01 August 2009

Feature 2:
standardarchitecture - In Construction

Founded in 1999, standardarchitecture is a professional partnership formed by a group of international young designers. Originally established in New York, the office has gradually relocated its main base to Beijing in 2001. The office now has four principals: Ke Zhang, Hong Zhang, Zhenghua Hun, and Claudia Taborda. Their projects are not limited to historic sites, engaged in practices of architecture, landscape architecture, interior, and industrial design.

On the basis of several distinguished cultural projects, such as Beijing DongBianMen Ming Dynasty City Wall Relic Park (International Competition 2001, first prize, realized in 2002); tlie WuYi Elementary School Auditorium Building (completed 2003); Wuhan CR Land French-Chinese Art Center (realized 2005); the Yangshuo Storefronts in Guilin (realized in 2005), the firm has developed particular expertise in creating sensitive landscape and architecture in various historic urban settings. Currently they have started new architectural practice in the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon project.

Their buildings and landscapes are always rooted in the historic and cultural settings with a degree of intellectual debate and not concerned with styles or rules. Usually use local materials, their works present a deep understanding of history, culture and rational thinking of architects.

Tlie feature contains its recent works. A dialogue with principal architect Ke Zhang reflects the individual design philosophy and working mode of standardarchitecture.

2009    "un_natural", Beijilig
2008    "China Design Now", Victoria and Albert Museum. London
2008    "POSITIONS" Portrait d'une Nouvelle Génération d'Architectes Chinois, Paris
2008    "ARCHITopia", Brnssel
2007    "The Shenzhen & Hongkong Bi-City Biennial of Urbanism \ Architecture", Hongkong
2006    "China Contemporary", Rotterdam
2005    "Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture", Shenzhen

2009    School of Architecture, South East University, Nanjing
2007    School of Architecture, Tsinghua University. Beijing
2007    Department of Architecture, Chinese University Hong Kong

2008    China Architecture Media Award, Young Architect Award
2006    "Ist Prize" of WA Chinese Architecture Award, Yangshuo Storefronts

Conversation: standardarchitecture - In Construction
standardarchitecture studio, Beijing, China, July 2009

Ke Zhang (KZ): Architect, Founding Principal, standardarchitecture.
Fan Yang (FY): Architect, standardarchitecture.
Ling Fan (LF): Contributing Editor of a+u Chinese edition, current issue.
Helen Yao (HY): Editor of architectural Media.

LF: This issue's topic is named "In Construction". Could you talk about your thoughts? How do you orient yourself?

KZ: The difference between us and some other young architectual studios is our focus on the process of converting a seemingly impossible idea into a real building. Actually, we care about the existence of architecture. We "daydream" everyday, not for dream's sake but for existence. We build two or three projects every year and they are in construction most of the time. We are now in an interesting status of continuous exploration, full of energy and uncertainty.

LF: Do not declare?

KZ: Right. It's not the time yet. In fact, it is too serious for us to make announcements and to draw conclusions of our ideas because the media can misread them to some extent. For example, some media is more interested in our empty designs, some is more interested in urban researches and some might be interested in our steadfast and introverted works. In my opinion, these researches and designs have continuity. We make continuous efforts and practices to test our ideas. 

LF: Does every design have an "argument"?

KZ: Of course it does. Even if it has no "argument", it has an "excuse". (Laugh)

LF: To put it nicely, it is "strategy". As regards standpoint, your "In Construction" is similar to the special topic "The Sense of Reality" which a+u Chinese Edition did about Jiakun Liu. Do you
think there are differences?

FY: I think Liu's "The Sense of Reality" has more connotation of social reality. What he has done has economic, social and political orientation. Taking this into consideration, his "The Sense of Reality" is different from "In Construction" of standardarchitecture.

KZ: An important difference between "The Sense of Reality" and "In Construction" is the question of certainty. The former is certain about something, while the later is not. "In Construction" can be a construction without any sense of reality. If sense of reality is a real feeling, we never feel against construction being done with a lighter matter. We never believe that architecture must be solemn.

LF: Neither critical?

KZ: We are critical of ourselves and our time. What do you mean by saying "critical"?

LF: I mean if you are critical, you always come up with a strategy to deal with a real problem in a construction project. Because differences make differences.

KZ: The most important to us is the differences in final construction results. You can be very critical in the phase of concepts. However, your efforts can be in vain or ridiculous later. You may not even realize it. No matter you do or not, it can result in a disaster of waste, mistakes, misleading or even deception. So you must know if a concept can be realized from the very beginning. We don't like those grandiose and unrealistic concepts. The final results of many exciting and fantastic concepts are disappointing. It is a serious and unavoidable problem for every practicing architect. As a result, our key task in this phase is to build houses step by step and to realize an idea throughout with continuity. This is our guideline in a long run and we are not eager to announce anything.

LF: Is what you have said itself a media strategy?

KZ: No. Actually, the topic, of my presentation at Southeast University is "In Construction". By now, we don't a so-called public media strategy. "In Construction" is a status which we desired for in the first three years of standardarchitecture. In recent years, we are in such a status to experience, to experiment and to execute. 

LF: But there must be an accomplishing day for a building.

KZ: Right, there must be a day when a building is finished and its users move in. There might be a ceremony for this closure. Somehow, there might be changes or redevelopments, but we won't care about them. For us, it is not a big deal to change so-called works. HY: The concept "In Construction" is a status that gives you time and space. In such a society, keeping a mental status like this is not easy because we have many possibilities and chances. Is this status consistent with your personal life attitude?

KZ: You are right. We missed one point in the former discussion. For us. the most enjoyable phase is the unclear phase of creation. At the same time, we also enjoy a seemingly impossible process of converting ideas into reality step by step.

