycles and urban development.

Ai Weiwei | I jumped on the wrong train [2007]

I Jumped on the wrong train | An interview with Ai Weiwei | Mark Magazine#12
I Jumped on the wrong train | An interview with Ai Weiwei | Mark Magazine#12

When history appears in art, as a material used for construction, it holds not only memory, but also knowledge, reflecting the conditions of the time. Using historical materials allows me to show the contradictions and conflicts of the current condition. It comes naturally to me when I’m making art. New and old should be integrated more often in architecture; the combination makes sites and cities more interesting. This is not what is happening in today’s China, however, where government policy can lead to the overnight eradication of entire areas. Such brutality and violence goes beyond buildings, ignoring residents, citizens, memories, traditions, the past. It shows the kind of society we’re living in.

Kyong Park | The New Urban Ecology [2007]

In today’s world of globalized capital and labor, everything is interconnected, so both shrinking and expanding are not a phenomenona completely of their own separate event. One important mistake in the Shrinking Cities project, that I believe, was the isolation of the shrinkage phenomenon, and by doing so, we do not get to understand the full scope or extent of its relations with the dynamics of urban growths. That is why I pleaded not to look at our subject cities as shrinking or expanding, but rather as moving cities.

Co-Evolution

For us the reason to take a different attitude is the opportunity China poses to develop ourselves. Our interest comes obviously from the importance of China but also of sustainability; here you have the two main world agendas in one project. My genuine interest lays in finding another way of working in this profession. For a lot of the younger generation of architects it is just not so interesting to be this artistic genius. I think they might have discovered that the world is a very complex place and that there is not one right solution. It is not so interesting to just express yourself as it is to be part of something bigger, to be part of society. If you want to have an influence on the way society is developing, you can’t really get that influence by making personal statements, you really need to make your contributions integrated into some bigger structures in the world.

Xin Tian Di

But the hutong is not a traditional architectural style of China, the hutong is a recent phenomenon. The hutong didn’t exist until the Chinese took over and kicked out all the aristocrats and let people squat in the alleys. Hutongs are nothing more than a squatters village, built with recycled materials. There is no history of the hutong that predates the twentieth century. I am not sure if people understand that basic concept that the hutong is a spatial idea, not an architectural idea. It is a wonderful way to increase density, once you get in the middle of the hutong, it is totally removed from the city. You can recreate all those things. The government in this is totally confused, they think a hutong is a courtyard house. Indeed, buried in the hutongs there are some courtyard houses, but the hutong is not a courtyard house. When they rebuilt it they want to create courtyards houses. I once worked on a project in Beijing, right outside the East Gate of the Forbidden City. I did 17 courtyard houses but quit the job, half way through. I had a huge argument with the local government who wanted me to make all the houses traditional. I told them I need to be able to do whatever I want I do. They said it doesn’t matter; every detail, every roofline, everything has to be traditional Chinese.

Architect in China

If you look back on the last ten years, the really inventive people are business people. They generate so much wealth, so much energy, so much potential. They look into new potentials for maximizing the hidden values of the world. So when you think business, you can cross ideas, cross branding, cross breeding, really connecting – things those in the ‘practice world’ hate to do, because they are not courageous enough. That leads to the question of how you finance it. By organizing your office as a business you really can finance it; you link it to the bank, to individual groups with reliable funds, to investors from everywhere in the world.

For me business is about the encounter between a good idea and money. As for the funding of it, it is not really difficult to find money these days because there’s a lot flying around. Some people don’t know how to spend it; the important thing is to connect your idea to that money.