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EDITOR’s VOICE twenty years ago, we Chinese could never imagine that the BEIJING’s landmark National Sports Centre would be designed in the image of a “Bird’s Nest”. It is no longer a solemn and dignified design concept, it has completely abandoned the lofty sense of worship; we can not imagine such a large building could be designed in such a free style.
The architects’ designs come from their estimatation of value, the vast differences in values produces a great diversity in criterion for “beauty” and “ugly” in China’s present architecture industry. With the history of rapid development, cultural background and this Chinese and Western mix, “architecture” in China has undertaken breath taking changes. Over the past decade, from China have emerged a number of new architects who have a contemporary independent spirit. They put more emphasis in the use value of architectural design, are concerned more about authenticity and the most microscopic emotions of the building visitors. In the architectural form, they hope to break the traditional visual experience to lead the new and
advance aesthetic form. In fact, the new “visual experience” often gives rise to great controversy. I would like to introduce two such architects, Tao Lei and Peng Lele, they have common ground in their profiles. They both show distinctive personality, have designed art exhibition spaces and both own architectural design firms in Beijing. They equally strive to meet the requirements and feelings of the vistors to their designed space with their own understanding and implementation of architecture. They are the practitioners of China’s “contemporary architectural design theory”. Of course, they also have obvious differences. Here, let us celebrate their difference through the words and their respective architectural styles.
The Concave House Benxi, Liaoning Province A studio and gallery specially designed for Mr. Dazhong Feng who is a prestigious artist in China.
Tian an men Square & People’s Square
Architecture, constructed structures, itself is not the goal to achieve, the purpose of architecture is to obtain the space formed by it. Architecture not only can bring people the activity space, but also leaves behind the cultural memory of social life, as well as records the features of the era. Architecture affects each person who is using it. It not only builds a relationship with people’s daily life, even affects their behavior and the way of thinking.
In urban construction, all have a place for public activity, Squares. “The concept of the square arose in the ancient Europe, the traditional urban living environment was crowded, people left some open spaces for political or religious ceremonies in front of a number of important buildings such as churches, palaces, government buildings or markets.” As the center of the city, the square is the most broad, flat open space we can see, it is often surrounded by the landmark buildings.
I used to live in the two first-tier cities in China, Beijing and Shanghai. These two cities all have their own very important Squares: Beijing Tiananmen Square and Shanghai People’s Square. Just from their names, it seems easy to distinguish from their functions. Tiananmen Square is renowned both at home and abroad for holding important national celebrations and rallies. It symbolizes the sacred and solemn national sovereignty; “serve for the politics” is its main function. Shanghai People’s Square
is famous for its strong cultural atmosphere and garden style design. In there, people can enjoy the convenience and pleasure that city life has brought them; “serve for the people” is its main function. Two squares, completely different functions, states of existence and design concepts, they have brought people different behavior patterns and perceptibility. This exactly is the power of the architecture.
For the existing buildings, especially the public buildings, no matter they are advantageous or disadvantageous in ordinary people’s life, the public can only passively choose to accept and adapt them. Architect Peng Lele described in her essay: “Tiananmen Square, for me, is not just images and symbols. My workplace is at the Working People’s Cultural Palace which is in the east of Tiananmen Square, so Tiananmen Square and the surrounding activities are a part of my real life. Once I wanted to see an exhibition held at the Museum of Chinese Revolutionary History which is located in the northeast corner of Tiananmen Square and south of the Chang An Avenue; my office is in the north of the Chang An Avenue, diagonally opposites to the Museum of Chinese Revolutionary History. The nearest straight-line distance may be only 150 meters, I thought they were even more closer, but the actual walking distance is about one kilometer. Because in addition to the super city scale, there is also the human path design.” This is the true feeling of the people who works and lives in the neighbor of the Tiananmen Square -- sacred, solemn but not comfortable.
Living in the city, our eyes are filled with the landscape of Architectures. Architecture as the basic element of the urban feature, it enriches and changes the urban landscape. When we appreciate this “landscape”, architecture is more like a preset password program, it implants and affects the lives of each person who views or touches it, we unconsciously have been implanted a lot of password programs like this. The coexisting old and new buildings, mix with locals and tourists who appear at different time, present the interlaced scene of reality and history. The square becomes the real also illusory stage of the life. In the square, the crowd come and go, they can feel the square at the same time, but also unfamiliar with each other. No matter bustling or deserted, the architectures of the square are solid and open, correspond to the behaviors of a variety of people, always seem to show that their are mysterious and unknown. Accordingly, we often feel overwhelmed or even lost in the huge city complexes. As the famous French novelist Marguerite Duras depicted a dialogue of a maid and an itinerant hawker in her Le Square, “there often appears a similar scene in the summer square, they are self-pitied with inner emptiness, longing for love ... but they can not get rid of a lonely heart. “
TAO LEI Tao Lei (Beijing) Architectural Design Limited Company was founded in 2007. It insists on exploring the most essential architectural and urban issues through a hands-on approach; aiming at changing certain rules or limitations in the premise of the Chinese traditional spatial and cultural awareness, and also the current sociatal values, in order to create an oriental style of human living. Meanwhile, Tao Lei tries to highlight the real and unrestrained space atmosphere in an organic, relaxed and cheerful way under the contemporary context. The studio devotes itself to the pursuit of the perfect architectural quality, whilst valuing the construction project detail and the final completeness of the realized building. The scope of work covers architectural, landscape and interior design.
the building also should be full of emotion, which means that it should be filled with culture. Rooftop view of the Concave House
Tao Lei was born in Anhui Province in 1976, he is the founder of Tao Lei (Beijing) Architectural Design Limited Company. He graduated from a middle school affiliated to the Central Academy of Fine Arts and the Architectural Institute of the Central Academy of Fine Arts.
