Rumble, to take a glance at the world by wandering. Ramble is an album including many sub-albums, and this sub-album is about foreign architects who work in China. We would introduce you six foreign architects come from Asia, Europe or America with their opinions regarding China, as well as their working and daily life here.This sub-album of Rumble, “foreign designers in China”, includes 6 episodes, and here’s the fourth episode: Nicola Saladino from reMIX (reMIX on gooood).
▼ 视频 Video （全文采访见下方文字。视频为4分钟精华版，建议选择蓝光1080p观看。）
gooood × Nicola Saladino
About Nicola Saladino
I am Nicola Saladino. I am one of the three founders of reMIX studio. I first came to China in 2011. At that time I was working for London-based plasma studio and they offered me the opportunity of joining their new office in Beijing. So I moved here with them, and one year later, Chen, Federico and I we started our own practice. It has been five years since we started reMIX studio and currently we are working on pretty much all scales of projects.
▼2014年的reMIX办公室，reMIX office in 2014
▼现在的reMIX办公室，reMIX office in 2017
On a personal level, Chen and I are married and we have a small daughter; she has kept us quite busy in the last year and a half in a very positive way.
▼Nico和妻子陈忱以及女儿，陈忱也是reMIX的合伙人之一，Nico and his wife Chen chen with their daughter. Chen chen is also a partner of reMIX
Does the working experience in Beijing feel different compared to other places? What are the new opportunities that you have found here?
My move to China came out of a quite unexpected opportunity. I had studied in the AA a master on urban design that focused on China, I was attracted by its urban conditions and I got the great opportunity to come and understand the phenomenon on site. We are now in a historical period in which the global focus is moving from the West towards Asia. China is experiencing an unprecedented transformation at a speed that is completely different from the European standards, so it is very exciting to be inside this transformation and somehow have an active role in it.
Our office is quite focused on urban design. I have always been very interested in politics and I think large-scale design is where we can make a difference in terms of political input, shaping the way social interactions happen. And I think China is the best laboratory to study new tendencies of urban design and to think about how we as designers can shape the future of the urban living.
Finally Europe and Italy, my home country, have always been strongly connected to innovation and creativity but perhaps because of their difficult economic conditions, in recent years the situation has been quite stagnating. Many of my friends and former colleagues are struggling to find opportunities in design-related work. And in general there is quite a bit of disillusion and resignation in the creative industry. Here instead I struggle everyday with cultural differences, clients that are not very professional and a market that is often completely unpredictable, but at the same time I feel a lot of positive energy from the people that I interact with in my work. In China most people today live much better than the previous generations – it is not the case back in Italy where my parents had much better opportunities than me. In this climate of shared optimism for the future, one is more prone to become an entrepreneur and whenever you share some new ideas to your friends, they are all positive about it and will push you to think about the next steps, rather than putting you down with skepticism. I find this attitude really refreshing.
▼在中国有更多机会参与设计不同尺度和功能的项目。More opportunities of designing various projects in China.
湖州茶博物馆，Huzhou Tea Museum
What advantages gives your European background compared to domestic designers?
We have done quite a lot of renovation projects, even though that was not our main goal at first and happened quite unexpectedly. Europeans are perhaps more used to urban renovation projects. Asian architecture has been historically connected to wooden structures that are traditionally related to cycles of construction, demolition and replacement. There is no tradition of transforming the buildings into something new, changing their use. Europe is much more about stone architecture; buildings last longer and need to adapt to changes. So in that sense perhaps, being European, I am more used to this type of transformations.
On the other hand, being a foreigner perhaps helps not taking things for granted, having the right critical distance to evaluate the context in which we operate. In recent years China has gone through very different stages of transformation: first came a big rush towards progress, where everything that was new was a-critically accepted just because of its novelty. China wanted to get a new identity – not any more as an emerging country but actually as a global power – so architecture was all about showing progress and modernity. Now it looks like, at least in Beijing, the pendulum has shifted so much that we are experiencing the opposite and we are in the middle of a reactionary campaign about restoration of traditional values. In this lack of balance, many times it is hard to distinguish what is valuable and what is not and maybe the cultural distance of a foreigner helps filter the information and be more creative about the process.
What do you think of the future of Chinese cities?
China is quite a unique market, because it is still an urbanizing country. Predictably, in the next years, tens of millions of people will still move from the countryside to the urban areas, so we will have the opportunity to plan new cities from scratch and not to deal with the difficult historical heritage that characterizes urban areas in Europe. On the other hand, I think that planning tools here are still too traditional, especially when dealing with functional distributions. Multi-functional blocks have been tested for a long time everywhere in the world and their advantages are clear and universally accepted but in the recent campaign of regression to traditional values, Beijing seems to be going back to mono-functional districts, with big commuting distances between different functional zones which generates traffic jams everywhere. I am not in favor of informality but I have strong doubt about the efficacy of campaigns that work only with black and white distinctions; working with more gradients would enrich the social interactions that happen in the city.
