Ramble is album with several sub albums. Here is one: Office in Hutong. Beijing, as the capital of China, has a long history, and currently is going through fast economical development. Hutong, as the traditional urban typology of Beijing city, is slowly disappearing. We try to find the offices in those Hutong, discover their ideas and life.
This time, gooood’s searching steps stop at WEI Architects – No. 46 Fangjia Hutong, Dongcheng district, Beijing. More: WEI Architects on gooood
The 9000 m2 plot, once China Machine Tool Plant, played an important role in the industrial history of Beijing. The central location with The Lama Temple, Beijing Confucius Temple, Guozijian and Bell Drum Towers in the adjacent areas gives it a sense of cultural atmosphere, rather than purely industrial. In 2008, the establishment of the cultural and creative park revitalized the area. Lots of creative companies and studios in design, performing, visual art, modern art, etc, and design hotel, restaurants relocating here brought the neighborhood diversity and dynamic.
During daytime, Fangjia Hutong is buzzing with social activity as any other hutong one could find in Beijing. In the weekend however, it would be dramatically transformed into a popular commercial street with bustling restaurants and bars and blurred lighting effects.
The office of WEI Architects located along the street from of the No. 46, the original facade of the brick building was revealed after the renovation and restoration. The leaves of the aged trees dangled in the wind, leaving the ever-changing shadow on the ground.
关于WEI建筑 About WEI Architects
魏娜及Christopher在纽约共同创立了ELEVATION WORKSHOP，并于2009年正式成立北京办公室-WEI建筑设计。作为在中国最活跃的年轻事务所之一，WEI目前的项目包括从几十万平米的大型综合中心、几万平米的超五星级酒店到几千平米的美术馆、学校、幼儿园及规模更小的高端时尚零售店和儿童会所等，并与世界顶级建筑师事务所一同受邀参与了包括北京、天津、内蒙古和四川省政府的多个重要项目的设计。WEI的作品已被包括domus、中国的时代建筑、美国的Archdaily、英国的DeZeen、荷兰的FRAME，德国的Gestalten、日本的六耀社等世界十几个国家的几十个杂志和出版社报道，并获得国内外多个奖项。魏娜主创的SongMax项目获得美国建筑师协会纽约分会（AIANY）2014年第五届室内设计大奖。2011年，山东日照规划馆的设计也被评为2010年“最阳光”设计奖。WHY hotel被评为2015年最佳新酒店、年度最佳酒店等国内外各种奖项。同时，魏娜也受到了包括美国CBS（哥伦比亚广播公司）、中国经济观察报、中国建设报、中国搜房网、中国建筑新闻网等各领域多家媒体的专访，并在世界多个国家的大学举办了建筑讲座和参与建筑评论。
WEI architects propel deriving from emotional design to create atmosphere driven synergy with interaction between people and building. “Suffused Space” as called by WEI is the field to inspire users to appreciate their own intuitive perceptions.
ELEV (Elevation Workshop) is an international multi-disciplinary architecture and design firm. Positioned at the crossroads of art and architecture, ELEV values a culture blend and issues of urbanism, as well as innovative and traditional construction techniques and materials. ELEV aspires to create a delicate, rich, and cultural humanistic architecture, carrying on the pursuit of quality and a personal experience to every detail of the built form, the spatial dynamics and the design process.
Originally founded in New York, ELEVATION WORKSHOP established its Beijing office, WEI architects, in 2009. As one of the most innovative and dynamic young firms in China, WEI architects has projects ranging from a large-scale complex center (about 400,000sqm), and a deluxe five-star hotel (20,000sqm) to museum design and small, high-end fashion retail stores as well as children’s development center and playground. Along with many world-class architecture firms, WEI has been invited to participate in the design process for many important projects in Beijing, Tianjin and Inner Mongolia. WEI’s projects have been featured in over twenty publications in over ten countries around the globe, including Time Architecture (China), Domus, Archdaily (U.S.), Dezeen (UK), FRAME (Netherlands), Gestalten (Germany), and Rikuyosha (Japan). Several of WEI’s projects have been nominated for international design awards. The “SongMax” store and showroom design was presented at the AIANY interior design lecture series in 2014. WEI also received a competition award in 2009, and the “People’s Choice” and the “Most Sunning Design of 2010” award for the planning pavilion in Rizhao, Shandong Province. WHY hotel was awarded “the 2015 Best New Hotel”, “Hotel of the Year” and other international and domestic awards. WEI has been profiled by international media, including CBS News, China Economic Observer News, China Construction News and others during which period WEI architects participated in many architectural lectures and discussion panels in the international design world.
Why do you choose this hutong as your office location? Could you please share something fun with us?
I was born and raised in Beijing, and my family had lived in hutong for generations. Although I moved into a modern apartment building when I was young, I always feel connected with native beijingers who still live in hutongs.
