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Working Trace

Zunheng Lai MArch I AP, 2015 Harvard Graduate School of Design






Tipping Point


Fibrous Ambiguity


On the Oblique


Boston Performance Center


Tensile Vortex


Knot Pavilion




The Great Lake Weather Testing Center


Jingan Shopping Mall


BioBuild Building Components


Minimal Chair


In-Betweeness Spring 2015, Thesis, Harvard Graduate School of Design Individual Work Advisor: Cameron Wu


“Each city receives its form from the desert it opposes; and so the camel driver and the sailor see Despina, a border city between two deserts.� Italo Calvino, The Invisible Cities



conceptual diagrams: an oscillating condition of both/and

border between Shenzhen(SZ) & Hong Kong(HK)

+ Often considered as a binary condition of mutual exclusion, borders are idealized to be a safe condition of either/or. Such imaginary condition is usually denied by border crossing facilities: the flux through the void reveals the true connections/conflicts between the regions, an oscillating condition of both/and. The Border between Shenzhen and Hong Kong is under such both/and conditions. Serving more visitors than Hong Kong airport, one of the busiest airport in the world, the border crossing facilities between Shenzhen and Hong Kong embraces enormous energy and flux in high intensity. However, considered at the urban edge of both cities, they are treated as back of house, hidden entities that never reveal and embrace the condition of both/and. Therefore, this thesis looks into this forgotten entity under the predominant current of generic cities, seeking its identity through its captive audience, taking the opportunistic approach of complementary political and economical condition to its extreme, and questioning the life of citizens in-between.


SZ/HK border former frontier closed area (1951-2012) current frontier closed area (2012-current)

+ Originally being part of China, the formation of Hong Kong and the border between its region and mainland China was generally formed between 1842 and 1898 after it was ceded to UK. Along time, the role of the border gradually shifted from a political barrier to an economical control, especially after Shenzhen Special Economic Zone is established right across the border. After handed over to China in 1997, Hong Kong is governed in high level of autonomous under the “one country, two policy�. After the transition period of 50 years, the border between Shenzhen and Hong Kong is to be dissolved in 2047.


Shenzhen River in 1960s

Shenzhen River in 2010s

+ Shenzhen River, upon which the border between Shenzhen and Hong Kong is located, once was the center of life, as shown in the a picture taken in the 1960s. However, with different land regulations and speed of urban development, both Hong Kong and Shenzhen treats the river, the border as the back of house of the city, leaving the strange but powerful contrast between two sides of the river.


4.1 million visitors/year




million visitors/year


+ However, such border never truly prevent the connection of these two cities. The different economic, social and political setup create special opportunity of the two cities to complementary each other. Shenzhen’s lower living cost in housing is a great incentive for people from Hong Kong to purchase properties in Shenzhen. While Hong Kong being a free port, imported goods are way cheaper than that of Shenzhen. The becomes a huge incentive for mainland citizens to shop in Hong Kong, and even “smuggle” to re-sale the good back in mainland China. With the increase amount of tourist being a burden for Hong Kong’s already hyper dense urban fabric, the government of HK and Shenzhen are planning to develop the land along the border area, creating the opportunity of bring the river back to the life of these two cities. 9

Hong Kong

duty free custom




duty free custom

police health

check points

custom taxi






check points


check points







police immigration


taxi bus


immigration police




check points



police immigration

sequential diagrams of crossing the border

dance diagram, Andy Warhol, 1962

+ The act of crossing border is an act of going through layers of thresholds. The manipulation of movements from different user groups, including directing, bypassing, mis-mapping, curates specific spatial sequence, like a choreography of time and space.