What architectural design styles are your personal favorites? Can you specificy and analyze a representative building of this design style? Some of the specific architectural styles I can’t say I appreciate, but I do enjoy the modern design of this era, it’s difficult to define the modern design form. The style is often a specific model, the routine thing; while the modern design that I am talking about tends to focus on the innovative concept and space, and these will also be extended to the innovation of form. So, you can potentially say that I like the “anti-style” design.
What elements do you think a successful building should have? Why? A successful building should be unique, this is the only way that it can really respect the conditions of the project. Each project has its own uniqueness, architecture should be organic: form and function, not just the simple layout; the inside and outside of the building are interpenetrative, inter-probative and united; it can have a dialogue with our body and heart. In addition to the physical features, the building also should be full of emotion, which means that it should be filled with culture.
Are the well designed buildings blended seemlessly into their surrounding environment and how can a building which is complete blend better into it’s surrounding environment? I think blend is not the only way that buildings deal with the surrounding environment, sometimes it is not even the best way. For example, in China, besides a lot of old streets and ancient buildings, for the sake of the so-called blend, people intergrate a lot of fau-antique style buildings, but it turns out that these non-descript buildings eventually alter and affect the authentic buildings next to them. Buildings can blend into
the surrounding environment, but sometimes it can also have a relationship of contrast. Take for example the phrase “contrast finely with each other”, which exactly expresses the difference between buildings and the surrounding environment. The building is a part of the surrounding environment, it should be an appropriate part of that, it can be the same or in opposition with it’s surrounding environment.
What is your evaluation of the CCTV Tower which is located at the Beijing CBD business district? And how do you think that CCTV chose Rem Koolhaas’s design in 2002? I have a good impression on the CCTV Tower. It is unique, and also demonstrates the vitality and inclusiveness of Beijing as an ancient capital. The annular shape breaks people’s stereotypical view of skyscrapers. Its three-dimensional ring is like a giant sculpture, producing a huge external space, it also has quality that no previous skyscrapers have. It does not have too much pretense, the surface also is a reflection of the internal structure. It is united by the inside and outside, and this is an authentic visual experience.
The Forbidden City, People’s Square of Beijing are landmarks with strong political significance, this also seems to be one of the architectural features of our international metropolis. Speaking of cities like Beijing, as a country’s political and cultural center, and also with it’s endless history; which do you think is more important, the “preservation” or the “innovation”? What is the balance between the two? I think “preservation” and “innovation” are equally important. “Preservation” makes us still have the opportunity to experience the wonderful cultural atmosphere of our cities past. Such preservation, can make us have more sense of stability in our city lives, and feel the inner quiet. But “innovation” can make our lives more exciting, and make our city more vibrant. These two are not contradictory, but complementary.
How would you evaluate the winner of the 2012 Pritzker Architecture Prize, Wang Shu. Can you describe his impact China’s architecture vista? Wang Shu’s award success is of great encouragment for our community, especially for the architects who are outside the system and those who feircly hold to their values and principles. Meanwhile, his award also has certain irony for China’s current architectural system. Due to the internally rapid urbanization, the government and developers put scale and efficiency as their first mandate, which inevitably brings many problems during the development of cities, such as over scale, ineffective planning, low quality production which is caused by the rapid design process, these are both the impact and destruction for an urban culture. Wang’s success is recogniition of a new direction and I would like to consider this award as a new era for China’s urban development which appears to be the worlds largest construction site.
What conditions do you think are essential to run a architectural firm from home? Why do most domestic architectural designers in firms not have the Qualification Certificate of Architectural Design? The greatest impact for start-up architectural firms in China is the current institutional issue. So far, some of the top, even most internationally influential architectural firms do not have the qualifications, and often they need to cooperate with qualified or traditional design institutes to complete projects. A large number of architects who are creative and successful in architectural design are not easily recognized by the current system. The Chinese architectural assessment system “decides” those who are able to master building codes will more easily obtain the Architects Registration Qualification, rather than the creative ones who have deeper understanding of architecture. The ironic thing is, Wang Shu is one of those unlicensed.
Interior of the Concave House
2010 Shanghai World Expo’s slogan “Better City, Better Life.”, what do you think of the proposal that “arts go into the urban planning”? For the proposal of “arts go into the urban planning”, I do not entirely agree. In my opinion, rational thinking is the premise for urban development, art will not be the catalyst for urban design to become more important. I am more worried about this concept will make planning and design more formalized, superficial, and lacking reasonable and intrinsic content. Art is a good thing, but the current development of our cities, especially the architectural
design, is short of preciseness and rationality that it should have. China is building a large number of art galleries and museums throughout the country, but these currently are not the most needed or valuable to society, and many of their designs also display irrationality. This indicates that there is a lot of shortsightedness during the development of our urban spaces.
