gooood x Hua Li
Your recent projects are totally different from those you designed at the beginning of your career. Why did such changes occur?
I don’t think they are totally different. I think there are just changes in project type and scale. At the beginning, I have done some urban projects that have not been built. My interest in construction and material drove me to small-scaled projects, which are focused on architecture itself and easier to interpret my thoughts. The ability to manage the whole project needs to be improved through work.
▼ 保山新寨咖啡庄园，Xinzhai Coffee Manor
▼ 青普品牌酒店之塔下土楼店，Qingpu Hotel
▼ 海口寰岛实验学校，Huandao High School
▼ 宁夏贺兰山嘉地酒庄，Mount Helan Jade Vineyard
▼ 荣成天鹅湖观景廊，Rongcheng Swan Lake Viewing Pavilion
In recent years, most of your projects are in the countryside with natural environment and they earned you the title of “in-situ architect”. What do you think of this title?
If a building has inner connections with its site and surroundings, it could be considered in-situ. It means that not only architectures in the countryside, but also those in the city could be in-situ architecture. “situ” is not just a type of environment. It includes specific site features like geography, geology, climate, history and lifestyles. When architecture involves with these elements, it is in-situ, like plant grows from the soil.
You said: “When I visit a site for the first time, if there’s something touching me, I would do the project If not, I would just reject the commission.” As most urban sites are “generic”, what is your attitude in such sites? If you are commissioned to design in a city plot with landscape, what would you do?
有不重要的建筑吗？ 建筑常常因为所谓的”重要”而被贴上附加的意义，超出了建筑本身。 ”重要”其实是个幻觉，容易诱使建筑师去”发明创造”，掉入光环中自我陶醉。对我来说不存在重要建筑，所有的建筑都重要，都需面对建筑本身的具体问题，场地关系、尺度、材料、与人的关系等等，建筑应该避免为了”重要”而空泛。
It is true that some sites are neutral and boring like a piece of white paper that nothing could inspire me to design. In such case, I will pay more attention to the inner sequence of the building, looking for its spatial organization, structure and materials to created a self-sufficient world.
Is there any architecture that is not significant? The label “significant” always gains additional meanings on architecture. I believe that “significant” is just an illusion that entices architects to “invent and create” and feel self-complacent in its halo. For me, there’s no such significant architecture. All architectures are important and architects should solve concrete problems of location, scale, material and relationship with people while designing. Architecture should avoid being vague and general due to “significance”.
The architects, represented by Siza, who value context of the site somehow distill the architecture by connect it with the environment. Their works are difficult for people to find an analogy like “coin” or “tree” to describe. However, many public buildings are located in a neutral site and simplified as signs, like “bird’s nest”“big pants” and “lantern”. What do you think of these public buildings and the situation in which the buildings are named by form?
It is people’s right to name a building by what it looks like, but architects should not design just by a simple, pictographic concept. It does not mean that architecture should not be pictographic. It means that the analogy should not be simplified to a level that avoids architects from deeper consideration of architecture. If the pictographic character becomes a tricky way in expression and communication, the design will be cheap and superficial.
The TiensTiens dessert shop in SanliTun is a good sample of small-scaled renovation in the city. People could feel the harmony between environment, nature and cozy life in this small building. From the thousands of comments of this shop in DazhongDianping, we can see that people express their love for this building and its environment from different angles. Could you explain the architecture a little more? Is it important to you whether many people use the building or not? What do you think of the epochal character of architecture?
The architecture is sandwiched between the neighboring buildings. The site area is only 60 sqm and there are two large trees on it. The roof of the nearby building is available. The crack space itself is negative but as it is along the street, there is business value and the program is decided to be a dessert shop. The space spiraled up and unfolded along the two trees, encouraging visual connections between different-height levels, and ended by a spatial roof terrace. On the roof, some terrace raised up, enjoying the shade of the trees from different directions. The appearance of the building is modest. It provides various space experiences interior and on the roof, which makes people feel that the space is much more than 60 sqm. The famous Cangku loft Bar was on this site many years ago and the memory of it never faded in my mind. It might be destiny that I could design the dessert shop on this site. The most interesting thing is, the trees are still the trees while the city is changing day by day.
▼ 甜品店内平台错落，platforms on different heights
▼ 屋顶平台，roof terrace
▼ 剖透视图，perspective section
It is good that more people could feel the beauty of a building, but you cannot say that buildings in the center of the city contain more meaning than those in the countryside. The key feature is the quality of the architecture, not the location and number of visitors.
The epochal character of architecture mainly reveals on some superficial features like form and functions. However, the obscure spirit of architecture is beyond time and we can feel it in many historic heritages. It is why the architecture ruins are always shocking. The features on the surface are disappeared and only the essence is remained.
