How does architecture education differ from China to the United States? From campus to architectural design office, what new vision will the identity change bring? Nowadays, more and more Chinese architects have international education and practice background, as well as more open thinking and innovative ideas. Recently, Susie Jiang, a young architect, had an interview with www.globaldesign.cn. She told us about her persistent life in her 12-year architectural experience. She explained her understanding of design by sharing several creative projects, and expressed her vision of moving forward firmly on the road of becoming an excellent architect.
You were an undergraduate in Zhejiang University, and a graduate in Columbia University. What do you think are the characteristics of education in and outside China?
The undergraduate education of Zhejiang University is very open and free. During my time in Zhejiang University (started from 2009), the school had realized generalist education. The architectural education focused on technology and practice in the industry.
As one of the world’s oldest architecture institutions, GSAPP has always been at the forefront of diverse and experimental architectural education. Each semester, there are more than a dozen studios for students to choose from. Including architectural design studio, non-architectural design studio, traditional architectural design studio, media-popular tutor studio and so on. For students, they will be fully nourished if they have a profound acknowledge of “what they really want”.
According to your personal experience, what are the differences between international architectural design offices and Chinese architectural design offices?
The international architecture offices are quite similar to design studio in school days, which is a continuation for many students when it comes to habits and methods.
Chinese architectural design offices are progressing at an amazing speed. The project period is short and the working efficiency is relatively high.
For different offices, the most important thing is to maintain their own strengths and styles.
Which design projects have you participated in recent years that you are satisfied with? What is your most rewarding moment, and why?
The first project is a Columbia Spring Studio Project.
This studio looks at the role of sectional architectural objects (semi-autonomous architectural elements places within larger architectural elements of spaces). Of particular interest is the increasing overlap and intersection of multi-use spaces and dual programs, and strategic architectural strategies for their co-existence.
The second project is a Columbia Fall Studio Project.
The studio started from research on Frank Stella, the artist, then turned into three-dimensional physical model making. I used hot glue mixed with pigments to simulate one of Frank Stella’s work. Fusion of different materials creates lines, lines turn into surfaces, surfaces grow into volumes. It occurred to me that different architectural materials can be mixed to the fabricative level. It might be a breaking point of new architectural material making.
The third project is a Columbia Summer Studio Project.
This studio focused on redesign the Lincoln Center. My teammate and I came up with the idea of changing the traditional up-down circulation into up-inclination- down circulation. We firstly injected boxes with existing programs into the site, then connected those programs with a honeycomb structure. After master plan design, we zoomed in into one particular building, and designed the detailed plan, also made the physical model.
One of the proudest moments as an architect is when each project is due time. The sense of achievement is unparalleled.
Many architects who have worked for a certain number of years have suffered from job burnout and feel confused about the future. Have you ever experienced this situation? What keeps you going?
It’s a long way to go in both architectural study and practice, which requires architects to slow their pace down. This objective fact is in conflict with the current situation of China, which is developing so fast. If you are confused with your future, ask yourself what you really desire, to evaluate whether your current work direction can meet your needs.
As it comes to me, I have my weak moments. In those moments, what supported me was the countless nights and hardships that I had endured for studios in schooldays, and the passion to create something even though I had pushed myself “crazy”. “Look at the stars, down to earth”. When I think of the architect I admire the most in my heart, the courage and determination that he has to realize his imagination, I gain the spirit of never giving up.
Nowadays, it is quite common for architectural design professionals to change their practice fields. What do you think of this?
In all time, architectural design professional is never a quick-return profession. If a person gives up midway for various reasons, from my own point of view, he/she does not have the spirit of an architect, he/she might not be meant to become an architect, but it does not prevent him/her to shine in other fields.
What is your future career plan? Such as becoming a star-architect, starting your own business, or transferring to a research/teaching institution. How are you going to do that?
I am still on the road to enrich my professional knowledge. Twelve years of architectural experience has not made me tired, but determined. Being an independent architect requires creativity, a solid technical foundation, business development ability, and also chance. To be honest, I am really not in a rush.
What is the difference between designing in school days and at work?
Personally, studio projects are pure creation and innovation. For every project I am interested in, I try my best to break my boundary, to develop more possibilities, whether the final result is “architectural” or not. This experience and results of experiments will not disappear with the end of my school days. Instead, they are settling and brewing in my mind, waiting for the right moment to explode.
Design at work is more about creating value. It is an important ability to be responsible for clients, to control every detail of the design process, and to estimate the results with other elaborate work. Sometimes it has nothing to do with creation, and more with controlling the process as a professional.
These two different stages are essential for a mature architect. Inspiration and the ability to build collide with passion, and eventually sublimate into architects’ keen intuition. I am still going through this process. Good architects, in my opinion, are not more and more divided on these two perspectives, but integrate them together,then truly realize the combination of rationality and sensibility.
Do you have any advice for architectural students?
Just be yourself. No matter what style you like, how bold or conservative your ideas are, go for it. It’s not essential to pursue “results” in school days. The ideas you have and the mistakes you have made are your most valuable assets. On your way to becoming a mature architect, you will remember that you once worked so hard, it will support you to realize your own value.