Beijing-based architect Zhang Ke was educated first at China’s leading school, Tsinghua University, going on to later graduate from Harvard’s GSD in 1998. The former equipped him with technical know-how, while the latter encouraged him to question the essential elements of the profession, such as why we build. After working for three years in Boston and New York, Ke returned to Beijing to open his practice in 2001.
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 nine books, including New York: Architectural Guide (DOM, 2019), 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: world tours of the work of Harry Seidler (since 2012), Emilio Ambasz (2017- 18), Sergei Tchoban (since 2016), Colombia: Transformed (American Tour, 2013-15), and Chess Game for Russian Pavilion at the 11th Venice Architecture Biennale (2008). Belogolovsky is the American correspondent for Berlin-based architectural journal SPEECH. In 2018, he was a visiting scholar at Tsinghua University in Beijing. He has lectured at universities and museums in more than 30 countries. Belogolovsky’s column, City of Ideas, introduces ArchDaily’s readers to his latest conversations with the most innovative international architects. Since 2002, he interviewed over 300 architects. These intimate conversations are featured in the curator’s ongoing site-specific installations made up of voice recordings and thought- provoking quotes.
One of the immediate impressions that I formed of the Beijing-based architect and Tsinghua University Professor Li Xiaodong (b. 1963) is his reassuring self-confidence. Following our interview, Professor Li asked me a question of his own - would I like to teach at his school? “I never taught in my life,” I replied. He quickly countered, “I know. You can teach. Yes or no?” If I have learned anything about life, it is that when opportunities come you should grab them first and think later. "If he is so confident in me, why shouldn’t I trust him?” I reasoned.
It is now expected of architects to turn away from designing iconic buildings/objects and focus instead on creating engaging built environments; from imagining idealistic, form-driven projects driven by the artistic pursuit to focusing on downright pragmatic solutions. China, of course, holds a large mirror to these tendencies, as so many Chinese architects quickly produced exactly the kind of projects that critics favor – modest in scale, straightforward in their expressions, reliant on indigenous construction techniques, and with inventive use of traditional materials. The results, however appealing, seem to lack both variety and risk-taking. There must be another way, not so formulaic.
"I Failed to be an Artist but I Became an Artistic Architect": Interview with Yung Ho Chang of Atelier FCJZ
Beijing architect Yung Ho Chang together with his wife Lijia Lu started his practice in 1993 under the name Feichang Jianzhu, atelier FCJZ. It literary means “not ordinary architecture,” a symbolic name for the practice that became China’s first independent architectural office, laying the foundation of contemporary practice in the country. Chang is referred to as the father of contemporary Chinese architecture. He grew up in the prominent architect’s family. Chang’s father, Zhang Kaiji [Yung Ho Chang’s Chinese name is Zhang Yonghe] was a classicist. He was one of the chief architects of the Beijing Architectural Design Institute and the design architect in charge for what is today the National Museum of China on Tiananmen Square. Chang studied architecture in Nanjing, then received his Bachelor degree from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, and Master of Architecture from the University of California at Berkeley. He has taught in both China and America, including at Harvard’s GSD and headed MIT’s architecture department from 2005 to 2010. In 2012, the year he joined the Pritzker Prize Jury, his fellow countryman Wang Shu became the first Chinese architect who won the Prize. The following is an excerpt from my conversation with Yung Ho Chang at his Beijing office.
Architect Jürgen Mayer H. founded his firm J.MAYER.H in Berlin in 1996. He studied both in Germany (Stuttgart University) and in the US (Cooper Union and Princeton). Back in 2010, Mayer H. told me that while his solid professional education in Germany equipped him with the know-how about the technical and practical aspects of architecture, he still lacked a clear vision about how to develop his own thought and an architectural language.
Years of questioning and experimenting eventually led to the development of his own distinctive voice. Mayer H.’s buildings have brought unique identities to many places around the globe, particularly through his use of data protection patterns that triggered the creation of architecture unlike anything seen before. On my recent visit to his studio in West Berlin we discussed the architect’s identity. When I confronted Mayer H. about what he thinks about his signature style at the times when it is no longer celebrated by the media he said, “This started as my voice and by now it is the contribution of an entire team. There is no intention or strategy, just our own capacity to work with the medium of architecture.”
In the last few years something has happened to architects’ willingness to strive for originality. The boldest visions now often come from the old guard of architecture - and frankly, I enjoy conversations with them much more. The current insistence on having common ground pushed so many younger architects into a zombie-like copycat state of mind. But to me, common ground means not to think alike – then there is space for discourse.
My most recent conversation with Helmut Jahn at his Chicago office is a case in point. “Architecture is all about going with your gut. I prefer when form follows force rather than function,” he told me. His distinguished career has been one of twists and turns, and he is not planning to give up exploring new ideas any time soon. His 1985 quadrant-in-plan Thompson Center reinvented a mundane government typology into a soaring public place, with its curved colored glass facade decisively welcoming a postmodernist period to Chicago (one we thought had finished, but now seems to be ongoing, encompassing all of post-Modern movements as its mere shades and variations.) Jahn’s architecture shook and modernized a number of global cities, and with time and experience, what began as a rebellion against Mies’s “less is more” modus operandi matured into nuanced, measured, though unquestionably gutsy, production of towers, airports, convention centers, headquarters, and, most importantly, public spaces. As Jahn himself says, “...anything you don’t need is a benefit. Not only you have to have less things but with the things you have left you have to do more.”
