Posts in Architecture
The Neri&Hu-designed Aranya Art Center opens in Qinhuangdao

The holistic resort’s new art space is an exploration into the relationship between architecture, art, community and nature

Drawing inspiration from Aranya’s location along Qinhuangdao’s Gold Coast, one of China’s most picturesque beaches, Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu conceived an angular structure with a carved out internal cylinder, their response to the ocean waters just outside.

A stepped amphitheatre forms the light-filled base, which can be filled to become a water feature or drained to function as a site for performances and gatherings. Throughout the building, a series of interlocking spaces house five different galleries, a cafe, multi-use exhibition space and an outdoor amphitheater, while access to the rooftop grants 360-degree views of the coastal landscape.

‘It was exciting for us to work with Aranya on this project where we were able to explore a hybrid typology which combined design, art and performance. The project pushes the boundaries of how architectural space deals with sensorial experiences in unexpected ways,’ say Neri and Hu.

Text / Simone Schultz

Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu on Change, Balance and Humility

At Salone del Mobile last month, the founders of Neri&Hu gave us a candid insight into the workings of their distinguished design firm

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Suzy Annetta: What are some of the key changes that you’ve experienced in your studio, your practice and your life in general  since you founded Neri&Hu in 2004?

Rossana Hu: We’ve had to deal with many different transformations. There's been growth. There’s more of some things, and then a few other things we learned to juggle better so we can become more efficient, and I think those two balance each other out, in some ways. We’ve learned how to deal with things as they come, and now have the privilege of being able to select projects. And then there’s the family aspect. When our children were younger it was harder for us to be absent, so I didn't travel as much. Compared to Lyndon, I hardly made the international trips, except here to Milan every year,  which we would both travel for. But then two years ago all our kids left home; one is at university, one’s doing her gap year and actually she's here with us, which has been fun, and our youngest went to boarding school. So that period was like another phase; I realised on the first day that I was at work, after they all had left, that come six o'clock I no longer needed to go home. We now have busier schedules and actually longer working hours.  It’s interesting, because it’s not like we find it harder and harder to deal with the increasing work, we just find different ways of dealing with different things.

Do you do you find it a challenge to stay creative with all these things that you're juggling and the schedules that you have?

Lyndon Neri: Actually, Rosanna always says something interesting: if you give me only two or three projects it's going to be dreadful for the client, because I will always change my mind. 

Hu: Is that what I say or what you say?

Neri: It drives her crazy that I'm constantly changing the scheme. And so, she's always saying ‘Lyndon, why don't you do that for another project. The idea is already good, why don't you develop it instead of just throwing it away and being unhappy?’ I didn't think that could happen, but I think she's actually right. I think it allowed me to see ideas from a different perspective, rather than constantly changing one idea. When we started our practice, it was actually very frustrating, because I'm extremely prolific — I like to draw, I like to come up with ideas and I'm always thinking. So when we’re in Milan, I’ve already forgotten the projects that we've done, I don't pay attention to them anymore because I'm already thinking of the next year. It’s a good balance because Rossana is always trying to be on time, and be specific about the clarity of the project, but I’m already in another world, thinking about the future projects and what our next collaboration might be.

While Rossana is about refining the designs and thinking about what we can improve on, I'm like, ‘This is over, it's done’. It's an interesting question, and it’s made me think that at 12 people, our studio was too small, then at around 40 to 50 we were comfortable, but we weren’t getting the cultural projects we wanted — the  museums, the chapel. It was only when we hit around 85 team members that people started saying ‘Well maybe they're big enough. Now they can be shortlisted in competitions’. And I don't think we're going to get any bigger, I think this is where we're most comfortable, and if anything else the studio’s getting smaller.

But then we started to realise that our contemporaries, the generation older than us, people like Kengo Kuma, even Herzog and de Meuron, David Chipperfield and John Pawson, all have practices with close to 300 people, and with that many people you can actually get interesting work and grow your portfolio of projects. Obviously it’s about balance and attitude, and I think this is where we are most comfortable. It’s not just about being able to be creative. When we were a small studio, we were great. We drew every single line in the early days. But the problem is that sometimes the project is only one hundred square metres, so no matter how creative you are on a small room, that’s the extent of it. And that's another kind of frustration, that we’re not getting the type of projects we like to do.

Hu: If being creative is coming up with ideas, I don't think there's a shortage. But I do feel that we haven't been able to fine tune our direction as much as we'd like to because of the lack of time. It's about churning out projects. But sometimes I think that as a designer it may be more important to cut back on some things or decline some projects, as opposed to coming up with ideas. [SS1] 

Do you ever just dream up objects or structures out of your imagination, or does it always come from a process of thinking about a context and a brief?

Hu: I think we work differently. Lyndon’s creative process is more like pulling something out of a hat, whereas I almost always refer to something. I think the combination is interesting.

Neri: Rossana is very thoughtful. Very precise.

Hu: I start by thinking and he starts by drawing.

Neri: She loves a brief. I hate a brief.

That's an interesting balance.

Neri: Sometimes it's really frustrating because we get emotional, or at least I get emotional. I’ll be drawing a lot of things, and Rosanna will be like, ‘Quite frankly, that's bad, that's bad, that's bad,’ and I'm like ‘Are you saying I'm bad?’ And she'll explain that it’s a process of elimination. For instance, we just came from Paola C., for which we had created several glass pieces as a series of prototypes that we're working on. So, there were probably 12 objects, but that got narrowed down from 30 of my sketches. I just keep drawing and Rossana's like ‘This isn’t right, that's just not right’. And still, if it's up to her she’ll probably pare them down to two designs. But then we made an agreement with the brand, and with Jaime Hayon as well, that next year we’ll really bring this series of experimentation to the market next year.

It probably sounds like such a stereotype, but do you think that perhaps your cultural backgrounds or where you're from —  the Philippines versus Taiwan —  has anything to do with this difference between the cerebral and the emotional?

Hu: I'm not sure, maybe a little bit. But I also think it’s personality, and a lot of it is inborn. For example, you know we have three children, and they have the same parents and they’ve all grown up in the exact same environment, yet they are so different, and in many aspects different from each other. So, I think it's inborn rather than environmental.

Neri: But it's also interesting because even though we’ve been together all these years. Rossana still surprises me. Take the last five years, for instance, and what we’ve been doing with Design Republic. She really pushes on crazy ideas and makes me think ‘Is she alright?’. And I’ve become a bit more controlled, for lack of a better description, and a bit more risk-averse, which I wasn't before. I mean, when we first met, I couldn't care less about money. I really couldn't. And when she said to me, ‘Lyndon, if we're going to have children, then you know, being an architect, you're really not going to survive,’ I used to say ‘Look, if ever I'm going to leave architecture, I'm not going to go work for a corporate practice. I'm really going to leave, I'm going to completely close that book and make as much money as I can.’ I would have closed the book on it because it would just have been too painful to live a compromised life doing mediocre architecture and making mediocre money. Granted, that’s better than being a starving artist, but that's always been my mentality. And Rossana’s always been a bit more stable and considered in her decisions. But over the years being together I think we've kind of…

Hu: Balanced each other out.

You're influencing each other, clearly. You must both be proud, though, of what you've built over the last couple of decades. It’s kind of incredible, and unprecedented in a way. 

Neri: We're fortunate, and we’re very grateful. We don’t take it for granted. You know, I'm from the Philippines, and if we’re talking about stereotypes, I’m a man of faith. And I do believe that God has a purpose for each one of us; the most important thing is to understand our calling and to fulfil it with fervent determination. I think Rossana and I have been gifted with certain abilities, like thinking, writing, drawing and producing beautiful things. I think these are a gift from above, and they’re not for us to abuse. In fact, lately we've been thinking about creating a Chinese brand of accessories to appeal to the interests of the younger generations and empower them.  That’s always our dream, and that's the reason we're also teaching.

I met one of your former team members who was showing at Maison&Objet in Paris this year. That must make you feel quite proud.

Neri: We are proud, and we’re also extremely proud that several people who were from our product team are exhibiting at Salone Satellite this year.

Hu: I think that’s probably the thing that has changed the most: we’ve been practicing for about 16 years, and now there is this new generation of designers who are emerging and becoming independent themselves.

Going back to your first question about things have changed, I actually think in terms of the way we live and work, not much has changed. Maybe we have certain conveniences, certain things come easier, and we’re taken more seriously because we're not young, no-name designers. But I don't think we've…

Neri: …changed as people.

It's interesting. Yesterday I saw Tadao Ando at the airport, and I was in awe. I went up to him and before I could even same my name he said ‘Neri-san’. And I was just like, ‘You actually know our work?’ And we bumped into John Pawson, and I said ‘John, I've always respected what you do. I’m Lyndon from…’ And he says, ‘Of course, Neri and Hu.’  And Rossana and I both still have that sense of awe, and we’re so in awe of the opportunity we’ve been given. I will always remember what my dad says: Humility is the most important thing. And we're still very much in awe of people who do beautiful things, that's never left us. And you know, sometimes we look at each other...