diagram showing the shifting from linear to intertwining, both in plan and section

from SZ - HK from HK - SZ

program intertwining commercial residential

+ Instead of linearly laying out the sequence, the design layers and intertwines the programs to address the issues of thresholds, bypassing and mis-mapping. Two loops forms a spatial paradox that juxtapose the complimentary programs representing the economic advantage of these two cities. By making it a super hot spot, it opens up the border region and bring the border from back of house of a city to again the center of life. 11

site model

+ The design addresses the tangible physical and intangible political contrast between the two sides of the border. On the Shenzhen side, it embraces the ground, opening it up to form active plaza and river walk. On the Hong Kong side, it respects the ground, elevating the volume, only leaving the infrastructure as future expansion. The paradoxical conditions reveal the duality of the space, becoming a new urban/rural typology that reacts to the special condition of SZ/HK border. 12

ground plan


crossing facility plan


interlocking loop plan



cross section

longitudinal section


view from Shenzhen to Hong Kong

view from Hong Kong to Shenzhen


crossing the border

the blending of different movement








Tipping Point Spring 2014, Studio, GSD Group Work w/ Weishun Xu and Tim Zeitler Instructor: George Legendre Contribution: Design Drawings Diagrams Model Making Photography Featured in GSD Publication ‘Platform 7’

+ The project“tipping point” explores the tension between autonomous geometries as imaginary inputs and the normative dependent site as real inputs. The goal of the project is to create a community-friendly stadium that blends in the scale of the neighbourhood, while expressing the form as new local icon. Unlike many other projects among which the formal result of parametric modelling is autonomous, our methodology is a dynamic process that constantly negotiates with the site, material and tectonic. The final outcome of the studio is a prototype in between diagram and construction: a conceptual expression of architectural tectonic and spatial sequence.



N site plan

+ The project situated in the dense residential and commercial fabrics in west London, with major transportation hubs and public space around. Site analysis focuses on the relationship between the stadium and the community, the distance from major public transportation and the integration with major landscape resources.


site model looking northwest

+ One design intend of the project is to create a community-friendly stadium that blends in the urban fabric, while at the same time stand for its own identity being the icon of the new district.


MathCAD formal development

+ The form finding process is through parametric modelling which controls the relationship between the bowl, roof and envelope. Not only the parameter but also the mechanism are considered.


family tree of the formal development

+ Started with 5 families, a series of formal explorations searches for spatial potential of the future stadium. The formal development is guided with site analysis and design intent: a concealed iconicity that blends the “white elephant“ in the community, with the roof and bowl of the stadium being the local icon.


final geometry and sectional studies

+ On contrary to many projects that treat the formal result of digital modelling as a 3D object to be translated, with our methodology, a rigorous digital drafting process for each radial section was developed to break down the generated form in order to call for more rigorous thinking of the constructability, spatial sequence and programmatic organization of architecture.


sectional model

+ The structure system of the final design is a hybrid between goal post and cantilever. The underground part of the stadium provides support for the post arch with cantilever anchored in. The final geometry implies a certain structure performers that can be expressed through the tectonic study later.


plan: podium level


plan: ground level


tectonic translation from 2D to 3D

+ Instead of mere translation of the surface, a set of tectonic studies explores physically readings of the threads which define the surface. The design intent is to express the inner geometric structure through intersection between two sets of threads. Part of the structure frames is intentionally left uncover to provide the conceptual reading with the threads.


final model: entrance view


Fibrous Ambiguity Fall 2013, Studio, GSD Group Work w/ Jun Wang Instructor: Achim Menges Contribution: Concept Development Model Making Photography Documentation Video Production Featured in GSD Exhibition ‘Material Performance: Fibrous Tectonic’ Featured in GSD Publication ‘Platform 7’

+ The project “Ambiguity” explores the capability of fiber composites by an attempt to construct a material-specific architectural system that is characterized by “ambiguous” phenomena. It started with a hypothesis that by working with gradient of different fiber densities, such system can integrate various spatial conditions and structural performances into one single expression.

+ QR code or link for the video of the final prototyping process










Domain of Fibrous System

Domain of Material Computation



DTR Domain of Translation


research framework diagram

+ Exploration was divided into 3 phases as a methodology to testify such hypothesis: the articulation of fibers based on the scaffolds, the spatialization of fiber system into architectural system, and the translation of the system into scaffold set-up, therefore constructing a feedback loop. They are categorized accordingly as the domain of fibrous system, the domain of material computation, the domain of translation. 40