After graduating from Tecnológico de Monterrey, a leading technical school in Mexico, Francisco Gonzalez Pulido worked on design-build projects for six years before leaving for the US where he earned his Master’s degree from Harvard’s GSD in 1999. The same year the architect started working with Helmut Jahn in Chicago where he stayed for 18 years – from intern to becoming the president of the company in 2012, at which point he renamed the firm into Jahn. By then he developed his own body of work there. Last year Gonzalez Pulido started FGP Atelier in his adopted home city.
Today the studio, counts a dozen of architects and is overseeing the design of a couple of high-rises in China, a baseball stadium in Mexico City, and university buildings in Monterrey, among other projects. The following interview was conducted at FGP Atelier in Chicago, during which the architect was explicit about transmitting his view: “Architecture is too rigid, too formal. It is time to break free…I want to build lighter. I want to build smarter.”
“We Learn From the Ordinary as Well as From the Extraordinary”: Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown
There are so many complexities and contradictions in life in general and architecture in particular. I am writing this intro to an interview I held in 2004 with Robert Venturi and his life-and-architecture partner Denise Scott Brown, while visiting Beijing’s Tsinghua University where I was invited to teach this fall. Was it simply a coincidence when, at the last moment before leaving my New York City apartment I would, almost by chance, grab a 2001 issue of Architecture magazine with Venturi on its cover and his contradictory quote, “I am not now and never have been a postmodernist.”
I learned of Venturi's passing last week on my first day of teaching at Tsinghua; the news arrived as I and the students discussed their proposals to improve their campus. In yet another strange coincidence, Venturi and Scott Brown had, just prior to our interview, been working on their own proposal for the very same campus. It was a pleasant and bittersweet surprise then to hear my students speak of freeing up the campus in much the same ways as Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture attacked then domineering architecture of minimalism and abstraction over 50 years ago.
His and Scott Brown’s ideas for this campus did not materialize but their analytical and often rebellious thinking greatly influenced how students here and architects all over the world approach architecture. It was Venturi who freed our discipline, it was him who set us all free and encouraged to ask our own questions, to get away from all kinds of dogmas and to provoke ideas of hybridization. What follows is an excerpt from my conversation with the architects at their office in Philadelphia 14 years ago.
"Making Problems is More Fun; Solving Problems is Too Easy": Liz Diller and Ricardo Scofidio of Diller Scofidio + Renfro
It is so refreshing to hear the words: “We do everything differently. We think differently. We are still not a part of any system or any group.” In the following excerpt of my recent conversation with Liz Diller and Ric Scofidio at their busy New York studio we discussed conventions that so many architects accept and embrace, and how to tear them apart in order to reinvent architecture yet again. In New York the founding partners of Diller, Scofidio + Renfro have shown us exactly that with their popular High Line park, original redevelopment of the Lincoln Center, sculpture-like Columbia University Medical Center in Washington Heights, and The Shed with its movable “turtle shell” that’s taking shape in the Hudson Yards to address the evolving needs of artists because what art will look like in the future is an open question.
Manuel Zornoza of LATITUDE: "We Were Fascinated by this Idea - How do You Build a City from Scratch?"
Manuel N. Zornoza grew up in Alicante, Spain and, following studies in Madrid (UAX) and London (the AA), relocated to China in 2010 to avoid the economic crisis stifling architectural work in his home country. Over the last eight years, the young architect’s small but thriving studio has built more than a dozen projects, from shops, to factory space conversions, to a traditional Chinese hutong - all in China. But that’s not to say Zornoza’s left his roots behind. He now also maintains a small practice in Madrid, which handles projects in both China and Spain.
This interview was conducted on a bullet train ride from Beijing to Tianjin, where we ventured in search of the recent architecture that has brought so much media attention to this emerging metropolis.
Sergey Skuratov, founder of Sergey Skuratov Architects, an award-winning Russian practice (2008 Architect of the Year), is known for his sleek and well-composed portfolio. Projects such as Copper House, Art House, and House on Mosfilmovskaya Street demonstrate his sensitivity to materiality and ability to retain his vision from concept to reality. Over the last two decades Skuratov has succeeded in producing a whole strata of world-class architecture in Moscow, far more than any other local practitioner. His projects, predominantly residential and office complexes, have remained attractive and versatile without ever veering into conservatism.
Philip Yuan of Archi-Union Architects: "The Process of Construction can be Elevated to Art Performance"
Though the understated Swiss and British Pavilions were the big (and perhaps overly literal) winners at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale investigating Freespace, it was the Chinese that put their relentless architectural progress on display. Nestled in the back of the Arsenale, the Chinese Pavilion presented dozens of built works all around Chinese countryside, each project demonstrating a meaningful social impact through the involvement of villagers in the production process. Among the most visible Chinese architects presenting at the pavilion was Shanghai-based educator and practitioner Philip Yuan, whose office Archi-Union Architects has become a major voice in the already-distinctive contemporary Chinese architecture scene.
On 19 July, 2018 curator Vladimir Belogolovsky will join gallerist and curator Ulrich Müller to discuss Philip Yuan’s work at the opening of Archi-Union Architects Collaborative Laboratory exhibition at Architektur Galerie Berlin. Belogolovsky’s interview with Philip Yuan follows after the break:
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.
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.
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.