Hu: And we forget how old we are.

Neri: We think that we're still in our twenties.

You must get such a thrill from meeting these people

Neri: Very much so, and I'm shocked that they even know what we do, because we're so obsessed and into our work that we don't really realise. My dad always says, ‘Don't let the media get into your head. Don't let it go to your head when the media praises you, and don't be so sad and depressed when they completely destroy you.’

You’ve got to be true to yourself. If you find that peace and that sense of satisfaction it doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks.

As told to / Suzy Annetta


Read the rest of this interview in the Design Anthology Fair Report: Milan Design Week 2019

From the editors of Design Anthology, this stitch-bound compendium captures the energy, events and encounters of the world’s most influential design event, combined with key insights and analysis unpacking the industry’s future

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Neri&Hu’s Cradle range for arflex

Neri&Hu’s Cradle range for arflex

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The studio recently completed the design of the new Kimpton hotel in Da An, Taipei

The studio recently completed the design of the new Kimpton hotel in Da An, Taipei

Kimpton, Da An

Kimpton, Da An

Kimpton, Da An

Kimpton, Da An

The Twelve A.M bedroom collection for Molteni&C

The Twelve A.M bedroom collection for Molteni&C

Neri&Hu’s Cabinet of Curiosity Read, Discipline sofa and Bund table for Stellarworks

Neri&Hu’s Cabinet of Curiosity Read, Discipline sofa and Bund table for Stellarworks

The studio is behind the design of Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat, a member of Design Hotels. Image by Pedro Pegenaute

The studio is behind the design of Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat, a member of Design Hotels. Image by Pedro Pegenaute

Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat

Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat

Nurturing Nature: The Principles and Practice of Sou Fujimoto

The Japanese architect’s one-size-fits-all approach has paradoxically resulted in some of the design world’s most boundary-breaking structures

L’ECOLE School of Jewelry Arts in Tokyo. Image courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

L’ECOLE School of Jewelry Arts in Tokyo. Image courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

When deciding which projects to accept, Sou Fujimoto has three key criteria: ‘Good vision, interesting context, reliable client.’

It sounds simple enough, but – like Fujimoto’s work – this simplicity can be deceptive. The Paris- and Tokyo-based Japanese architect, known for his ability to incorporate light, nature, whimsy and practicality into effortlessly striking architectural masterpieces, maintains the same attitude and starting point no matter what the project. ‘We always do thorough research on all aspects of the project. This includes client requirements, site requirements, laws, climate, historical background, lifestyle of the area and much more. It’s about listening to the world,’ he explains.

Each and every one of Fujimoto’s projects is recognisably his – without the need for labels or logos – whether it’s one of his early private residences like House NA, the approximately 600-square-metre Tokyo home designed to be completely transparent; or the much-feted 2013 Serpentine Pavilion, a geometric cloud built of steel bars. ‘My projects are about nature and architecture,’ he says, simply. ‘A place for humans, integrating various scales from small to large, and the coexistence of simplicity and variety.’

‘The environment I grew up in was amongst Hokkaido’s nature. To me, it’s the original scenery of a place for people. And the city of Tokyo, where I studied architecture, is like a forest made of diverse artefacts – that’s why I always think about a project without separating nature from architecture,’ he explains. Nature’s influence is more than clear in projects such as L'Arbre Blanc (the White Tree), a multi-use residential tower and complex currently being built in Montpellier, France, and which features a plethora of ‘leaves that jut forth from a central structure. In others, such as the recent pop-up iteration of Van Cleef & Arpels’ L’ECOLE School of Jewelry Arts in Tokyo, the expression is less overt, though still apparent, here in the sinuous stretch of benches winding like paths through a forest, or the arc floor lamps with bulbs that dip like branches. The latter, Fujimoto explains, was his response to a brief that demanded ‘a place of high quality and beauty, which also has a welcoming and cosy feeling – a place with beautiful natural light, where special experiences are born.’

While some architects relish the chance to build temporary structures for the opportunity to experiment with new techniques and materials, Fujimoto himself insists he doesn’t differentiate. ‘There is essentially no difference between temporary places and permanent architecture. However, materials, construction methods or relationships with the surroundings always differ.’ Take the trio of projects that are currently under construction, all of which are distinctly Fujimoto, but which couldn’t be more different from each other. There’s Ishinomaki Culture Complex Center in Miyagi, Japan: a collection of little white houses that wouldn’t be out of place on a Monopoly board; the Ecole Polytechnique learning centre at Paris-Saclay University, a functional educational institution that is all white and light; and the Forest of Music (The House of Hungarian Music) in Budapest, a classy and glassy museum building topped by a roof that resembles a speckled, undulating lotus leaf. ‘I always do my best to be sensitive to the situation and create a rich place, while keeping the essential value at the root,’ he says.

Text / Christina Ko

Children’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation. Image by Daic Ano

Children’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation. Image by Daic Ano

Mille Arbres. Image by SFA+OXO+MORPH

Mille Arbres. Image by SFA+OXO+MORPH

L’Arbre Blanc. Image by SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

L’Arbre Blanc. Image by SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

L’Arbre Blanc. Image by SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

L’Arbre Blanc. Image by SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

L’Arbre Blanc. Image by SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

L’Arbre Blanc. Image by SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013. Image by Iwan Baan

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013. Image by Iwan Baan

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013. Image by Iwan Baan

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013. Image by Iwan Baan

Quad House, Beijing

Architect Nolan Chao and the ARCHISTRY design&research office team documented their transformation of a century-old hutong in Beijing’s Qianmen district into a slick speakeasy

Along the narrow alleyways of Beijing’s historic Qianmen district, a stylish speakeasy bar that blends traditional and modern Chinese elements has opened. Originally the space was a residential building, before being transformed into a spare parts factory, and then a Mahjong, chess and card room. Now, ARCHISTRY design&research office have tweaked the evocative space and opened a bar, which spans across two floors, and includes a terrace area as well as a secluded courtyard. The material palette is reminiscent of the Republic era with bricks, stones, concrete and wood, and the bar embraces the familiar grey tiled rooftops which are so distinctive of Beijing’s hutongs. Principal architect Nolan Chao found the blueprint of the original construction and created a new arch structure and facade to mirror the original. He likens his creative role to an ‘archaeologist and restorer’ rather than architect, and at Quad House guests can rediscover Beijing’s past with a cocktail in hand.

Video / Yang Bo

Images / David Chu

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A Family Home Connected to Nature

Far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects designed this Los Angeles home for a half-Taiwanese, half-Chinese family seeking rest and peace

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The busy couple and their two teenage children who live in this house in Santa Monica, California, had a straightforward yet ambitious brief for the EYRC Architects team: They wanted ‘a place to get away from it all’.

Built on an 830-square-metre plot, the new two-storey structure, which is spread over 440 square metres — including a second level exterior deck — was perfectly tailored for the family to spend quality time surrounded by beautiful views.

The couple — she is from China and was born in Korea and he is from Taiwan and was born in Pennsylvania — and their two teenagers imagined their home as an oasis for rest and reflection. These needs immediately resonate with the approach of Takashi Yanai, partner and residential studio director at Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects. ‘When you are connected to nature, you’re in tune with the universe. Even a blossoming tree can ground a person,’ Yanai says. ‘That is a Japanese way of thinking and making buildings.’

Born in Japan and raised in Southern California, Yanai, who studied literature and philosophy before becoming an architect, infuses all his projects with California modernist influences and reinterpreted Japanese elements. This home is no exception. The structure consists of three imbricated boxes in different sizes and colours (white stucco, grey and larch cladding). In the peaceful gravel garden, a concrete walkway leads to the ground floor, which comprises an L-shaped living room and dining area. The kitchen helps to both connect and demarcate the spaces. All around, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors open entirely to the exterior. ‘Maximising the connection to the yard was really important,’ the EYRC team says. ‘The grass literally comes up to the very edge of the house, softening this relationship and making it into an outdoor living room.’

While concrete is predominant downstairs (through the floors and bench/fireplace), white oak wood floors were preferred for the second level, which hosts the master suite and the two children’s bedrooms (each with their own bathroom). Throughout, the colour palette is minimal and simplicity is revealed through materials and spaces.

A sculptural staircase invites the dwellers and their visitors to discover the open-to-sky meditation deck, which encapsulates the whole spirit of this Zen project connected to nature. Here, in California, the Japanese spatial concept of ma, which refers to the notion of space between things, is honoured through a subtle balance between the void and the built.