Our firm was initially found in New York City. It was located in an art district in Brooklyn at that time. The space was similar to what we have now. It is a one-story factory building in a residential neighborhood, an open space about 100sqm with a very high ceiling. Two large skylights framed the clouds and birds above during the day and framed the moon during the night. Our neighbors not only encompassed artists, but also included ordinary people. My fond toward that site encouraged me to look for a similar environment after I went back to Beijing: a relaxing, open space that can be seen at a glance upon entering. We visited a lot of potential places in the hutongs but at the first moment we entered here, we immediately knew that this is the place we long for.
▽ Christopher在和胡同居民聊天，Christopher talking to the residents in Hutong
As you have been working in hutong for a while, how does the working environment have influence on your work?
We have been working here for 7 years and witnessing the changes in various activities in hutongs. We greet our neighbors outside, while even inside our office we could hear their talks and even quarrels now and then. Wild cats always pass by and sometimes visit. Once a wild cat was clinging to our office cat, girl and came here every day. Pagoda trees and grey tiles form the most familiar scene outside the window, and working in the studio here have already become a part of our life.
The fragments of hutong life are frank, trivial, quarrelsome, but real. I always feel steady and calm while working here. As the Chinese saying goes, “the greatest hermit will retreat into the noisiest fair”. Our working environment provides us a tranquil place to focus on design and confront with all kinds of challenges in our projects.
▽ 爱观察的girl与爱读书的Greenie，the observer – girl and the bookworm – Greenie
Why did you choose architecture as your major and profession?
I have pretty good memory about spacial sequence since I was young. A lot of my childhood memories were related to the changes of space. I could only remember phone numbers by memorizing the position and order while I moved my finger and pressed the keys.
I always appreciate what my parents have done for me. When I was four years old, we had some real great carpenters work for our house renovation. I spent a lot of days with them and designed a wall unit during. My parents, to my surprise, asked them to build it according to my drawings. The wall unit have been used for more than twenty years, and it has been my pride for a long time.
When I was fifteen or sixteen, one thing strengthened my determination to choose architecture as my major. After I graduated from middle school, my parents took me to Zhenjiang, Nanjing, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai on a trip. We visited a lot of Chinese gardens, and Yu Garden is the last stop. I was deeply impressed by the rich experience within such a tiny space. A lot of people share their appreciation for the Women’s Clothing Store Design for SongMax with us, but the futuristic interior is actually inspired by traditional Chinese gardens.
▽ 魏娜在SongMax女装店, We Na at SongMax
As a Yale alumnus, could you please talk about the educational style at Yale? In addition, what’s your biggest harvest during your education at Yale?
耶鲁大学的特点是包容。建筑学院在院长Robert Stern的带领下，汇集了各种风格的老师，学校鼓励学生做最好的自己。对我影响最大的一件事是我的第二学期在Tom Beeby studio的经历。我当时希望把建筑当做一种语言，来重述一个充满情感纠葛和自我挣扎的先锋戏剧。我的几个同学和朋友都觉得我这个疯想法肯定会被老师毙掉。结果Tom Beeby不但一路支持我，还在学期末给我写了意味深长的评语鼓励我。通过这个设计，我还和当时做评委的几位老师成为了朋友。去年，我应建筑学院院长邀请回耶鲁做研究生设计课评委嘉宾，遇到好几位当年的老师，他们到现在都还会提及我12年前那个疯狂又特别的设计。
Yale is characterized by its comprehensiveness. Under the lead of Dean Robert Stern, the School of Architecture gathers professors in different styles and encourages students to be the best of whatever they want to pursue. One thing that influences me the most happened during my second semester at Tom Beeby’s studio. I wanted to apply architecture as a language in order to iterate an avant-garde drama scene about emotional involvement and self-struggle. Several friends of mine believed that my crazy idea would not be approved by the professor. However, Tom Beeby not only supported me from the beginning, but also wrote a meaningful and encouraging comment on my project . I also became friends with several critics through this project. While I was invited by the Dean as a graduate studio critic and went back to Yale last year, I met several teachers who were critics of mine, and they still mentioned the crazy but unique design I did 12 years ago.
What’s your biggest challenge as a female architect and the founder of WEI Architects?
Let me talk about the pros first. Two days ago, after we finished a project presentation, our clients marveled at how we are different from those male architects they met before. Our design is featured by an feministic sensitiveness needed by a lot of projects. Those features brought many advantages to our projects, such as hotels, renovations, schools and kindergartens. Many times, a good design depends on senses, and some of them are inborn.
I confront with the challenge which is faced by female professionals in general. Some traditions still impede the development of modern women. After Zaha Hadid passed away, New York Times published an article about the current conditions of American female architects, claiming the fact that women in workplace are facing similar situation as they faced about 10 years ago while Zaha became the first woman to win the Pritzker prize. However, as we all know, several deans of top architectural schools in the U.S. are female now. In China, it might be different; the issue is not obvious for the general, but female architects will face more obstacles when they reach to a certain level. It has a lot to do with traditional gender stereotypes.
