Throughout the work of Beijing-based practice ARCHSTUDIO, there is a constant feeling of sensitivity to culture and history. That is not to say that the firm’s designs are not modern—far from it in fact—but that the work of founder Han Wenqiang infuses modern materials and forms with a distinctly Chinese sensibility, that is just as apparent in his designs for a food packaging facility as it is in a Buddhist shrine (incidentally, both designs which won ArchDaily Building of the Year Awards, in 2017 and 2018 respectively). In the latest interview from his “City of Ideas” series, Vladimir Belogolovsky speaks to Han about whether architecture is an art form and what it means to create “Chinese” architecture in the 21st century.
VLADIMIR BELOGOLOVSKY is the founder of the New York-based non-profit Curatorial Project. Trained as an architect at Cooper Union in New York, he has written five books, including Conversations with Architects in the Age of Celebrity (DOM, 2015), Harry Seidler: LIFEWORK (Rizzoli, 2014), and Soviet Modernism: 1955-1985 (TATLIN, 2010). Among his numerous exhibitions: Anthony Ames: Object-Type Landscapes at Casa Curutchet, La Plata, Argentina (2015); Colombia: Transformed (American Tour, 2013-15); Harry Seidler: Painting Toward Architecture (world tour since 2012); and Chess Game for Russian Pavilion at the 11th Venice Architecture Biennale (2008). Belogolovsky is the American correspondent for Berlin-based architectural journal SPEECH and he has lectured at universities and museums in more than 20 countries. Belogolovsky’s column, City of Ideas, introduces ArchDaily’s readers to his latest and ongoing conversations with the most innovative architects from around the world. These intimate discussions are a part of the curator’s upcoming exhibition with the same title which premiered at the University of Sydney in June 2016. The City of Ideas exhibition will travel to venues around the world to explore ever-evolving content and design.
During my meetings with Will Alsop—two at his London studio in 2008 and 2010, and during our four-day trip to Moscow where I organized his lecture for SPEECH Magazine in winter 2011—he impressed me as having the most genuine, artistic, and free-spirited soul of all the architects I met. Calatrava, Hadid, and Gehry may strike one as great artists, but no matter how inventive they are, they are all involved in shaping buildings. Alsop, on the other hand, would find himself engaged in working in a completely boundless and unrestricted manner as a true artist. It seems that his whimsical works—"blobs and daubs," as he called them—are imagined as pure fantasies to be transformed into architecture much later by his staff. Eventually, he would have to “sell” them to his clients as buildings that function.
Alsop’s creations bring magic to the real world; they connect realities and dreams in the most fantastic ways. I never thought I would like his buildings though. I saw their renderings and photographs as cartoonish, until I visited them in person in London and Shanghai, among other places. Then my preconceptions dissipated. These structures make people feel happy and curious; they disarm the harshest critics and enrich our experiences. The following conversation with Alsop, who passed away on May 12 at age 70, is a condensed interview version based on two of our multi-hour meetings.
In China's newly emerging constellation of famed architects, few firms elicit the sense of surprise caused by the work of Atelier Deshaus. With projects ranging from awe-inspiring to humble, their work does not adhere to any stylistic rules, but all of their projects exude an enigmatic aura. In this interview, the latest in Vladimir Belogolovsky’s “City of Ideas” series, principals Liu Yichun and Chen Yifeng discuss the role of identity in their work and how they try to connect their buildings to the landscape.
Vladimir Belogolovsky: Is it true that you each design different projects in the studio? Why is that?
Liu Yichun: This has been true since 2010. Before that we always designed everything together. We used to have endless discussions and too many disagreements and arguments. That’s why we decided to pursue two parallel paths. This approach led to greater efficiency and it helped us to formulate clearer ideas of our independent views of architecture. It also helps us to diversify our work and to avoid forming one recognizable style.
Chen Yifeng: It is important for us to express our solutions differently, even though, fundamentally, we are working in one direction and pursuing one family of ideas.
With the unconventional, undulating forms of his buildings—and the fact that his path to architectural success included a stint working for Zaha Hadid—Ma Yansong is often miscategorized as an architect of the latter generation of Deconstructivists, interested only in futuristic forms that push the boundaries of technology for the sake of innovation as an end in itself. But in fact Ma’s designs, especially those in his home country of China, are deeply rooted in nature and tradition, as he explains in the latest interview from Vladimir Belogolovsky’s “City of Ideas” series.