Text / Karine Monié
Images / Darren Bradley

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For the Love of Books

The Book House is a whimsical children’s library tucked away in a small minority village in China’s Hunan province

Condition Lab, an architectural research team led by Professor Peter W. Ferretto at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s (CUHK) School of Architecture and the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at Guangzhou University (GU) recently opened the Gaobu Book House, a collaborative project two years in the making. Over this period, the universities’ research and design teams visited and lived with the only 2,500 villagers of Gaobu, a Dong ethnic minority village in Hunan Province, to better understand the community and its unique cultural heritage that they hoped to help preserve and restore. The team soon realised that educational facilities such as schools and libraries are scarce in the village, and children are usually sent to study elsewhere in nearby towns. Aiming to promote learning through play, the team conceived an education incubator as a response.  

The team took their design cues from traditional Dong vernacular, where a timber frame is adapted and reconfigured to suit the structure’s purpose. Having observed how stairs are a key architectural element in the Dong’s daily life, as a place for coming together and for children to play, stairs became a central element of the library, where the team hope that the children of Gaobu will develop a love for reading through play and fun.

Inspired by the Book House we’ve compiled our own ‘storybook’, annotated by a poem that Professor Peter W. Ferretto, Associate Professor at CUHK’s School of Architecture, was moved to write after the project’s completion. 

Text / Simone Schultz
Images / Xu Liang Leon, Arthur Wong, Peter Ferretto

Urban Renewal in Shanghai: Shimao Festival City

The upgrade of this overlooked retail space is part of a broader strategy to revitalise Shanghai’s Nanjing East Road for locals and tourists alike

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Kokaistudios’ recent renovation of Shimao International Plaza in Shanghai illustrates a contemporary crossroads of China’s retail landscape. In response to the rise of online shopping and consumers’ appetite for lifestyle spaces that offer compelling offline experiences, shopping malls need to become more than just a physical framework for tenants. Today, in order to draw people in a mall must have a strong identity and be situated within an appealing social context.

Completed in November 2018, the urban renewal project saw Kokaistudios upgrade Shimao Festival City, the existing retail section of one of Shanghai’s modern monuments, Shimao International Plaza. With reconfigured internal and external circulation pathways and an abundance of open spaces, the mall has helped reinvigorate a prime corner of Shanghai real estate that had become neglected and overlooked in recent years. In doing so, it has placed the mall back on the radar of both residents and tourists, reconnecting it to the city.

Shimao International Plaza’s shopping mall represents an interesting case study in Shanghai – although one that is far from unique. As technology and trends continue to outpace development and construction, cities find themselves left with a legacy of large-scale buildings whose original purpose no longer matches the urban lifestyle. With available land now at a premium, architects must therefore find ways to reintegrate these structures back into the fabric of a city.

Kokaistudios’ renovation of Shimao International Plaza forms part of a broader urban regeneration strategy for the Nanjing East Road area, and coincides with the launch of Nike’s House of Innovation in the mall’s ground floor space; as well as The Shanghai Edition, which occupies the former headquarters of the Shanghai Power Company. Collectively, these developments offer a sense of contemporary urban lifestyle in an area that had until recently failed to attract a healthy mix of residents and tourists.

Text / Simone Schultz
Images / Courtesy of Kokaistudios

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Fertile Ground

Balmy, bright and filled with plants, Naman Retreat’s Pure Spa is a tropical dream. For their design of the space, the team at Vietnamese firm MIA Design Studio chose glass and plants over conventional walling to maximise favourable natural elements. Latticework and vertical gardens combine to form the facade, while within the spa a series of open spaces allows for natural ventilation and obscures any boundaries between interior and exterior.

Watch Nguyễn Hoàng Mạnh, MIA’s founder, explain his approach to the spa’s design, and how sustainability, function and context come together.

Twisting Steel in Wuhan

Studio Libeskind’s first project on the Chinese mainland pays tribute to Wuhan’s industrial past

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A silver arc floats above a landscaped plaza on the site of Wuhan’s former steelworks. At its highest point the structure offers occupants views of the city, while lower floors overlook the surrounding plaza and gardens. The crescent-shaped building, known as the Zhang ZhiDong and Modern Industrial Museum, opened to the public last year, and it marks Studio Libeskind’s first project on the Chinese mainland.

Executing an ambitious project 12,000 kilometers from the firm’s head office in New York was nothing out of the ordinary for Daniel Libeskind, who routinely designs projects in far-flung places like Chile, Kenya and Lithuania. To facilitate the firm’s ethos, he sent Chinese-speaking architects to Wuhan. And the team found creative ways to communicate the studio’s vision, including life-sized models. ‘Building a good building is not just a nice photograph, it’s about how to construct it in a well crafted way,’ says Libeskind.

The museum’s curved form and steel-panel facade references both Chinese pagoda architecture and the shape of ships on the nearby Yangtze River, while its central volume rests on what Libeskind describes as a pair of steel and glass ‘legs’. ‘It’s almost like a piece of a sphere that’s been elevated to create really a vital public space.’

Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, is considered central China’s hub; equidistant from Beijing and Hong Kong, it is also known as ‘China’s thoroughfare’. The city was the birthplace of China’s steel industry, and the symbolically modern structure, crafted in glass and steel, is intended as a public hub that celebrates Wuhan’s iron and steel culture as well as the illustrious 19th-century Qing dynasty politician who pioneered it.

‘At the turn of the century Zhang ZhiDong went to Europe and bought whole steel mills,’ Libeskind explains. ‘He was the first to produce steel for railways and weapons. It was the real modernisation of China. He was of course reviled during the Cultural Revolution, but he’s come back into focus as a major thinker and a major visionary for what can come out of China.’

The apertures in the museum’s predominantly metal skin are configured to optimise views and natural light, with the glazed atrium in particular radiating sunlight into the gallery spaces. Permanent exhibitions on the lower floors focus on Zhang and his contributions to the industrialisation of China, while temporary exhibitions are held on the top floor.

Having established himself in Europe and the US somewhat late in his career, Libeskind is primarily known for civic projects predicated on memory, such as the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the 9/11 Memorial in New York, that give shape to historical and cultural trauma. With the Zhang ZhiDong museum, the architect shows a more playful side, a design that looks back while also buoyantly forward.

From its location among the city’s steel factories to its materiality, the museum references Zhang’s legacy and Wuhan’s, while also proposing a new public landmark for a new era. ‘It’s a very dramatic building that tells the story of Wuhan, the story of Zhang ZhiDong and the story of the future,’ Libeskind says.

Text / Sophie Kalkreuth
Images / Hufton + Crow

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Mid-century Revival

The Rock House by Sunday* Architects evokes 1960s Bangkok mid-century modern living while blending into its luscious natural surroundings

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Three hours south of Bangkok, along the edge of an expansive wetland, sits a mid-century modern house. While the term ‘mid-century modern’ and a warm, tropical setting aren’t typically associated, Bangkok-based architectural design studio Sunday* Architects’ latest project is a distinctive testament to the movement. ‘In Southeast Asia, it’s rare to see mid-century design in resorts and homes; it’s not as appreciated here as it is in other parts of the world. In fact, many such homes in Bangkok’s Sukhumvit and Ekkamai areas have been knocked down to make way for new high rise condominiums or restaurants,’ explains the studio’s co-founder and director Saran Chaiyasuta. In this context, and thanks to the clients’ unconventional brief and their existing collection of mid-century objects and furnishings, the home is a delightful departure from the norm.

Sam Roi Yot, which rather evocatively means ‘the mountain with 300 peaks’, forms a striking backdrop for this three-storey loft house. The landscape is dotted with bushy wild cacti, pineapple and coconut plantations and this surrounding geography and unusually arid climate is subtly reflected in the building design. As Chaiyasuta explains, ‘the relationship between the structure and the picturesque landscape was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s directive “Hill and house should live together, each the happier for the other.”’

Nevertheless, the home appears to have been plucked straight from 1960’s Bangkok, which is exactly what the owner was hoping for. With a brief based around the client’s mid-century childhood home in the Thai capital, the architects responded with a three-bedroom property that embraces elements of mid-century modern design, from natural materials with contrasting graphic patterns to vibrant colourways and selective furnishings.

The focal point of the building is a rooftop clubhouse. Here, the open floor plan comprises a kitchen, bar, dining room and casual living room. The space also includes a scenic rooftop pool and deck which boast a 240-degree view of the nearby Sam Roi Yod mountain and are a striking spot to watch the migrating birds. The poolside patio furniture and outdoor shower evoke a Palm Springs-style aesthetic, while a solid wood dining table and oriental armchairs feature inside.

This Palm Springs aesthetic is continued in the home’s vibrant colourway, from the rich yellow of the stairway to the deep blue of the sofa and the red rock wall. Inexpensive, reddish-brown locally produced breeze blocks are used as walls throughout the house as well as on the south-facing exterior side of the building as protection from the sun. Terrazzo flooring, another mid-century modern signature, features throughout, while the building exterior uses a vibrant earth tone to stand out from but also echo the surrounding wetland.