HY: Can I understand it in this way that in this status you can actually step aside and keep a distance?

KZ: We can keep a distance from the mass and from authority. We should ask ourselves why we want to be architects. We don't have to be architects. What fun do we get from being architects and what do we pursue?

HY: I know that a lot of foreign media interviewed you. Do you think their understanding of you is true and objective?

KZ: Among those interviews, Linda Vlassenrood is relatively sharp and comprehensive. She also pointed out that most foreign media's interviews of Chinese architects are out of curiosity about
China rather than being interested in architects themselves. One architect is only taken as an example to support opinions of the media. We start to think about things during continuous interviews and questions. We pay much attention to international topics, such as "uncertainty" at the moment. Nobody knows the direction. I wrote an article named "outside in" after my participation in the "China Contemporary" exhabition in Rotterdam. It is an article of rethink and observation. There are some differences between observations through the eyes of others and our own eyes. Only by combination of the two observations can we judge things correctly.

LF: In the presentation of your project, yon only used a few analysis diagrams. Instead, you used a lot of photos including environment photos. I would like to know whether you have strategies in choosing photos, such as cover-up of details.

KZ: I think I do have strategies. We hope to communicate by results. If it is the introduction of a single project, we will use more illustrations and analyses. If it is in front of a large audience, it is more effective to use photos. In fact, your question itself is interesting. Actually, we have many analysis diagrams for tlie process and we can do another presentation mainly with illustrations, given enough time.

LF: Can I put it in this way, the results of your every project are in consistence, but your illustrations and techniques are not. It explains why it's hard for you to use mainly illustrations to present.

KZ: Sometimes, despite great illustrations, architecture itself is ordinary, which is ridiculous. In my opinion, if the final result is not interesting, the use of many good analysis diagrams becomes meaningless. A result should be self-evident. If people like a building, they have their own interpretation of it. If an architect enforces his interpretations on others, he prevents other possibilities. Of course, we architects still need to interpret the evolution of the whole concept.

HY: When a project is illustrated through media, there is a loss in continuity. We only see the result of a presentation rather than the internal logic. I keep on thinking about a solution.

KZ: We are also thinking about this question. We are not ready for a complete collection of works, but we thought about making a brochure to present the whole evolution of a project. 

LF: There is another possibility. Despite the clarity of illustrations, you need elastic spaces for architectural concepts and need discussions about strategies. As a result, illustrations might not be the best explanatory method. The use of photos is perhaps better than exact illustrations.

KZ: Illustrations are not definitely clear. If a building depends on illustrations for explanation, it is doubtful. When we discuss or explain designs, I always draw some illustrations on pictures.

LF: If "result-orientation" and "construction" are architects' expertise, is there a standardarchitecture "measure" in your process of design? For some architectural studios. illustration might be a "measure". What is the "measure" for standardarchitecture? Is it construction?

KZ: If illustration is a "measure", even a "measure" of expression. I doubt it. For us, illustration has more meaning. Construction is neither a "measure" for us. I am thinking whether we have a "measure".

LF: Can you talk about your studio regulations?

KZ: We have studio regulations because we appreciate individual creation. These studios will never be named "someone's studio of standardarchitecture". Once a studio has a firm ground, it can be independent and be named as "someone's studio". Many young architects have hard start-offs not because of their incapability or inexperience but because of reasons beyond design. This system is conducive to young architects' start-offs and is beneficial to Standard Architecture. It is also a creation. I wish it could be spread quickly. Young architects do not have to work at institutes of design or at firms of big brands; they can work on their own.

LF: This system is an important factor that makes you different from other studios.
标准营造是一家由青年建筑师组成的合伙人事务所,1999年创建于纽约,2001年起工作空间逐渐砖移到北京, 目前四个合伙人是:张珂、张弘、侯正华和克劳迪娜•泰伯达,其工作范围涉及建筑设计、景观与城市设计、室内设计及产品设计等各个领域。

经过一系列重要文化项目的实践积累,事务所发展了在历史文化地段进行景观设计与建筑创作的特长和兴趣。如:北京东便门明城墙遗址公园 (建成,2001-2002);北京武夷小学礼堂 (己建成,2003);武汉华润中法艺术中心 (已建成,2005);桂林阳朔商业街坊设计 (建成,2005)等,并在西藏的雅鲁藏布大峡谷旅游开发项目中进行新的实践。


2009年        “不自然”艺术展,北京
2008年        “创意中国”当代中国设汁展,英国V&A博物馆,伦敦
2008年        “中国新生代”建筑师展,巴黎
2008年        “建筑乌托邦”中国建筑展,布鲁寨尔
2007年        “深圳•香港城市 \ 建筑双城奴年展”,香港
2006年        “中国当代”建筑展,鹿特丹
2005年        “深圳城市建筑双年展”,深圳

2009年        东南大学建筑学院,南京
2007年        清华大学建筑学院,北京
2007年        香港中文大学建筑系,香港

2008年        首届中国建筑传媒奖之青年建筑师奖
2006年    作品“阳朔小街坊”获第三届WA中国建筑奖一等奖




张:我们和其他一些年轻的建筑事务所相比,如果说有一点不同的话,就是我们关注将一个看上去不可实现的想法变为实实在在的建筑的过程,其实我们更关注建筑的存在。我们每天都在 白日做梦",但目的不是为了做梦,而是为了存在。我们每年都会有2-3个作品建成,所以有一半甚至更多的时间它们是处于“建造中”的状态。我觉得我们现在还处在一个浑身是劲、不断尝试,但一切还比较模糊的状态,这是比较有意思的。


































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