Vladimir Belogolovsky: If someone wants to understand what your work is about, what project would you show and what would you say about it?
Ma Yansong: To tell you the truth, I don’t mind if people don’t understand my work or who I am. [Laughs.] It is hard to choose because I am a different person while working on every project. Every project is about different emotions.
Visiting Mexico City several times in recent months enabled me to get to know a number of leading architects there. In the process, I was in turn directed to other architects that were new to me, whom I then discovered were, in fact, the leading and most revered architects in the country according to the local architectural community. I am particularly referring to Alberto Kalach and Mauricio Rocha, whose interviews were published in this column last year, and Benjamín Romano, whose name came up when I asked a number of architects to cite their favorite building from recent years in Mexico City. Along with the absolute favorite, Vasconcelos Library by Kalach, another structure stood out: Torre Reforma, a 57-story office tower, the tallest building in the city. The following conversation with Romano, its architect, took place inside this unusually powerful and inventive structure.
As part of a generation of designers that have, in recent years, put Mexico on the map, Tatiana Bilbao is an architect that is increasingly part of the profession’s global consciousness. But, while some Mexican architects have made their mark with spectacular architecture following the international trend of “iconic” architecture, Bilbao opted instead for a more people-focused approach. In this interview, the latest in Vladimir Belogolovsky’s “City of Ideas” series, Bilbao explains how she got into this type of community-building architecture, her thoughts on architectural form, and her ambitions for the future.
Vladimir Belogolovsky: The more I talk to architects of your generation or my generation, the more it becomes apparent that architecture has absolutely no boundaries. In other words, architecture is not just about buildings. More and more, architecture is about building communities.
Tatiana Bilbao: Absolutely. For me, that is the most important part of architecture. Architecture is not about building a building; architecture is about building a community.
Shipping containers, once a darling of architectural upcycling, have received a lot of criticism recently, as architects are beginning to recognize that their perceived advantages—ready-made habitable space and structure, and an opportunity to recycle a widely available material—are based in little more than hopeful PR spin. But for one of the most prominent practices which regularly uses shipping containers in their work, LOT-EK, the attraction of these architectural ready-mades always went beyond the ecological and practical rationalizations provided by others. In this interview at the firm's New York studio, part of Vladimir Belogolovsky’s “City of Ideas” series, LOT-EK founders Ada Tolla and Giuseppe Lignano discuss the conceptual foundations of their fascination with shipping container architecture.
The architectural approach of 2011 Pritzker Prize-winner Eduardo Souto de Moura can be difficult to summarize. His convictions on matters of aesthetics and design are strongly held, but also highly individual and at times even unusual. In his work, this translates to buildings that are enigmatic, yet not flashy—in the words of the 2011 Pritzker Prize jury, “His buildings have a unique ability to convey seemingly conflicting characteristics—power and modesty, bravado and subtlety, bold public authority and sense of intimacy—at the same time.” In the latest interview from his “City of Ideas” series, Vladimir Belogolovsky speaks to Souto de Moura to probe his architectural mind and understand the thinking behind these powerful yet modest works.
Vladimir Belogolovsky: I had a chance to visit your Paula Rego Museum in Cascais outside of Lisbon, which is a very sculptural composition of iconic forms...
Eduardo Souto de Moura: Why are you saying it is sculptural? I don’t agree.
As the son of famed Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta, and now the leader of the firm which he joined under his father in 1989, Victor Legorreta is one of Mexico’s most visible architects. In this interview, the latest in Vladimir Belogolovsky’s “City of Ideas” series, Legorreta discusses the complexities of following in the footsteps of his father and how, in his view, good architecture is made.
Vladimir Belogolovsky: What kind of projects are you working on at this moment?
Victor Legorreta: We work on a variety of projects—about 60 percent are in Mexico and the rest are abroad. Mexico City is increasingly becoming a vertical city in its attempt to reverse its tendency of growing into an endless and dysfunctional sprawl. We are working on several mixed-use towers with retail, entertainment, restaurants, offices, and residential uses in a single building to enable people to find everything they need within easy reach, to lessen the pressure on traffic, which in the city is now among the worst in the world. We are also working with The Aga Khan Foundation on two projects—a university in Tanzania and a hospital and university in Uganda.