2D fibrous system study

3D fibrous system study

+ The domain of fibrous system were conducted to understand fiber behaviours and articulation in relations to scaffold. Through our studies, we found out that each type of fiber plane has its unique plane features in relation to directionality, boundary creation, volume creation, self-reinforcement and etc., and therefore usefully in respective situations in the next hierarchy of study. 41

analysis of fiber algorithm and surface boundary


various fibrous algorithmic study on the same framework

spatial morphology embracing different surface types

+ The domain of material computation were conducted to understand the interaction between various fibrous algorithms and surface behaviours. These surfaces are in themselves gradient of differentiated fiber densities, and have started to integrate spatial and structural qualities. For example: reinforced boundary conditions are formed in-between scaffolds, which can be guided to generate apertures and thresholds. Flexible scaffold system was also organized to introduce ambiguity in form finding, giving material a certain degree of freedom to compute its form in space, through fiber-to-fiber interactions. These interactions are then categorized in the next domain, the domain of translation.


architectural morphological study


point diagrams and spatial generation

+ The domain of translation investigates the spatializatioin of continuous fiber gradient. Sequential buildup of these two types of fiber planes results in different reinforced surfaces which feature in two categories: boundary condition and in between boundary. Diverse reinforced surface together construct spatial moments in relation to terrain: a relatively flat interface between the ground and the rising of an elevated one forms a vertical circulation. These spatial moments begin to articulate the architectural potentials of the fiber morphology in architectural scale. 45

sideview of final model


spatial moment of final model

spatial moment of final model

+ In retrospect, we found that “ambiguity” is expressed in different aspects of the project: 1. Through the combination of weaving algorithms, we are able to express different structural and spatial qualities in a continuous surface: self-reinforced boundary, gradients of fiber density and etc.. Such surface is ambiguous, for it is hard to define the surface in a singular manner. 2. The flexibility of the scaffold makes it constantly under transformation until the force within fiber reaches equilibrium. The final form of the fiber composite is not directly linked to the starting form of the scaffold, making it unpredictable and ambiguous. 3. Such process of exploration avoids the coded architectural language and follows the abstraction of point, line, plane and space to reconstruct our way of understanding space. The space under such framework is ambiguous, for it is architectural and primitive at the same time. We hope such ambiguity can defamiliarize us with the cliché of coded architectural language and bring us back to the primitive, intuitive experience of space.                 


On the Oblique Spring 2012, Studio, GSD Group Project w/ Charlene Chai & Mina Nishio Instructor: Florian Idenburg Contribution: Concept Development Code Writing Diagramming Model Making Rendering Featured in GSD Platform 5


entry from ground



multiple levels of entry


one street level


multiple street levels

+ “On the Oblique“ is an urban project that explores the possibility of high density, multi-ground city. Typically, urban planning is 2 dimensional. However, with the case such as Hong Kong, we see the grow of city today exceed the 2D model: different programs within different levels of buildings, connected by multi-level walkway, forming an integrated network 3 dimensions. Inspired by the Hong Kong model, the project proposes a city with multi-ground under unlimited population grow and density. Such model uses “light void” to control building volume and FAR as intensive to corporate public-private development. Such proto-city model shows the possibility of integrating high efficient urban system and life/ work style with sufficient public resources that is build upon sharing economy.


green and public space at light void

ground green way

building blocks


bigger IR +2 recreational space +1

med node +2 med node next to IR +1 additional Non-L/W floor +1 funicular station +2

public space 0.5 (3 floors) +1.5 walkway +3 small node +0.5

soffit artwork +1

med node +2 med node next to IR +1 additional Non-L/W floor +1

+ Game of FAR Using FAR as incentive to encourage developer in integrating public open space in the private development.

public space 0.5 (4 floors) +2

Total FAR = 21 + (5) = 26



the Green Way and the multi-layer urban-scape

+ Green Way & porous urban-scape Green Way is a series of pedestrian walkways networks on the ground level to promote public space and below-grade commercial space.