I would also focus on the quality of the public space and especially the green. In Chinese cities it is often ornamental: it is not meant to be used by the people; it is only meant to be looked at. I think the green should acquire more infrastructural elements and become a proper functional element of the city.
How parametric tools will affect the future of design?
We are in a complicated moment of transition. It is still not very clear to me what the future of the creative industry will be after the introduction of artificial intelligence and the diffusion of big data analysis. Nowadays, we are constantly online: more than citizens, we are actually data providers and almost everything we do is monitored. There are many different scenarios ahead and some are very pessimistic with the possibility that we will end up in a big control system. On the optimistic side, tough, this new technological evolution could open up opportunities to be more effective. In these new conditions parametric tools have two main advantages. 1) Parametric design is open-ended: you design a process, a behavior. The final result is the combination of the values of the parameters that you have set. So if the initial conditions change in time, your design is able to adapt to these changes. 2) Computational tools can grasp much more efficiently the huge amount of information that is available to designers. They can provide us with an incredible tool of analysis to understand how a complex system really works in real life.
▼运用参数化工具对白塔寺地区进行分析和呈现，parametric visualization of the Baitasi district
城市肌理之建筑风貌分析，analysis of buildings preservation in the built fabric
游客路径之商业机遇分析，analysis of commercial potential by tourists’s flow
公共交通之步行距离与时间分析，analysis of working distance and time in public transport
绿化元素之景观网格分析，analysis of green network created by the green spaces
Why did you start teaching parametric workshops?
First of all, I would not define myself as a parametric teacher: I would say that I use parametric tools as part of a broader design methodology. I think parametric tools in the end are just tools. It is important to make this distinction because when we hear about parametric design we are usually dragged towards a very specific and limited vision other than what parametric design really is. In my case, it is nothing related to form; it is much more about understanding that a complex system such as a city is always supported by the interaction of many different layers that can be designed through parameters.
I push students to rationalize what their design goals are and try to build the guidelines that regulate this type of relationships. In this sense parametric tools help students to move from subjective design statements, often originated only from intuition, to a more logical set of rules, because computer are not able to interpret unclear instructions. It is an important moment for students also to learn about what they have inherited in terms of their cultural background and design skills. We started academic activities pretty much as soon as we opened our own office. Being a small office we were struggling to access larger projects, so our academic activity in a way promoted our research agenda and made our work more credible. It also allowed us to keep in touch with new fresh ideas since students always bring in the latest design trends.
▼2017年gooood和reMIX举办的冬季工作坊，课程人气很高，堂堂爆满，winter workshop by gooood and reMIX in 2017, the course is very popular
▼在课程中Nico会不厌其烦地对学生进行指导，Nico would teach the students with great patience
What is the most important skill that students learn from your workshops?
The one thing that I stress from day one is that our workshop is not just technical training. I am teaching them new tools as part of a methodology so I feel much more satisfied when I see that the students get the logic of the process rather than when they learn the latest technical trick. I always try to keep in touch with my former students and the many interns that passed by our office and it is really gratifying to recognize in their later work the seeds that you have planted before and this can only happen when you really work on their way of thinking the architectural design process.
▼学生作业，work of the students
▼Nico和学生欢快的合影，the happy group photo of Nico and his students
Do you have any hobby?
I love sports and I play tennis on a regular base, but I have not really managed to do as much physical activity as I should. In fact my Beijing lifestyle is actually leaving me with a big belly… Which might also be the result of my interest in food: I like cooking (and eating) a lot. In fact I am trying to make this interest become something more than a hobby: I have just started to work on a new business related to Italian ice-cream and innovative design. I am still at an early stage of the project but I hope that I will soon be able to share with you the first results.
▼Nico每天都要骑车上下班，他的动手能力很强，爱车便是自己焊装完成的，Nico comes to the office by bicycle everyday. He is very good at handcraft and made the bicycle himself.
Any plan for the future?
One of the first things that I have learned from my experience in China is that here everything is unpredictable, so I have learned to feel comfortable without any long-term strategy, focusing at most on a two-three years horizon and enjoying the possibility of doing many things at the same time. So in a way my plan is to diversify my activities as much as possible keeping the creative focus that comes from my design background in all the new adventures.
▼享受工作乐趣的Nico，enjoying the pleasure in work