In the decade since the start of the financial crisis, there has been an explosion in the number of architectural practices that have pursued unusual and ingenious business models—among the most popular of which is the concept of the developer-architect, who serves as their own client. With his architecture firm and development company JSa, Javier Sanchez has been proving this concept since long before the financial crisis hit. In the latest interview of his City of Ideas series—and the third of his interviews with Mexican architects after Enrique Norten, Alberto Kalach and Mauricio Rocha and Gabriela Carrillo—Vladimir Belogolovsky speaks to Sanchez about the benefits of working as one’s own client and how JSa leverages its business model to improve the city.
Vladimir Belogolovsky: You are often described as a developer first and an architect second. Is that accurate? How do you see yourself?
Javier Sanchez: Well, I started as a developer and I became an architect as a consequence. In fact, in the beginning, I only worked as a developer. Now about three-quarters of our projects are for other clients and only a quarter we develop ourselves. I think of development as a tool that enables me to do my architecture. This is what I learned directly from my father’s partner who, apart from heading their architecture studio, worked on small-scale development projects on his own, in partnership with investors. He was both an architect and client, which was intriguing to me. In a way, it was almost like being an artist, since artists don’t usually have clients. I like the idea that an architect can face himself and the project directly without having a client.
In August I moderated a round table at UNAM in Mexico City in which I posed a provocative question: is architecture art? The participants, architects Mauricio Rocha, Gabriela Carrillo, and Victor Legorreta argued that despite architecture’s limitations, it is architects’ attempts to overcome them that makes it art. Meanwhile Gabriel de la Mora, an artist trained as an architect, drew a line, separating the two disciplines: “Art is art and architecture is architecture,” he insisted. Yet both sides were not quite satisfied with their initial assertions and the discussion continued, opening up to many interesting positions that pulled and pushed the interlocutors closer together and further apart with every attempt to give an explanation. I loved the discussion and I hoped we would not reach any definitive answers; the last thing we need in architecture is a consensus. It is our insistence on questioning that leads to new visions and unique solutions.
The following is my conversation with Rocha and Carrillo, as part of my City of Ideas column, in which we talked about their desire to make gravity feel light, seeing each project as a dialogue, their love for making decisions based on accidents, and their disinterest in being perfect. The architects strive to achieve a “meaningful silence” and they prefer to pay no notice to that line between architecture and art, the boundary that so few architects even dare to approach.
By God, don’t walk by me, I am an architect.
I am trying to show you something. Look at it!
- Morris Lapidus
Never before there were so many distinctive and original voices and visions in architecture. Multiplicity of voices is the defining feature of architecture’s current moment. Architecture of distinction and originality is being produced all around us. Our built environment is growing ever more diverse and complex. Is architecture oversaturated with ideas? How many architectures do we need? How can we remain critical by being exposed to such a proliferation of voices? Do architects need common ground? Should architects’ voices be amplified? Should architecture be ego-driven? Is iconic and signature-style architecture still relevant?
Last month I went on an enlightening trip to Mexico City, during which I had a chance to meet with half a dozen leading Mexican architects and critics. Those meetings included insightful conversations with Miquel Adrià, Tatiana Bilbao, Victor Legorreta, Mauricio Rocha, and Michel Rojkind among others (many of which will also feature in future installments of City of Ideas). I asked them many different questions, but two were consistent: “who would you name as Mexico’s best architect at this moment?” and “what one building built in the capital over the last decade is your favorite?” All of my interviewees pointed to Alberto Kalach (born 1960) and his Vasconcelos Library (2007). My Conversation with Kalach took place the next day after visiting the library on the rooftop of another one of his iconic buildings, Tower 41 overlooking Bosque de Chapultepec, Mexico City’s Central Park. We spoke about books, libraries, and his idea of buildings as inventions.
Of the Pritzker Prize’s illustrious list of laureates, the 1994 winner Christian de Portzamparc is perhaps the least covered by the media. However, this relatively low profile belies the subtle and insightful understanding of architectural and urban issues that in many ways puts him decades ahead of the curve – with the sociologically-led principles he has been developing since the early 1980s now becoming widely popular in architectural circles. In this interview, the latest in Vladimir Belogolovsky’s “City of Ideas” column, Portzamparc explains the journey that led to this unique take on architecture.
For many observers, Thom Mayne might easily be considered the most unpredictable personality in architecture. Once labeled the “bad boy of architecture” by critics—a moniker which he has, at times, enthusiastically adopted and even encouraged—Mayne's actions in the architecture world can range from something as responsible as designing one of the United States' most sustainable university campuses to something as outrageous as proposing one of the world's tallest towers in a revered Austrian mountain town. In this interview, the latest from Vladimir Belogolovsky's “City of Ideas” series, Mayne discusses his ideas, his past statements on architecture, and where he thinks the profession will go next. The interview was originally published by the Berlin-based SPEECH Magazine.
Soo Chan: “Architecture is About Preserving a Way of Life, Not Simply Introducing a New Formal Language”
By combining such concepts as phenomenology, sustainability and formal exploration, which have become part of a particularly Singaporean conception of architecture, Soo Chan of SCDA Architects occupies an unusual niche within the architecture profession. To complement this wide range of interests, his firm also engages in a wide range of activities, working on architecture, landscape, and interiors projects, and even acting as its own developer on a number of occasions. In this latest interview from Vladimir Belogolovsky's “City of Ideas” column, Chan discusses the early experiences that led to his current understanding of architecture, and how the context of Singapore has affected his designs.
Vladimir Belogolovsky: Was architecture on your mind from an early age? What was it that first attracted you to the discipline?
Soo Chan: I was deeply influenced by the house I grew up in, the Khoo Kongsi compound in Penang, an island off the west coast of Malaysia. Khoo Kongsi was planned around a central communal courtyard where many generations of my extended family lived, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site today. I can still picture the spatial and light qualities of the long and narrow house I grew up in, punctuated with open air wells. I remember the smell of fresh rain coming deep into the house on to the sunken courts, and the pockets of light and darkness in the house.
Paul Andreu: "I Would Only Take On a Project if the Ideas Were Mine. Otherwise, I Am Not Interested."
For 40 years, Paul Andreu was among the world's foremost airport design experts. Reflecting on this before the turn of the millennium, he stated that architectural historians of the future might consider the 1990s as “the age of the air terminal.” But shortly after this, he left the arena of airport design to focus on other large projects, many of them in China. In this interview, the latest of Vladimir Belogolovsky's “City of Ideas” series, Andreu explains why he made the switch and shares his thoughts on how good architecture is made—saying it often depends more on what you don't tell your client than what you do.
Paul Andreu: Before we start, I must explain something. I am an architect and engineer. For a long time I was not an independent architect but worked at and then was the head of airport works at Aéroports de Paris Ingénierie or ADPi, a subsidiary of Aéroports de Paris (ADP). This public establishment is not only in charge of the planning, design, and operation of three Paris-region airports, but is also involved in airport works all around the world, as well as other large-scale architectural projects. First, we did airports in France, then in the Middle East and Africa, then in China and all over Asia, and then we developed projects in other parts of the world. Most of the time we developed our projects from concept all the way through construction; although once we did just the concept for Kansai airport on a specially built island in the Bay of Osaka. As you know, it was designed by Renzo Piano and I consulted for him on function and circulation aspects.
While many of the pioneers of green architecture could arguably be criticized as technocratic and dry, this has never applied to Emilio Ambasz. His concept of “green over gray” has been pushing the debate around sustainability forwards since the 1970s, but alongside this concept he has developed a critical approach to architectural meaning and form-making which competes with many of architecture's more poetic practitioners. Ahead Vladimir Belogolovsky's upcoming exhibition of Ambasz's work, “Emilio Ambasz: Architecture Toward Nature,” which is on show at the Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Center from February 6th – 28th, here Belogolovsky shares his interview with the architect – the latest interview in his “City of Ideas” column.
Vladimir Belogolovsky: I read that you knew you wanted to be an architect at an early age and when you were 11, you even dared to propose an exhibition on American architecture in Buenos Aires. What was it that prompted your initial interest in architecture?
Emilio Ambasz: I was interested in architecture since I was nine, I think. I am a person of steady ideas. Once I have an idea that’s it, I persist. I wanted to become an architect and that led to my applying to Princeton. I sent my application with a wax seal telling them that I went to bed every night with the idea of wanting to be an architect and woke up every morning with this idea…