The designers based their materials palette on the overarching concept of bringing the outside in. Rocks commonly used in road construction and found in the nearby area were used to build impact walls throughout the house, which also complement the owner’s active outdoor lifestyle and fondness for entertaining. The furnishings add a particularly personal touch. The zigzag railing on the staircase is a direct replica of the staircase in the owner’s childhood home, while their collection of Thai and Scandinavian furniture effortlessly blend together. Even the kitchenware and home accessories evoke a time of yesteryear.

The Rock House is a tropical ode to mid-century modern, blending childhood nostalgia with timeless and effortlessly cool design.

Text / Babette Radclyffe-Thomas
Images / Tim Pelling

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Stacked Living

The Stack House by EL+D offers a seamless flow of spaces and an abundance of natural light

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In the leafy neighbourhood of Jubilee Hills in West Hyderabad, multi-disciplinary architecture and interior design practice EL+D have designed a family home that resembles a stack of stylish cubes, introducing an intriguing form to the existing streetscape.

Starting with a narrow piece of land, the firm decided to build upwards to create a multi-storey house that met the client’s requirements. The building is effortlessly chic, from the architecture and interiors to the landscaping — all of which EL+D designed. As EL+D principal architect Kanan Modi explains, the design aesthetic focused on ‘finding a balance between understated elegance and mid-century inspiration and creating a beautiful experience in every space.’

The house has been divided between public and private spheres, with public spaces on the lower level and private spaces above. According to Modi, it was crucial that the home flowed from one space to another. ‘The intent of our design was to create seamlessness, inspired by modernist architecture. We wanted to create a balance between mid-century modern and new age dynamism.’

Throughout the house, visible elements can become hidden when necessary. Moving walls divide public spaces, and when not in use can be concealed within a pocket. The staircase railing is concealed in the wall and is enhanced by extra lighting details, while the concrete ceiling in the second-floor lounge extends outdoors. Protruding levels and terraces form recesses in the facade, adding to the distinctive block-like appearance. Structurally, the blocks are stacked and then split across, creating courtyards and slits that form skylights within.

‘There was a lot of emphasis on bringing the outdoors into the living spaces,’ Modi shares, and the abundance of natural light reflects this aim. Every corner of the home is bathed in diffused daylight thanks to striking vertical slits and a north-facing skylight in the central zone. Even the parking space is light-filled due to a screen comprising 1200 custom-size bricks. Boundaries between indoors and outdoors are further blurred with large terraces on multiple levels, courtyards open to the sky and all the public spaces opening outwards.

The designers used a materials palette full of raw textures. Exposed concrete, raw brick walls, local stonework, hot rolled steel and timber slats feature throughout the house. The powder room was even built using leftover construction stone, and various shades and textures of local stones fashion a dramatic focal point.

The muted palette is punctuated with eclectic furniture pieces and stunning artworks selected from the owner’s personal art collections. In the dining room, a bold piece by artist Pratul Dash hangs behind a Mirto dining table from B&B Italia by Antonio Citterio. Chairs from Bonaldo and a Dear Ingo Moooi light complete this stylish room. In the living room, the Moroso M.A.S.S.A.S sofa by Patricia Urquiola is paired with Roche Bobois by Cédric Ragot Dolphin armchairs and a large burnished brass coffee table from Henge.

The Stack House masterfully blurs spatial boundaries and embraces natural light to create an innovative family home that is anything but boxy.

Text / Babette Radclyffe-Thomas
Images / Photographix - Sebastian Zachariah and Ira Gosalia

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Q&A with Clare Cousins

The Melbourne-based architect talks with Design Anthology about problem solving and design thinking, sustainable housing and heritage

Clare Cousins. Photo by Jes Lindsay

Clare Cousins. Photo by Jes Lindsay

Aesop, Fitzroy. Photo by Trevor Mein

Aesop, Fitzroy. Photo by Trevor Mein

For its 2018 iteration, Business of Design Week in Hong Kong partnered with the city of Melbourne, inviting a host of venerable Melburnians to contribute to a week-long programme organised around the theme ‘Think · Collaborate · Create’. Among these was Clare Cousins, who just last year was awarded the American Institute of Architect’s Presidential Medal.

Cousins established her eponymous studio in 2005, and since then she has designed projects of varying scale and purpose. Cousins was also one of the first investors in Nightingale Housing, a sustainable multi-residential housing model. Here, the architect leads the project as both designer and developer. She has recently undertaken, along with seven other practices in Melbourne, her own Nightingale project within the city’s Nightingale Village Development in Brunswick. She is also the National President of the Australian Institute of Architects.

Design Anthology: Your work spans residential, cultural and commercial spaces. Are there common themes that run throughout these, and conversely, what differences in approach do these three types of spaces require?

Clare Cousins: I think the commonality is the process that we go through. I don’t see aesthetic or material patterns in our residential work, but we have a method that runs throughout: the analytics, the listening to the nuances of a brief, the context, the constraints, the budget and the sustainability initiatives. For us, that process is important. Whether it be a small institutional project, a house or an apartment building, the process doesn't really change. I think that's where an architect should use their design thinking, to analyse the needs and then piece together a kind of three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle to solve a problem. I think problem-solving and design thinking is what’s really exciting. Then there’s the tenacity and the patience required to start a project and deliver it often four or five years later — I think that’s interesting.  

Very rarely do we have a ‘light bulb moment’. Our work is very iterative and consultative; we always have the end-user in mind. And if we're designing a space and we don’t know who the end-user is going to be, then we think of ourselves as the end-users and ask ourselves if it’s somewhere we would like to live or work. That’s such an important perspective, but it’s not used all the time. Sometimes there’s more of a focus on aesthetics or materials. And while we want our spaces to be beautiful, it's not our primary objective.

For me, a successful project is when we reflect on the building and observe its simplicity and appreciate the logical and thoughtful approach. It can take us a long time to arrive at that point. To me, that’s evidence that a design really works — when it looks almost effortless.

How did you approach Nightingale Housing, and what issues specific to the Australian context does the project address?

I think a lot of the issues Nightingale addresses are global issues too. For example, affordability in urban areas is a challenge. In Australia, unlike in European or even Asian cities where space is a premium, we’ve been spoilt with space so there’s an embedded desire to live in a house as opposed to an apartment. The challenge is to reframe apartment living as something desirable, not just for younger and older people but for everyone.

I was drawn to the project for many reasons, one of them being the challenge to provide the amenities of a house within an apartment. I think good design can deliver more efficient, smaller spaces, with efficient storage and all the qualities that you need in a home but without unnecessary wasted space. Nightingale was born out of the first case study of such an apartment, because there was an amazing appetite for it; people hadn’t seen this before. Nightingale Housing is the brainchild of Jeremy McLeod (founding director of Breathe Architecture) who reflects on Scandinavian apartments from the 60s, which were simple, egalitarian, sustainable and robust.  

In order for apartments to have low running costs, we’ve incorporated embedded networks to purchase wholesale renewable energy, incorporated large solar arrays, and shared facilities like a communal laundry area on the roof. Nightingale is about the fundamentals that make a great place to live and community.

I think the architect-as-developer model is interesting. If the developers are selling things that they think people want, then you’re offering something that’s based on a different set of values, one that’s not necessarily driven by profit but is meeting actual needs.

There was a pattern where developers were listening to real estate agents instead of architects. They were looking at historical sales and the criteria of property valuations, like the number of bathrooms and so on. Nightingale challenges that. We asked, ‘Do you need two bathrooms? Or would you prefer one well-designed family bathroom?’ And even if there were multiple bedrooms in the house, everyone said yes. That’s not for everybody, but what’s liberating is the ability to think about homes in a different way. We have the opportunity to do things differently and put the occupants first rather than the marketing or sales and profit, and actually ask people what they want.

This project seems like it could meet the needs of people living in many major world cities where space is limited and urban density growing. What advice would you give to architects in other cities in terms of implementing a model like Nightingale Housing?

We want to emphasise sharing of intellectual property; one of the principles behind Nightingale is that other architects wouldn’t have to start from scratch. This was about creating a shared collective community, banding together as architects and sharing what we’ve learned and the work that we’ve done. There’s a huge amount of work and intellectual property that's gone into Nightingale, even in terms of governance and financial structures and the finer workings. I think it’s important to communicate and share that information, and my advice would be to tap into the network and resources available.

As National President of the Australian Institute of Architects, what are some key themes or common concerns you see arising?

I’ve travelled quite extensively this year, to Europe, Asia and the US, and what’s interesting is how global the profession’s issues are. While issues vary based on the scale of practice, there are common issues in larger practices, particularly with procurement and how the services of architects are sought.    

Procurement of architecture has a new focus on risk mitigation whereas the focus should be on the quality outcome of projects. In Australia, on large projects, most architects are novated to the builder during the design development stage of the project. The architect’s new ‘client’ is the builder and the architect no longer has a formal relationship with the original client. Speed, cost and risk seem to be the main priorities, which is a concern for the profession and for the built environment as a whole.

We need to use architects’ expertise in design thinking to solve problems – sometimes the outcome might not be a building, but the need for more open space. Architects are concerned with the built environment, advocating for what people and communities need.