Yard view of the Concave House
Stairs inside the Concave House
Since the 1990s, construction projects in China have focused on commercial buildings and residences. In the coming decade, what construction project areas do you think will have better development space? I think in the next decade, commercial buildings and residences will remain as the most important construction projects. China’s urbanization is on an inevitable curve, commercial buildings and residences are the main part of the urbanization. Solving people’s living and commercial activity problems are the basis of city life. With the urban development, the serviceclass, culture-class architecture will gradually be valued to meet and improve the functional and cultural needs of the future cities.
“Architecture is the frozen music”, “construction should be touching”, etc. Can you use some words or sentences to describe the outstanding buildings in your mind?
Architecture is the shell of the soul
Females are rare in the field of architectural design. Because the object of design is composed of reinforced concrete, and in addition to the design work engaged in the workplace, an architect often is required to visit construction sites and build good relationships with workers and male dominated construction sites. Peng Lele said: “As a architect, reason and logic are vitally important, but these can all be trained, while the women-specific sensitivities will become an advantage for female architects.” Peng Lele not only chose the architectural design as her profession, but also established her own architectural design firm. She has designed a lot of artists’ studios and art orientated spaces, which is in contrast to many other architectural design firms. Artists have higher value for the uniqueness of the architectural design, they are more in tune with feelings and emotions of life. While designing studios and living spaces for artists, the designers not only need to understand unusual requirements of the artists, but also have the profound and sensitive understanding for things that artists do. Peng Lele’s design emphasizes on the passion for life, she thinks that this passion for life is touching, and this feeling can be transmited to others, it will unconsciously and subtly influence the visitors to the building.
Gui Dian Art Space Song village, Beijing
As the designer of spaces with unique aesthetic function, Peng Lele is different from the an average architect, not only because she is female. The architectural design firm Peng Lele founded is named Atelier 100s+1, located in Song Zhuang, a famous artists village in Tongzhou District of Beijing. There is a 100,000-square-meter pond in Song Zhuang, which is surrounded by some well established art institutions such as Song Zhuang Museum of Fine Arts and some renouned artists’ studios, and Atelier 100s+1 is now amongst them as renound. Atelier 100s+1 is not only the workplace for 10 designers, but also the living place of Peng Lele’s family.
Li Xianting (well-known Chinese art critic) used to detailed Atelier 100s+1 as: “A buildings with characteristics: an area of nearly 2000 square meters, from east to west 50 meters wide, and north to south, 25 meters in length; its eastern side is adjacant to a lake, and rests 6 meters above the water’s surface; it is adjacent to studios from the northern and southern sides, and the western side is by the village entrance road. Atelier 100s+1 was established in 2011, the total construction area is 589 square meters, covering an area of 309 square meters, accounts for a quarter of the total area. The reasons for liking this design are: First, they use “leave more land, build less structure” as their original intention, which embodies their respect for the land. Secondly, highlighting the environment where possibly they can, especially the importance of the pond’s landscape for the building and the people who are living in it. Thirdly, the whole building implies a kind of Chinese garden style and finally, the wide open feeling of the space and design. “
As Peng Lele’s office and home Atelier 100s+1 carries her understanding of the architectural life. “Focus on small-scale life emotions.” the emphasis of her architectural design. She emphasizes that architecture serves for “people”, all users of this building, whether in the functions of using or in the atmosphere created by the building. On the premise of taking full account of the users’ feelings, she tries to shorten the distance between human and nature, and her perfection of shortening results in fusion. Every room’s design of Atelier 100s+1 strives to bring the surrounding landscape into the interior. Peng Lele especially likes the scape of her own home: during the day a stretch of the lake and green, at dusk two crystal swans refract a colorful rainbow, at night the water reflects sparkling waves. She is so close to the nature in her daily life and this often touches her heart.
Interior of Gui Dian Art Space
The studio has been offering innovative solutions for contemporary architecture and urban problems through the application of traditional inspirations, which is a basis of their architecture practice. The team deems design process a research of architecture, seeking for modern interpretations from ancient Chinese architectural culture in practice. Positively responding to the rapid development and revolution of Chinese cities by means of revitalizing traditions, they have found a sustainable approach in contemporary context without losing precious heritages. Based on the study of traditional Chinese cities and gardens, the studio focuses on issues of contemporary cities and living environment.
Peng Lele Founding Partner
1967 Born in Anqing, Anhui 1990 Graduated from Nanjing Architectural and Civil Engineering Institute 1990 Anqing architecture design institute 1996 Huamao architecture design company 1999 Atelier FCZJ 2001 Founded Atelier 100s+1
Inside Views of Gui Dian Art Space
Outside Views of Gui Dian Art Space
Curve and Straight wall, Beijing - Li Xianting’s house (famous Chinese art critic)
“Cloud” in 2010 design concepts exhibition