▼ 伊犁马场草图，sketches of Yili Horse Ranch Resort
▼ 伊犁马场模型，model of Yili Horse Ranch Resort
What situations would inspire you to start a design? Which quality is the most important for you?
The design always begins in the consideration of basic problems like scale and prototype and those thoughts are inspired by site. For instance, if I am going to design a school on a highland, I would like to create an open floor space reaching the edge, responding to the distanced horizon in vision. The idea comes from the site condition of highland and from this point the building is designed and lifted. When it comes to design a kindergarten, I would think of providing objects in different scales to stimulate the children’s perception of space. There are small things in children’s scale as well as large objects, which are beyond their experience. Imagination is generated from the mix of various scales. To children, it is a house for giants but to city, it is an amplified dollhouse.
▼ 广州蔷薇国际幼儿园，Guangzhou Rose International Kindergarten
▼ 千渡东山晴长江项目小学模型，model of Qiandu Elementary School
▼ 千渡东山晴长江项目小学草图，sketch of Qiandu Elementary School
After many architectural practices in the countryside, what are the limitations of traditional construction method in your opinion? Could you share some examples of improving local materials and construction method?
The local environment is losing under the effect of modernization and it causes limitations to traditional construction method. The foundation of traditional construction method is composed of ecologic resource, craft and cultural identity. This system has changed even disappeared as modern construction took over, which leaves traditional construction in an awkward situation. When I built the Museum of Papermaking in Tengchong in 2010, wooden structure was dominant in the local construction system. However, in only one or two years, modern industrial building system using concrete became the main trend due to the rise in prices of wood and labor. If one construction system is used less and less, the technique would be lost correspondently. This is a universal problem in today’s architecture.
▼ 结构细节轴测图和1：15模型，detail axon and 1:15 timber structure model
▼ 1:6 木结构框架模型，1：6 timber structure model
We visited the office of TAO last year and found some under designing projects that are rough and robust, giving a sense of primitive architecture. The architecture volume was buried underground and in one project, it even formed a grand cave. What do you think of the relationship between architecture and the ground?
Architecture either belongs to the ground or separates from it. Correspondingly, a building would be heavily buried or airily elevated, consequent in different construction methods. What you have seen is the former type. The relationship between architecture and ground is important in design as it touches the basic relationship between architecture and the nature. It is, as well as the relations with sky and horizon, the poetical foundation in architecture.As Borges’ poem said: “The patio is the slope down which sky flows into the house.” It precisely described the relationship between patio and sky, illuminating the basic status of architecture presence.
▼ 深圳万科留仙洞项目，Wanke Underground City-Sunken Void
▼ 天池游客中心模型，model of Tianchi Visitor Center
▼ 天池游客中心草图，sketch of Tianchi Visitor Center
What type of project you want to challenge the most and why?
I have said that I wanted to design libraries or religious buildings with spiritual spaces before. Now I realize that spiritual spaces could be generated from any type of architecture and my preference to project types is not that strong. To be honesty, I hope that there’s chance for me to design residential buildings, no matter amalgamated dwellings or detached houses. Residential buildings are close to daily life and the architecture could return to its essence without grand narrative. As residential buildings have to deal with various phenomena of life, it gives architecture freedom in expressing and makes the building beyond its functions.
What is the biggest challenge for you now?
It is how to push my limits. I always want to jump out of the existing thinking and aesthetic model to try something new, something unfamiliar. It is important for an architect to create a design model of himself after continuous working. The model would reflect his interest and belief in design. However, when the model is fixed, it might in turn become a shackle that constraints the architect’s thought. You have to break the shackle to acquire new things. Architects could gradually understand more about themselves through the process of making and breaking out the model.
What is your plan for the future? How will TAO develop in the future?
Our office will keep focusing on the core aspects in architecture of materials, construction, structure and space and we will try something new in projects of different scales and locations. We are also doing some projects in urban conditions recently. As I have said before, our office values the specific character of each project and will not be limited in its category. The exploration of architecture could be unfolded in any type and scale of project, so that in the future our works will be more diverse. Apart from project types, our office will continue its scale and working method. It means that our reasonable team structure will stay unchanged and we will stilluse large-scale physical models during design process to exactly handle the scale, materials and ambience of the building. I don’t think that using digital models and computer simulation could reach the same result, as physical intervention is scarce. It is necessary to physically involved into architecture design that hand drawing and physical model are irreplaceable. There’s no shortcut in architecture design and architects should achieve it by their own hands.
▼ TAO迹建筑事务所，TAO office
▼ 华黎观察模型，Hua Li is observing the model