Another issue, one that’s perhaps different to Europe, is the lack of value placed on the longevity or legacy of our older buildings and public buildings. We’ve been advocating for the preservation of modern heritage buildings, which we’re calling ‘new heritage’ because they're not antique but they’re important public buildings. Policy makers and politicians are becoming flippant with the desire for new buildings and projects.  It’s really important that procurers of buildings, be they public or otherwise, think long-term and look at how these buildings will serve the community in 50 or 100 years. It’s important that they are flexible so that they can be adjusted to people’s needs, rather than knocked down and replaced. We also have examples of mid-century, modernist and brutalist buildings of which very few are protected. We’ve been advocating that architecture is intrinsic to the cultural fabric of a city. Think about Venice: the architecture there is so evocative and emotive.

I think all cities struggle with the tension between heritage and growth or development, because we have density and population growth, but aside from that it’s easier and quicker to build something new than it is to restore and develop something. And so, we have to remind policymakers and decision-makers the importance of preserving our cultural fabric. People generally appreciate the intrinsic value in preserving beautiful old homes, even though it’s often cheaper to rebuild than renovate. They can be adapted to incorporate more natural light to allow for contemporary living.  We need to remind people of the importance of preserving these buildings because once they're gone you can't recreate them.

As told to / Simone Schultz
Images / Courtesy of Clare Cousins Architects

Brick House. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Brick House. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Brick House. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Brick House. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Aesop, Fitzroy. Photo by Trevor Mein

Aesop, Fitzroy. Photo by Trevor Mein

Flinders High Noon. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Flinders High Noon. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Flinders High Noon. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Flinders High Noon. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Aesop, Fitzroy. Photo by Trevor Mein

Aesop, Fitzroy. Photo by Trevor Mein

Flinders High Noon. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Flinders High Noon. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Kerferd Road. Photo by Lisbeth Grosmann

Kerferd Road. Photo by Lisbeth Grosmann

Nightingale. Photo courtesy of CCA

Nightingale. Photo courtesy of CCA

The Channel. Photo by Shannon McGrath

The Channel. Photo by Shannon McGrath

The Channel. Photo by Shannon McGrath

The Channel. Photo by Shannon McGrath

Q&A with Meaghan Dwyer

Principal at John Wardle Architects Meaghan Dwyer spoke with Design Anthology about place and space design, and how architecture contributes to the social, cultural and economic fabric of a city

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The recent 2018 edition of Business of Design Week saw Hong Kong partner with the city of Melbourne under the theme Think · Collaborate · Create. As a Principal at Sydney- and Melbourne-based John Wardle Architects, Dwyer’s practice is exemplary of these thematic pillars. Here she gives insights into how the practice works across education, cultural and public sectors to embrace and enrich a project’s broader context.

What does the term ‘Civic Generosity’ mean for you as an architect?

‘Civic Generosity’ is a phrase that is used constantly in our practice. It refers to the priority we place on creating buildings that make a positive contribution to the public realm. We believe that every project should in some way improve the public life of the city, regardless of its type or scale. It’s just as possible for a commercial project to provide a new public space, or make a sensitive response to heritage fabric as it is for a public library to do so. 

A recent example of this is the nearly complete Ian Potter Southbank Centre, the new home of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. The passer-by can see directly into the main orchestral rehearsal space through a series of windows to the public street: a series of small porthole-like windows are positioned at varying heights across the front facade; a six-metre-wide oculus allows views into the main orchestral rehearsal space; a large timber shutter that rolls into place can be opened and closed at the whim of the concert master. 

As a Principal at John Wardle Architects you have led several projects focused on the arts: art galleries, schools of art and architecture, and buildings for the visual and performing arts. How do you approach and design buildings that inspire creativity? And in terms of education, how can a structure enhance learning?

Our practice has indeed been fortunate to design many buildings for the visual and performing arts, and creative industries – while we don’t set out to inspire creativity necessarily, it’s interesting for us to think about our work this way.

Our practice doesn’t take a formulaic approach to design, instead we undertake a fluid creative process that allows us to draw threads from our past work, while all the time weaving in new ideas. We do this within a framework of shared values; perhaps there’s a natural affinity between with the way we work and the creative pursuits of our clients. We always begin by listening carefully to the client in order to understand their aspirations. It’s also second nature for us to think about how the building will inspire and delight those who’ll eventually be using it.  

We have an interest in all kinds of making, not just the way materials are bought together during construction, but also in the methods of the artist and craftsperson, and indeed contemporary fabrication methods. We explore history and respond carefully to the specific characteristics of the locale in which we design, and we share our projects through articulating narratives that can be easily grasped.

Our practice has completed numerous projects for many universities across Australia over nearly two decades. Over this time our work has evolved in pace with the remarkable transition that has occurred as Australian universities see an increase in student numbers, and grapple with the shift to online or blended learning. The imperative to attract and retain staff and students has never been greater. And so, the university campus is evolving. The library, for example is no longer a repository for a book collection, but a place where students go to be part of a learning community and to access a much wider array of resources

Our Melbourne School of Design project explored the concept of ‘built pedagogy’, which is the ability of built form to be an implicit teaching tool. As the home for the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, this building is the site of learning for our future built environment professionals. The vast design hall that sits at the center of this building is enclosed with a roof constructed solely from timber and glass – an exemplar of the emerging timber construction technology at that time. A series of sensors throughout the building monitor carbon dioxide levels to provide data for a long-range study of indoor air quality. Services and structure are intermittently revealed, and the scribbled markings of the steel fabricator are left on the underside of a stair. A wing of the building that cantilevers over an external workshop demonstrates the maximum extent that can be safely engineered – an important lesson for young architects!

I like the concept of ‘explanatory buildings’. Could you speak about the concept, and why it’s important for you to distil the project’s purpose into the design? 

We coined the phrase ‘explanatory building’ to describe a building that reveals or frames an aspect of their inner workings. This idea is closely aligned with the concept of ‘civic generosity’ in that an explanatory building contributes to the public life of the city through improving legibility and providing visual contact between those within the building and the passer-by. 

This concept has struck a chord particularly with universities because it’s very much aligned with their aspiration to open their campuses out to the street, and engage more closely with industry and community. While the university sector has led this transition toward transparency, we are seeing other institutions follow. Our recent work in the health and justice sectors in particular demonstrates a similar preoccupation.

Conversely, do you find people using the buildings in ways that you hadn’t intended or considered?

We appreciate the importance of designing robust buildings that can accommodate change over time; afterall, there is nothing more certain than change. Our buildings, particularly those we design for universities, often have large areas that can be reconfigured and so we see endless iterations of how a space might be utilised. Other spaces, studios, workshops, galleries and the like, are also designed with some capacity to respond to different needs. The studio becomes a gallery for the end-of-year exhibition. The workshop is used to fabricate small handheld models and full-size prototypes. We often think of these kinds of spaces as providing a shell that is completed by the activities that take place within.   

It also happens that people use our buildings in unexpected ways. Fortunately, the outcomes can often be considered a measure of success! It seems that the Melbourne School of Design has become the preferred place of informal study for students of all faculties, not just those of the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning. 

The Learning and Teaching Building at Monash University is used for formal teaching during the day, and it stays open to students over extended hours for informal study. What we hadn’t considered was that students would stay in the building all evening, and order UberEats for dinner – every night there’s a steady stream of deliveries arriving at the front door! 

With reference to Macquarie Point in Tasmania and the idea of ‘cultural industries’, how do these work to regenerate neighbourhoods and bring people back in?

Macquarie Point is immediately adjacent to Sullivans Cove, the location of the original Hobart settlement, and a short distance from the city centre. The nine-hectare development site represents a great opportunity to reimagine the disused railyards as a vibrant mixed-use precinct. Our brief was to envision a place that would be embraced by the local community and contribute to the public life of the city.

The masterplan proposed the retention of the rail sheds. It proposed a continuous pathway around the waterfront, and new parklands that recall the original shoreline and acknowledge past occupation by indigenous Australians. A substantial open space at the heart of the site is designed to protect from the cold winds, and capture the warmth of the north sunlight. And mindful of the imperative that any masterplan must support economic prosperity, it provides development opportunities for local developers and a planning framework that would support small-scale tenancies for artisans and local producers. 

Tasmania has a long and rich history of invention – perhaps through necessity, given its distance from the rest of the world. Today it boasts a widespread community of makers and local food producers. Hobart is home to the Nant Distilling Company that produces the internationally renowned Nant Single Malt Whisky, and the Museum of New and Old Art, the largest privately funded museum in the Southern Hemisphere. Tasmania is enjoying increased domestic and international tourism; a small-scale and vibrant precinct with good amenities and access to ‘makers’ will attract the tourists who disembark from the cruise ships that dock at Macquarie Point.

As told to / Simone Schultz
Images / Courtesy of John Wardle Architects

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Q&A with Rob Adams

Professor Rob Adams, director of city design and projects at the City of Melbourne, took time out of Hong Kong’s Business of Design Week to share with Design Anthology his experiences and insights about Melbourne’s transformation and regeneration since the 1980s 

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The 2018 edition of Business of Design Week saw Hong Kong partner with the city of Melbourne under the theme Think · Collaborate · Create. The Australian city has undergone considerable transformation since the 1980s, and is an intriguing and inspiring model of urban regeneration. 

During the week-long conference we had the chance to speak with Professor Adams, who is also a member of the World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization. With more than four decades of experience as an architect and urban designer including 35 with the City of Melbourne, Professor Adams’s contribution to the city’s regeneration is significant.

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Design Anthology: Placemaking is at the heart of everything you do. What are the key factors that shape your approach to designing a space for people?

Rob Adams: I think the most important thing about any public space is that people need to feel comfortable there. That's an easy thing to say, but what does it actually mean? Often the spaces that work well are the ones that have activity around their edges. As architects and designers we'd love to think that it’s what we put inside the space that matters, but that’s not always true. If you look at some of the best public spaces, they might have very little going on in the centre — it’s what happens around the edges that provides activity. If you've got the right things around the edge of a public space, it’ll work on its own. You don't have to programme activities in it — of course it's always nice to do that — but if a space is totally reliant on programmed activity it'll fail, because there isn’t enough time or money to maintain a permanent programme. So, the first thing is to look at the activity around a space and consider how it works and if it enriches the activity within. If you get that right, you’ve gone seventy-five per cent of the way to creating a good public space.

Scale is also important. Sometimes we think spaces must be big, but the bigger space the more people you need to make it feel active. Often smaller public spaces work better than the big ones. And it’s important to consider the elements; a space needs to be comfortable, so it should factor in the things that people need to be comfortable, whether that’s shade or shelter. And then there are some smaller subtleties. In a public space without benches or chairs, people usually gravitate towards the edges as opposed to the centre, so you’ve got to ensure that the edges of public spaces aren’t always commercialised or require people to buy a meal or a drink in order to use it. There are many of these small balances. Public drinking water is important if it’s a hot country, there are trees, arts and culture — joy. You want to legitimise loitering.

What about legitimising certain spaces, like Melbourne’s reclaimed laneways or the regeneration of Docklands as a residential area? How do you change perceptions of certain areas in a city, and where people are prepared to go and not prepared to go?

I think we're all urban designers. I think urban designers would like to think it's a profession, but when any person moves to a city their senses are usually attuned to how they navigate that place. We tend to take in information very quickly when we walk past a place: is it interesting? Do I feel safe? Is there something that I’d like to do there? Or it a dead end, or a dark corner? We consider all the factors I spoke about earlier. We don’t realise we’re making these judgements, but we do them instantly whenever we walk around a city. And as we walk, we make snap decisions about which way we want to go and why. In Melbourne, the service laneways looked just like that — there were rubbish bins and so on. We just removed the rubbish bins and allowed people to externalise their trade into the laneways. In some we allowed public and street art. And suddenly these laneways became trendy places that people wanted to visit. You really don't have to change much. The mystery of my life is why we find it so hard to design a good street.

Today I think the problem that is that unlike someone who goes to medical school, for example, where you’re taught to be a general practitioner before you’re taught to be a brain surgeon, we as architects and designers are taught to be brain surgeons before we’re general practitioners. Nobody teaches us about how cities work. They teach us how to design beautiful buildings. We’ve got it the wrong way around. We tend to overcomplicate the design of cities and make it sound as though it's some strange process when it's actually not. It's the general practice. We know streets are the biggest public space in the city, and people are the most important ingredients of a city. So how do you make that place feel comfortable for those people?

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In terms of the proposed regeneration strategies, what kind of support did you get from the government and developers in the beginning?

We were lucky that when we started in the 1980s we were aligned with the State Government. The State has far greater power than us — it’s the planning authority, the road authority and it runs the public transport — and we were fortunate to have that support. When we decided we needed to bring back the residential population of the downtown area, it was driven out of a unit in my division but we actually seconded people from the state to work with us. The developers were less willing; we were talking about a different sort of city to the one they were designing. The one they were designing in the 1980s was one that relied heavily on cars and required ample parking spaces and all the rest of it. And we were saying that’s not the city we want. There was some opposition and in fact, when we started Postcode 3000, a programme to bring residential life back into the city, the developers told us that Australians don’t live in the central city and they were right — at that time there were only about six hundred residences in the central city.

We started the project by looking all the things that would encourage people to convert, say, an office building to a residential building. We found that the land tax, which was set by the State Government, had a threshold of 175,000 dollars. If you took a piece of land and you subdivided into 50 units, then each one of those owners owned a fiftieth of the land. If the threshold dropped below 175 you didn’t pay land tax. If you took an old building and you converted it, you’d pay stamp duty on the current value, not the end value. So people paid an up-front deposit for the land and avoided much of the stamp duty. We just put that all together and suddenly people began to see the value in it. They were saving themselves thousands of dollars on what would be the most expensive purchase of their life.

The crunch came when James Keeran from Macquarie Bank walked into our office. This was after the recession in the late 1980s when the property market collapsed and people who owned now-empty office properties were told they’d have to wait for the next commercial boom. We told them that they could turn those properties into residential spaces, and Kerin was willing to try it with one building. He commissioned an architect to design 35 units and he put them on the market, and he sold all 35 units in two months. He was amazed at the response, and he did five more such buildings. Once we had a bank doing it, we just sat back. 

A lot of developers are followers rather than leaders. They do what they think will work, or copy what someone else has made work. But here was a leader, someone who was prepared to try something new. And then the developers came in behind it. 

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Until recently, Melbourne was ranked the world’s most liveable city for seven years running. What do you think were some of the key factors that made it so? 

The Economist Intelligence Unit rating system is designed for executives who may be transferring to other cities. What the rating system looks at is safety, weather, clean water and clean air, accessibility, schooling, and so on.  Melbourne’s lucky because it has many of those things. What I'd like to think has helped is that back in the 1980s when the city was fading and people were moving away, we realised that Melbourne wasn’t a bad city, but that we just weren’t loving the good things. We started looking at the characteristics and features of the city to make the most of them. We took all the elements that made up this funny city and made sure that every action we took reinforced them. So rather than having one large icon, like the Guggenheim in Bilbao, that that would change the city, we said that if we love every one of those characteristics enough for long enough, our city is going to get better. And that’s what we’ve done.

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Was there ever competition with cities like Sydney and Brisbane to attract and keep the inhabitants, the skills and the diversity of Melbourne’s population?

There are always those tensions. Melbourne is a second city; it’s more like a Chicago than a New York. There’s always the question of what’s special about Melbourne and how we keep people here. We have an eye on the premier cities, and in the 1980s, though we were competing with them, we didn’t want to copy them.

We actually looked at Melbourne and said ‘What do we need to do to make Melbourne better?’ We thought that if we make Melbourne better, than maybe people would come here rather than Sydney. And after 30 years Melbourne has achieved that. People are actually leaving Sydney to come to Melbourne, and in fact it’s likely that in the next ten years Melbourne will surpass Sydney as the largest city in Australia. Melbourne doesn’t have the sunshine and beaches to match Sydney or Brisbane, but it’s more of a cerebral city. Melburnians are participants — they love to turn up and attend, be it a football match or an exhibition. So it has plenty of good qualities that we just nurtured. 

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Speaking of the fact that Melbourne is looking to surpass Sydney in populations, can we talk about population growth and urban density as opposed to urban sprawl? What are some of the benefits of urban density and how do you sell it to people who are accustomed to ground-floor homes and gardens?

It’s funny you ask that question, given that we spoke about Cape Town earlier. When I studied at the University of Cape Town in the 1960s, the baby boomers had hit the system and every university around the world was expanding. I travelled in my fourth year and witnessed it in every city I visited. I returned to Cape Town and they had set up the Planning Unit. Zambian architect Julian Elliott was running it, and I knew him well. He said that to respond to the expansion, we needed to ask a different question. We needed to ask how we could use what was already there, already available. They undertook a detailed analysis of how the spaces were being used, and discovered that the lecture theatres were only used for seventeen per cent of the day. So instead of rebuilding, they decided to re-timetable. 

I went back to Cape Town again about thirty-five years after I left and they had trebled the student population on that campus, yet they’d hardly built any new structures. What really stood out was how busy, exciting and vibrant the campus was. It was never like that in my day. I thought to myself that if a university could just re-programme itself and become so vital, why couldn’t the same be done to a city? So nine years ago we conducted a study in Melbourne called Transforming Australian Cities and we did exactly that. We looked at the metropolitan area of Melbourne with its four million people and explored how we could build new developments on the existing infrastructure without expanding the city’s boundaries. We eventually worked out that we could accommodate the next four million people in Melbourne on only seven and a half percent of the land. We wouldn’t build any higher than five to eight storeys, and the project would save 440 billion dollars in infrastructure. That showed me it could be done, but we also had to ask ourselves if the resulting city would be a good one. 

I think good cities require five things:  density, mixed-use structures, connectivity and ease of movement, a high-quality public realm, and lastly, a character that is reinforced to give a unique sense of place. And if you've got these five things, there are three outcomes. Because there’s less infrastructure and people are closer to it, it becomes sustainable. If the city is working better, it becomes financially viable, and when people come close together you recreate the village and it leads to social cohesion and a sense of connection. 

As told to / Simone Schultz 
Images / Courtesy of City of Melbourne

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Japonisme

Following the recent edition of Asia Now – Paris Asian Art Fair, Jae Lee had the opportunity to speak with Paris- and Tokyo-based Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto about architecture, cuisine and chaos

Image courtesy of IWAN BAAN

Image courtesy of IWAN BAAN

Siegrid Bing described Japonisme — the affinity for Japanese art and design — as ‘a bond of kinship born of the same love of beauty.’ Widely known for its violent reactions toward modernisation, France’s 160-year-old passion for Japanese architecture may come as a surprise. From the humble 1867 tea house by Shimizu Usaburo to the modernists invited by its Japanophile president, the secretive love affair is now offering solutions to the city divided between heritage and modernisation. Among the welcomed is Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, one of 23 selected in 2016 to ‘reinvent Paris’ in the city’s Reinventing.Paris initiative, which aims to develop urban projects in the city.

Jae Lee: How did you come to set up your studio in Paris?

Sou Fujimoto: Back in 2014, I won a design competition with my L’Arbre Blanc proposal for the city of Montpellier. After that, about 10 new projects followed, including Mille Arbres in Paris. It made sense to set up a studio in France.

Paris has a history of reacting negatively towards modernisation. Did that ever cross your mind when coming to Paris?

I’m very happy to be working in a city that’s so passionate about architecture. I personally feel that today’s France is optimistic towards modernisation. They’re quick to accept new concepts or philosophies as long as it hits the spot. Of course, to do that you must communicate honestly with the local lifestyle.

A great number of Japanese architects are realising their projects in France. What’s the appeal? 

Yes, there are many Japanese architects in Paris now, but in my case, I've always loved French architecture for its imbedded cultural heritage. It glances off very strongly. I try to fuse the French context with the Japan-ness I carry. And there are cultural similarities, like the delicate sensitivity. if you compare French and Japanese cuisines, they’re both all about the subtle flavours of the ingredients instead of overpowering spices.

You are one of the architects designated by the city to reinvent Paris and embrace its density problem. Could Paris look like Tokyo in the future?

No. I feel that France’s passion for art really comes alive with its cityscape. In Tokyo, I’m afraid people aren’t as interested in their urban scape. Much of it is created for economic reasons, which can hinder the quality of living. Compared to Tokyo, Paris is far more organised, but each city has its own chaos. I think that chaos is a hidden opportunity for better social harmony. Architecture is not about concealing a problem, but about representing it by suggesting a solution. They are a part of the context.

You are designing number of exhibition spaces this year as part of Japonismes 2018 : les âmes en resonance. Are there any specific aspects you want to highlight?

The Asia Now Paris venue — Les Salons Hoche — is a traditional French building with strong marble surfaces and enclosed pockets of space. I tried to bring the openness and fluidity of traditional Japanese architecture to the exhibition. The bare wooden columns serve as half walls, you could even call them ‘anti-walls’. Usually at a fair, galleries are incased in a cube. I wanted to go beyond that and realise more natural interactions and communication with both the booth’s neighbours and the structure itself. At Musée des Arts Décoratifs, I plan on continuing the sense of semi-transparency by re-discovering the concept of shoji walls. They can be delicate, strong or very organic in form. The feeling of in-betweenness, ma (間), is the essence of Japan’s design sensibility that I hope to apply to the Japonisme exhibitions.

Text / Jae Lee

Image courtesy of SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

Image courtesy of SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

Sou Fujimoto Image by David Vintiner

Sou Fujimoto
Image by David Vintiner

Image courtesy of SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

Image courtesy of SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

Image courtesy of SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

Image courtesy of SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

Image courtesy of IWAN BAAN

Image courtesy of IWAN BAAN

Image courtesy of IWAN BAAN

Image courtesy of IWAN BAAN

Design for Life

Highlights from the Singapore Institute of Architects Conference 2018

Archifest Pavilion

Archifest Pavilion

Last Tuesday (the 2nd of October), several hundred ticket holders convened at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre to hear some of Southeast Asia’s most interesting male* architects present their work. The occasion was the SIA’s annual conference, the professional core of Archifest, which this year took the overarching theme of ‘Design for Life’.

Conference-goers entering MBS from the waterside encountered the Archifest pavilion, designed by open call-winners Kite Studio Architecture, with engineering by Web Structures. Seeking to incorporate characteristics of ‘the ubiquitous HDB void deck’—the area beneath the government-built blocks that house the majority of Singaporeans — the pavilion’s lo-fi brick and rebar walls, and bamboo charcoal flooring enclosed a multi-purpose space for festival activities and exhibitions. Visitors were encouraged to customise the bricks with eco-friendly paint provided by headline sponsor AkzoNobel.

The contrast between the humble, organically changing pavilion and the glossy, consumerist hulk of the Marina Bay Sands complex offered an apt visual illustration of this year’s theme. ‘The spotlight has mostly been shone on iconic, spectacular projects, while the day-to-day architecture sits in its shadows,’ stated the curatorial team, under the guidance of SIA President Seah Chee Huang and Festival Director Yann Follain.  

School of Alfa Omega by RAW Architecture

School of Alfa Omega by RAW Architecture

As an alternative, they propose to explore ‘the architect’s vision to respond to the true needs of humanity’ and the need for ‘design to give back to the community and enrich human life as a whole.’ In his opening address, Seah grounded these grand abstractions in the practicalities of regional events, reminding the audience of the previous week’s earthquake-tsunami disaster in Sulawesi, Indonesia, and the responsibilities of built environment professionals to protect life and strengthen social ties.

Conference keynote speaker Borja Ferrater, Founding Partner Architect of globally successful Barcelona-based family studio OAB, exhorted the audience to jettison perceived divisions between “commercial” and “craftsman” architects. He also offered examples from OAB’s substantial international portfolio to illustrate that a global firm, if working conscientiously with local partners, can still design in a contextually sensitive manner to achieve a sense of place. In comparison, the majority of conference speakers represented smaller-scale practices working in an embedded way within Southeast Asia.

Chuồn Chuồn Kim 2 Kindergarten by KIENTRUC O

Chuồn Chuồn Kim 2 Kindergarten by KIENTRUC O

Chuồn Chuồn Kim 2 Kindergarten by KIENTRUC O

Chuồn Chuồn Kim 2 Kindergarten by KIENTRUC O

Confident that ‘architects can help people change their lifestyle,’ Dam Vu of Vietnamese practice KIENTRUC O, shared two preschool projects for which existing residential buildings were remodelled into colourful, light-filled spaces for exploration. Realrich Sjarief of Jakarta-based R A W Architecture showed how his studio’s philosophy — integrating the need to beautify the world, to believe in something greater than oneself, and to practice mindfulness — manifested in built work. R A W’s Alfa Omega School was produced in close collaboration with skilled bamboo craftsmen, and in only four months, while their experimental studio space in Jakarta also encompasses a free school and public library.

In dialogue with Follain, Colin Seah of Singapore-based Ministry of Design called for new hybrid ways of approaching built heritage ‘as a continuous flow’; alternatives to strict conservation or total demolition. Heritage Architect and Professor Gerard Lico shared a detailed journey through the life of Manila’s Metropolitan Theatre, a Philippine Art Deco landmark that has been brought back from disrepair through a sustained and lively campaign of participatory conservation. Teo Yee Chin of Singapore’s Red Bean Architects used several urban case studies to explore how physical and programmatic connections with its surrounding city are what keep a building relevant and ‘alive’.

Panyaden International Sports School by Chiang Mai Life Construction

Panyaden International Sports School by Chiang Mai Life Construction

Catholic Church, Singapore by MKPL Architects

Catholic Church, Singapore by MKPL Architects

Markus Roselieb of design-build firm Chiang Mai Life Construction made an aggressive case for the expansive architectural potential of bamboo and earth, sharing examples of various buildings in Thailand that aim to bring these traditional materials into the 21st century, and calling for R&D investment to further explore their capacities. Doan Thanh Ha of Vietnam’s H&P Architects shared many examples of thoughtful, scaleable projects (many self-initiated) that put architecture squarely in the service of communities, especially in the rural context where the majority of Vietnamese people live and work.

Bringing the conversation back to densely urbanised Singapore, Siew Man Kok of MKPL Architects shared some reflections on what it means to design sustainable communities, given that they will evolve over decades and generations. Given the highly uncertain times in which we live — a point underscored by this week’s UN report on the urgent need to act on climate change — the conference was positive vote for life, and the architect’s role in helping to sustain it.

*The only female to appear on stage during the daylong proceedings was the anonymous young woman who quietly assisted with the ribbon cutting at the opening ceremony.

Text / Sarah Ichioka
Images / Courtesy of Archifest 2018

Archifest Pavilion, Exhibition

Archifest Pavilion, Exhibition

UTA Artist Space

This July, a decade after he collaborated on the controversial Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 summer Olympic Games in Beijing, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has completed another architectural collaboration, this time in the United States

Installation view of Cao Humanity Photo by Jeff Mclane

Installation view of Cao Humanity
Photo by Jeff Mclane

His first in the US, the project was the transformation of an 80-year-old, 372 square-metre former diamond cutting factory and its offices into the UTA Artist Space in Beverly Hills. Since 2016, Ai has been represented by the visual arts arm of the United Talent Agency, a gallery and incubator for collaboration across the fields of fine art, film, writing and music. He worked with its director and site architect Daveed Kapoor on everything from the layout and floor plan to interior architectural elements like doors and exterior details, suiting it to both exhibition and performance while preserving its original 1940s industrial character.

Ai took a three-pronged approach to the renovation: optimising existing conditions, considering who would use the space and how they would behave in it, and creating a design that would disappear behind the artwork. Inside, he suggested proportioning the different rooms with a view to versatility. Now, it includes a 186 square-metre gallery, including one wall set at an extreme angle, and a smaller triangular room in which to screen videos. They refreshed its web of wooden roof beams and ripped out the low office ceilings, but preserved its low-slung poured-concrete facade, pale concrete flooring, two original skylights — and added a third — and the extant steel casement windows now set into almond shell-blasted concrete walls. Considering space in this way isn't new to Ai. As an artist, writer, editor, filmmaker and political activist, or as he puts it, ‘street fighter’, he always designs and curates his exhibitions with the exhibition space in mind from the start, instead of treating it as a discrete element of the show.

In July, the gallery debuted with One Shot, an exhibition of large works by mid-century colour-field artists. In October, Ai mounted his own work in a second show titled Cao / Humanity, one of a trio of shows that went up simultaneously in Los Angeles. Slathered in the artist's wallpaper, sections of the wall depicted raditiating arms all giving the middle finger, while marble sculptures included panels of carefully articulated blades of grass, or cào, which also means “to fuck” in Chinese.

Will we see more of Ai’s architecture in future? ‘We quit architecture after 2008,’ the artist says, referring to the fallout over the Olympic stadium. ‘But we're still helping friends to design things, and every one of our shows and installations has to do with architecture, from the scale to the construction.’

When he first saw the UTA site, the warehouse had recalled for Ai his own spacious Beijing art studio, which was demolished by the Chinese government earlier this year. In 2010, the day after he furnished it, his Shanghai studio was also destroyed, for political reasons. So far, the authorities have not let Ai recover any of ‘the ruins’ of these spaces for fear that he will create artwork out of them. ‘Still today those ruins stay in a huge warehouse,’ the artist says. ‘They don't even know where to store it.’

Text / Shonquis Moreno
Images / Courtesy of UTA Art Space

Installation view of Cao Humanity Photo by Jeff Mclane

Installation view of Cao Humanity
Photo by Jeff Mclane

Vases with Refugee Motif as a Pillar  (2017) Ai Weiwei Installation view Photo by Jeff Mclane

Vases with Refugee Motif as a Pillar (2017)
Ai Weiwei
Installation view
Photo by Jeff Mclane

Iron Tree Trunk  (2016) Ai Weiwei Photo by Jack Hems

Iron Tree Trunk (2016)
Ai Weiwei
Photo by Jack Hems

Up Yours  (2017) Ai Weiwei

Up Yours (2017)
Ai Weiwei

Camera with Plinth  (2015) Ai Weiwei

Camera with Plinth (2015)
Ai Weiwei

Vases with Refugee Motif as a Pillar  (2017) Ai Weiwei

Vases with Refugee Motif as a Pillar (2017)
Ai Weiwei

Installation view of Cao Humanity Photo by Jeff Mclane

Installation view of Cao Humanity
Photo by Jeff Mclane

A Family Affair

For most Thais, family is the foundation of social life, and multi-generational family homes are commonplace in Thai culture. This extended family home features a communal space that reflects community values, but thanks to the ample living areas never feels overcrowded

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The founders of Bangkok-based Anonym Studio, Phongphat Ueasangkhomset and Parnduangjai Roojnawate, are behind the architectural and interior design of this contemporary take on communal living.

Situated on the same 500-square-metre lot, the new house stands parallel to the owner’s original home. The two are separated by a swimming pool — an existing feature on the property — overlooked from picture windows and expansive sliding patio doors. The communal area and open view connect the homes and allow the family members to see and interact with each another, while also subtly separating public and private living spaces.

The verdant outdoor space offsets the angular structure of the new addition, designed to reflect the owner’s sleek and minimalist taste. Exposed concrete, glass and black aluminium panels effectively manage the tropical heat, create a natural flow of light and ensure privacy from outside view.

Text / Simone Schultz
Images / Chaovarith Poonphol

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A Cross Section of Australian Architecture

At the intersection of old and new, abstract and domestic, this Melbourne home received both a restoration and a modern addition

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Built on a 515-square-metre plot atop a hill in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond —where iconic terrace homes dot the streets and warehouse conversions are constant reminders of the area’s industrial history — this multi-generational family home gave the B.E Architecture team the opportunity to explore the past and imagine the future.

The completed building is now comprised of two distinct yet complementary elements: the pre-existing period house — one of the earliest examples of a kit home in Australia — that needed restoration, and a modern extension.

‘As with all heritage projects, the biggest challenge was convincing the local planning authorities that high contrast between old and new was an appropriate design response to the site,’ says Jonathon Boucher, a director at B.E. ‘The new extension is a two-storey sculptural form that twists and rotates from a single point to create setbacks and overhangs. These comply with practical planning requirements and track the sun to create shade for the ground level and courtyard space.’

Each component creates its own vernacular and reflects a different architectural language, generating a dialogue (and also a striking contrast) between light and dark. The existing light-grey timber cladding was reused for the facade of the original house, while vertical metal cladding and mirrored glass shape a sculptural black box that forms the new extension.  

‘This project is a complicated one-off design that is totally specific to the site and to the client’s needs and brief,’ explains Boucher. ‘We asked what architectural story might be told when you contrast the existing heritage values of the site with an exaggerated possibility of what the new, clear, precise and abstract form offers.’

Inside the original structure are a private master suite that opens onto the veranda and private garden, a guest bedroom, library, bathrooms and a laundry. A glazed link — symbolic of the transition from the 19th  to the 21st century — leads into the futuristic extension. Several sustainable design features are incorporated throughout the property: the external surfaces have been coated with low-VOC paint and feature double glazing, wall insulation, cross-flow ventilation and in-floor heating. Large underground rainwater tanks have also been installed.

Boucher believes that the extension ‘is a vibrant addition and a full stop on the existing streetscape’.  On the ground floor is an open-plan communal space with the kitchen, living room and dining area, while on the upper level, extensive windows offer views of the skyline. ‘The elevation that overlooks the city is a dynamic expression of modern sculptural form combined with effortless and precise detailing, and this is where the cantilever and twist is most prominent,’ Boucher points out.

Ultimately, this house is, according to the architect, ‘a literal cross section through Australian domestic architectural history, with two worlds colliding — the old and the new’.

Text / Karine Monié
Images / Peter Clarke

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Amateur Architecture
Humanity is more important than architecture, and craftsmanship more important than technology
— Wang Shu
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China’s first and only recipient of the Pritzker — the world’s most respected prize for architecture — Wang Shu, along with his wife and practice partner Lu Wenyu are the founders of Hangzhou-based practice Amateur Architecture Studio. The name refers to the couple’s rejection of what the pair say is the “professional, soulless architecture" practiced in China. Their interests lie in vernacular Chinese architecture, traditional techniques, craftsmanship and locally sourced materials.

Reducing tradition to a decorative symbol and then applying it to the surface of a modern construction... that’s exactly what kills the true meaning of tradition.
— Wang Shu

Over the last ten years, Amateur Architecture Studio has created a respected body of work and a unique style that challenges the role of the architect today in China and internationally.

This summer a retrospective exhibition of the work of Amateur Architecture Studio at the arc en rêve centre d'architecture in Bordeaux, organized in partnership with the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, showcases five projects with a series of models, material samples, large scale photography.

The exhibition runs from 31 May – 28 October 2018 at arc en rêve centre d'architecture, Bordeaux. For more on Wang Shu, check out the feature on the Hangzhou Academy by Amateur Architecture Studio written by Alastair Gordon in issue 2 of Design Anthology.

Text / Suzy Annetta
Exhibition images / Rodolphe Escher
Project images / Iwan Baan

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