Boston Performance Center Fall 2011, Studio, GSD Individual Work Instructor: Maryann Thompson + The site situated southeast to the Government Service Center designed by Paul Rudolph, a controversial historical landmark of Brutalism which represents the problematic relationship between solid monumentality and active urban space. The project tackled this issue by blending everyday life into the dramatic theatrical space. With the concept of “Mashup“, the Boston Performance center embraces education, performance and public outdoor program together into a coherent atmosphere. Here, different programs are reconnected not through functions, but through intentions. By doing so, the same intention is enhanced by different activities, constructing a colourful and exciting experience.



layering up the irregular “street“ of Boston


the urban palaza extends into the main performance space, becoming the stage



stage as part of the plaza

stage as a multi- seasonal playground

reveal the relationship between back and front stage

insert dance studio into theater, sharing the atmosphere

education programs

programs that don’t need direct sunlight

insert commercial programs to activate outdoor space

continuous landscape connecting the building & plaza

ground plaza plan


Tensile Vortex Fall 2011, Landscape As Digital Media, GSD Individual Work Instructor: David Mah + The single, unified self-supported structure integrates the basic elements of a pavilion: open ground plan, enclosed space, roof and sky view frame. Instead of differentiating them, the design blends all these elements into one continuous structure. Spaces are squeezed, stretched and twisted in such continuous structure, like a Tensile Vortex.







Knot Pavilion Fall 2011, Digital Media II, GSD Group Project w/ Jeniffer Ly & Sonja Cheng Instructor: Andrew Witt Contribution: Conceptual Design Digital Project Modelling 3D Printing Diagrams Renderings


+ The Knot Pavilion is an exploration of constructing space through two surface boundaries, one of which is weaving, twisting and self-interlocking, forming “knots� in plan. Such non-orientable surface blends the space into a continuous, fluid and mysterious puzzle. Light is lured into the space, mildly blending itself with the flowing air. Here, surface is no longer a 2D definer, but a 3D register of space.






h.i.p Winter 2010, Installation proposal for Pierpont Commons, University of Michigan Partner Work w/ Sen Liu Contribution: Conceptual Design Grasshopper Scripting Plans & Sections Diagrams Line Representation Rendering Post-production


+ h.i.p = harmony, integration, precision. The project considers the body movement and visual connection as a whole integrated experience when people travel through and engage the stairwell space: A spatial curve that integrates architectural elements and body experience is emerging. Spontaneously, the curve is a spatial representation of the Rotary Octave Harmonograph, a harmonograph that is a translation from invisible music to visible graph, through a precise engineering method. It is the imaginative transition that travels through different human intelligent and blurs the boundary between science and art, which is exactly the spirit we found of the North Campus of the University of Michigan.






The Great Lake Weather Testing Center Fall 2009, Studio, TCAUP Group Work w/ Brad Cutter Instructor: Cathlyn Newell Contribution: Conceptual Design Site Operation Runway Design Weather Device Design Diagrams Renderings 3D Printing Featured in TCAUP Annual Architecture Student Show 2010 78

+ The Weather Park project is proposing an environment that is controlled by the environment, using science and formal language to visually communicate abstract forces into obtainable information. The formal language uses layering to create overlapping learning environments as opposed to convention sequential learning. In the design, Air, Water, and Ground work together in symphony to better layer the project and create the overlapping education environment we want for public and workers to better understand the invisible forces acting upon us.


+ We think of the site as a large weather device where the weather hits the ground. So we try to release different experiences through out the whole site to maximize the opportunities of sensing the weather. In this case, experiences will be overlapping with each other and visitors will gain new knowledge through these overlapping experiences. 80

+ A series of site operation formulate a coherent spatial narratives of the experience in different scales: installation, architecture and landscape. Such experience is constantly changing with the dynamic weather.



+ The continuous section shows the close connection between the runway and the landscape. The form of the runway structural belly reacts to the immediate landscape condition below.


Great Lakes Weather Testing Centre:

Water Testing Research Centre



At winter daytime, the temperature of water will be lower than that the temperature of the air and will cool down the interior.


At summer night time, on the other hand, the temperature of water will be higher than the temperature of the air and will emit heat.

Great Lakes Weather Testing Centre:


Weather Park Terminal




The skylight system of the building will be open during summer daytime to maximize the cross ventilation of the interior.

In order to seal the heat inside the building, the skylight system will be closed to trap the heat.