▽ 魏娜与团队在WHY酒店检验桁架结构承重，Wei Na at the site with her team
We notice that all your projects have pretty large scales and various forms. How do you define the form? As you once mentioned that all those works were created under your concept of “suffused space”, could you please take more about the “suffused space” and its related thinking?
Last year, I went to an art exhibition at MoMA in NYC, which included many sculptures by Picasso in his lifetime. As a painter, Picasso was always in a relaxing mood through his creation of sculptures. He was eager to explore distinct methods, forms, contents and materials, which were changed depends on the circumstances at different periods of his life. However, after I saw more than 140 pieces of his works, I could feel that there is a unique temperament of Picasso embedded in every piece, something unspeakable but astounds us continuously and deeply.
As the Diamond Sutra said, “Everything with form is unreal; if all forms are seen as unreal, the Tathagata will be perceived.” Architectural projects always yield physical results, but I only consider the form as just a process or a method, and our final goal of design is to achieve an atmosphere. Driven by the atmosphere, “Suffused space” defines a space where all substances and shapes shall be integrated into a perceptually cognitive space of human being. I explained the origin of “suffused space” on the invitation of our 7th-anniversary discussion, and used one and a half hours to introduce our exploration about the concept during the past 7 years. This discussion is significantly meaningful. Since not everyone understands my reflection or is interested in my concept, the fact that we could discuss the topic with fellow architects, artists, media and even clients who share similar thoughts are really encouraging for me.
We prepare to publish a book about the thoughts and practice of “suffused space”, including a series of attempts on pedagogy. Welcome to pay attention if you’re interested.
As you mentioned that you thought a lot in the discussion on the 7th anniversary of WEI Architects, could you please share more with us about these specific topics?
Before our 7th anniversary, I went to A Japanese Constellation, an exhibition at MoMA which inspired me a lot, and I decided to celebrate our anniversary by holding a discussion. Some of my favorite architects are featured at the exhibition. Although they still follow the Western system of theories and critiques, it is important for them to present as a group with their own distinctive directions. Throughout the course of history, it is much possible for a community of talented people to play a prominent role by encouraging each other and developing in a similar direction individually. While they are able to inspire mutually in a shared context, they will finally exert impacts and make contributions that cannot be achieved by individuals.
However, it is really challenging to go beyond the Western theories and critiques system. Our architectural education, practical mechanism and evaluation criteria are all introduced and influenced by the West. Western theories systematically and continuously refer to each other. While we discussed research methods or representational forms of Eastern thoughts and aesthetics, it is avoidable to cite existing theories; if the cited theory is a part of Western theoretical system, many researches and discussions will be possibly turned into a meaningless cycle.
▽ WEI建筑7周年探讨会，the discussion on the 7th anniversary of WEI Architects
What’s the most impressive project you have done? Why?
In the discussion on our 7th anniversary, I mentioned that my partner once described our attitude at work as a “curio-box style of design”: Even if our client only asks us to design a box, we will design a curio box with various functions through a long process of deliberation. All of our colleagues agree with this simile. Because of such an attitude, a lot of projects are extremely significant to us.
The renovation of Zhongguancun e-Plaza that we currently work on is a relatively complicated project. The nature of Zhongguancun is a hypermarket of high-tech products, which is turned into a technological and financial center now. In a series of renovation projects, e-Plaza is the most representative one. We have studied a lot of behavioral patterns and psychological activities of human being, and hope to dissolve the sense of alienation that large building volumes exert on people through this renovation. Although we are unable to make big changes to its architectural form, a closer relationship between human and architecture is formed through our treatment of facades, commercial areas, and squares. As we live in hutong, where involves a lot of true interaction among people, we hope to create more public space on human scale and communicative sites for this city.
▽ 中关村e世界大楼广场, Zhongguancun e-Plaza
What’s the most perfect work in your mind?
I believe that architectural functions which satisfy physical needs of human being can be analyzed, learned, turned into big data or commoditized. However, a great work should go beyond the duty of a simple “machine” and provide a shelter for spirit. A functional design is possible to be perfect, but a spiritual prospect should be open and inspiring. So for me, the most perfect work is beyond a simply physical solution, and presents an ideal prospect that inspires personal insights of users. While it was completed, the work itself is able to reveal us a higher level of existence and provide us a direction for our pursuit in next project. Therefore, it should be perfectly imperfect.
▽ 北京顺义 WHY酒店, WHY hotel (MORE更多)
▽ SongMax女装店设计, SongMax Women’s Clothing Store (MORE更多)
▽ 亚丁悬崖酒店，Yading Cliff Building (MORE更多)
▽ 小绿洲儿童会所，Parkview Green
▽ 沙滩四合院改造，Shatan Courtyard House
▽ “悬“竹钢装置，Floating bamboo steel sculpture
▽ 米蒂跳儿童主题乐园，Mitty Jump