Seasonal Section Diagrams Great Lakes Weather Testing Centre:

Exhibition/Gallery Complex



If the wind is too strong, the operable screen will be closed and shut the wind outside the building.

When it is raining at daytime and the wind is calm, the screen will be open to let the building breath.



At a sunny daytime, the terminal glazing system will be open, enabling a stack effect to better ventilate the space.

During a raining night, the glazing system will be semi-open and let the rain bring the cool air inside the building.

Great Lakes Weather Testing Centre:

Air Testing Research Centre

+ Each center optimise the interior experience of weather according to the outdoor situation. The interior atmosphere is no longer fixed, but a dynamic relationship to the weather.






Jing’an Shopping Mall Summer 2013, Professional Work at Neri & Hu Design and Research Office Collaborated Work Contribution: Design Development Mock-up Design 3D Modelling Post Production of Renderings


+ Located at the central commercial district of Jin’an, Shanghai, Jing’an Mall is a 8 stories shopping mall embraces the young, chic and casual luxury. The project focuses on designing the public space of the mall, including atrium, balustrades, store fronts and restrooms. With the concept of “Crystal Garden”, the main public space plays with the gradient of transparency and the subtlety of colours, creating a vibrant, energetic and crisp shopping environment. The restrooms on the other hand, introduce the contrast between the reflected and the solid, creating the illusion of the “secret branch of Crystal Garden” extending into “a tranquil forest”.



concept collage

+ With the concept of “Crystal Garden”, the design of the atrium, the main public space, is a play of transparency and subtle colours, creating a bright, crispy atmosphere for displaying different tenants’ store-fronts.



balustrade axon view


balustrade front view


concept image

+ With the concept of “secret branch of Crystal Garden�, the design of the restroom takes the atmosphere of deep forest, creating a more intimate and mysterious spatial experience.



BioBuild Building Components Fall 2012, Professional Work at 3XN_GXN Collaborated Work with ARUP Contribution: Design Development 3D Modelling Diagrams Renderings


+ The BioBuild project focuses on designing basic building components utilizing the properties of bio-composit material . The project includes four groups of building components system: External Wall Panels, External Cladding Kits, Internal Partition Wall and Suspended Ceiling Kits. Each group focuses on different characteristics of bio-composit material: lightweight, free-formed, selfstructural, large-sized. Every design showcases the potential use of biocomposit material both functionally and aesthetically.


sketches during discussion with ARUP’s material engineer









Minimal Chair Fall 2012, Professional Work at 3XN_GXN Individual Work

+ Minimal Chair explores the relationship between diagrams and forms with a specific class of topological surface: minimal surface. With certain constrains, a single minimal surface with least surface area can be found to accommodate them. Such property gives an interesting connection between diagrams, which are constrains, and forms, which are represented by surfaces. The project starts with a seating diagram including several constrains: stand, seat, lean back. By applying the principle of minimal surface, a single, interlocking surface merges as the form representing the relationship of the diagram. It is minimal and complex at the same time, indulging both a rational and sensitive design methodology.





Zunheng Lai ​

Year of birth: 1988​ | ​Citizenship: China ​|​ +1-857-218-0614 ​| ​15 Peabody Terrace, Apt 32, Cambridge, MA, 02138

EDUCATION Harvard University​, ​Cambridge, MA, USA Graduate School of Design​, ​Master in Architecture I AP, 2015

- Dean’s Merit Scholarship, 2011-2012, 2013-2014, 2014-2015 - Leader of Project Team, ChinaGSD, 2014-2015 - Organizer of ChinaTrip, ChinaGSD, 2014-2015

University of Michigan​,​ ​Ann Arbor, MI, USA A.Alfred Taubman College of Architecture +Urban Planning​, ​Bachelor of Science in Architecture, December 2010 - Winner, Willeke Portfolio Competition, 2010


Neri & Hu Design and Research Office​, ​Shanghai, CHINA

Summer, 2013

- Assisted in design development for shopping mall in CBD area of Shanghai

Trainee Architect

3XN Architects_GXN​,​ Copenhagen, DENMARK

Sept. 2012 – Jan. 2013

Internship Summer, 2012


- Designed building system with bio-composite material - Assisted in material research and conducted furniture design with bio-composite material - Designed “Cradle to Cradle Manual for Danish Architectural Industry", published 2013 - Designed infographic for global business strategy meeting of 3XN

NAGA Architects​, ​Cambridge, USA

- Assisted in Aalto University Campus 2015 International Competition (UAA)

Airport Design Group [ADG]-GDADRI​,​ Guangzhou, CHINA

Summer, 2010

- Assisted in schematic design of residential housing in Liuzhou, China - Assisted in competition "Office Building Design of High-tech Industrial" in Nanning, China - Edited portfolio for vice-director of ADG


ZGF​,​ Seattle, USA

Spring, 2010

Research Assistant Summer, 2009

Project Manager Spring, 2009

- Assist in project management with project architect Dave Sisson on hospital project

B.A.S.E Beijing​,​ Beijing, CHINA

- Interviewed with township leaders and villagers of the Pearl Spring rural village - Designed infographics and edited book for research catalog “The New Social Villages” - Assisted in setting up exhibition “Extreme Urban Euphoria” in Tianjin University, China

Exhibition: Extreme Urban Euphoria​, ​Shenzhen, CHINA

- Coordinated, organized and set up exhibition with curator Prof. Robert Adams from TCAUP


GSD Platform 7 - Studio project "Fibrous Ambiguity" featured in the publication - Studio project "Tipping Point" featured in the publication

Spring, 2014

GSD Experimental Exhibition - Material Performance: Fibrous Tectonic - Studio project "Fibrous Ambiguity" featured in the exhibition

Fall, 2013

GSD Platform 5 - Studio project "On the Oblique" featured in the publication

Fall, 2013 112

ARCHmedium International Student Competition - Honorable mention of project "TRC" partnered with Tony Shi 1/2


Taubman College Annual Architecture Student Show

Spring, 2010 Spring, 2009

- Studio project “Great Lake Weather Testing Center” featured in the show - Studio project “A2 Music Lab” featured in the show

ACTIVITIES Spring, 2014

"The New Phase" -​ ​Projection Mapping Show-2014 Ivy League Spring Festival Gala - Producer of the projection mapping show - Projection mapping, storyboard, motion graphics, video editing and sculpture making

Winter, 2011

Critical Mass – Rubble Wall Construction Experiment for Haiti - Developed rubble wall construction method from recycled concrete - Constructed 1:1 scale mock up of rubble wall construction - Designed booklet for project documentation - Shot and edited a short documentary for construction process, 'Critical Mass'

SKILLS Language Modeling & Drafting Fabrication Environmental Analysis Graphics Programming Video Editing Animation

Fluent Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese and English Rhino, AutoCAD, Sketchup Laser Cutting, 3D Printing, CNC Milling, Furniture Making DIVA, Ecotect, Climate Consultant Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop Grasshopper, Rhino Script, Processing Final Cut Pro, iMovie, Adobe Premier, After Effect Cinema 4D

REFERENCES Cameron Wu Assistant Professor of Architecture, GSD, Harvard (+1) 617-496-0564

Jerry Del Fierro​,​ ​R.A. (+86) 21-6082-3777

Kasper Guldager Jørgensen​, A ​ rchitect MAA (+45) 3264-2314

Maryann Thompson​, F​ AIA (+1) 617-495-1108

Robert Adams (+1) 734-709-3874

Managing director Neri & Hu Design and Research Office

Director, GXN Partner, 3XN

Founding Partner, Maryann Thompson Architects Professor in Practice of Architecture, GSD, Harvard

Principal, Adams+Gilpin Design Studio Co-founder + Faculty, B.A.S.E Beijing Associate Professor of Architecture, TCAUP, University of Michigan

Mary-Ann Ray Founder, Studio Works Architects Co-founder + Faculty, B.A.S.E Beijing Professor of Practice in Architecture, TCAUP, University of Michigan (+1) 213-623-7075

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Zunheng Lai Portfolio 2015  

Selected Works from Harvard Graduate School of Design and University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

Zunheng Lai Portfolio 2015  

Selected Works from Harvard Graduate School of Design and University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning