Gang Wang of Futurepolis

Gang Wang1Futurepolis is an international design firm based in Suzhou, China (and Charlotte, USA).
In this highly revealing interview with the partner and principal, Mr Gang Wang, our reporter Zhang Yihan finds out how to succeed as a good architect in China today.
Reporter Zhang Yihan
Photographs: Jia Man

张:未来都市里很多建筑师包括您都是美国的教育背景,你们在工作中也很强调这一点,请问未来都市有限公司的性质是什么呢?美国分公司还是说中美合作?

Zhang: Many architects in Futurepolis, including yourself, have American education backgrounds. So do you consider yourselves as a branch of an American business or are you a close a cooperation between China and USA?

王:我们这里原来有两组精英团队,一组是的有着美国教育和工作背景的建筑师,景观建筑师以及大学教授,比如林中杰教授,时惠来教授还有包括我本人。我们原来在美国工作生活和学习,在美国时就有组建公司的想法,希望回国后有更多的机会和项目来参与实践;另外一组是在国内大型设计院的技术与管理骨干,有着丰富的本土设计经验,比如我们公司的设计总顾问时匡,是工业园区前总规划设计师和园区设计研究院的创始院长。我们强强联合,组成现在这样的一个团队。其实我们是中美合资的一个公司。

Wang: Originally, we were formed out of two groups. One comprised architects, landscapers and professors such as professor Zhongjie Lin, professor Huilai Shi (and myself) who have American backgrounds. We studied and lived in Charlotte for a long time but we had already planned to set up our firm in China at that time. Another group consisted of experienced  Chinese architects such as Kuang Shi, the former Chief Planner of Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP). Thus, Futurepolis is a Sino-US joint venture and, as such, we think that it’s a win-win situation.

 

张:请问您为什么选择来回国工作呢?那您为什么选择来苏州呢?

Zhang: So what was it that caused you to return to China? And why Suzhou in particular?

王:其实最主要的原因是国内的项目多,实践的机会比较多一些。美国的话一方面是经济危机,本身的话项目没有那么多,对于建筑师来讲,只有在实践中才能慢慢体验和成长。来苏州之前我曾在香港工作,来苏州也是因为机缘巧合。在美国时正好与现在的同事认识,就一起来到苏州。

Wang: The most important reason, obviously, is that there are many more projects and more opportunities in China. In the US, there are not so many opportunities because of the global financial crisis. In architecture, young architects can only grow and develop  with experiences derived from real live practice: hence the move. I had worked in Hong Kong before, but I came to Suzhou primarily because that was the location of many of my colleagues, those that I work with at present.

Huaxi Model Eco-building_Guiyang China 2011

Huaxi Model Eco-building in Guiyang, China (2011)

 

张:那您是如何结合您在美国的背景和现在在国内的设计工作的呢?

Zhang: Do you – and if so, how do you –  combine your American background within your design work?

王:我觉得美国背景对我而言不仅仅是教育背景,曾经的工作过程也非常重要。一方面非常重视推理和逻辑性;另一方面非常重视交流,设计不仅仅是个人的成就,更是团队的合作;第三点是实践经验。不同于国内的设计过程往往非常快,在美国的实践过程中往往放很多的时间在模型推敲上,包括体块模型,场地模型,沙盘模型等等,在这些过程中慢慢体会。我们现在的工作模式也是尽量在很短的工作时间内也很高效率的去完成这个推敲的过程。然后在这个基础上再去做一些包装性的工作。其实从开始时场地的意识,到后期的空间感觉,都是依靠设计模型而来的。所以我们很重视模型,包括你们之后可以参观到我们的模型室。

Wang: For me, it’s not only the Western style of education that plays an important role, but also the Western ‘experience’ that means a lot. Western architectural practices pay more attention to reasoning and logic. Also, they address communication between the team and concentrate a great deal on teamwork. Design in the West, in America, is more like co-working within a team than striving for personal achievement.

Another aspect is the practical experience. Unlike the quick design process in Chinese architect practices, American architects spend a lot of time on physical modeling, including mass models, site modeling and even sand table modeling. We learn to understand the scale through these processes. Our way of working is to finish the initial feasibility and then to improve the design on basis of it. In this way, the design processes, from the understanding of site to the sense of space all rely on the modeling. We stress the importance of modeling.

 

张:相对于国内的一些比如苏州本地的设计院,国企现在的私有化,您觉得你们这种国际性的私营企业有什么优势呢?

Zhang: What do you think distinguishes your practice from the local design institutes?

王:或许20年前,国内设计院和外资企业的差别是很大的,但是随着如今资讯的开放以及交流的丰富,在这种多元化的社会大环境下,在资讯和信息方面其实差别并不大,最主要的差异还在工作方式和思考上。我们在国内设计院成熟而良好的设计模式基础上,才用更靠近国外的一种设计的切入点。创新的原点可能是我们设计最主要的区别。国内的环境虽然给我们带来了很大的压力,因为设计时间很短,比如方案刚出可能就需要施工图纸,但节奏的加快带来了单位时间内高效率的工作,同时带来了大量的实践和思考的机会,通过这样的实践,个人的想法每天都可以得到冲击或者验证。这样的速度能够让设计师获得一种验证,画图和模型其实得不到那种由现场施工而来的感受和体验。而且你在施工现场能够继续设计,设计并不仅仅停留在方案上,现场的细节,空间感觉,和设计初期的方案所带来的效果很有可能是不同的。所以这样快速的反复对建筑师的成长是很有帮助的。

Wang: Maybe 20 years ago, there was an obvious distinction between domestic architectural practices and foreign-owned corporates. However, with the explosion of information and increased communications, the main differential rests on the thinking and working methods (as information and resources have become more accessible to smaller firms). Based on the act that there is a technical maturity within many domestic practices, we are looking for a point of penetration in our design processes. This is the most innovative way for us to progress in the market.

The specific construction environment in China has its own advantages: even though it brings high pressure, it also brings high efficiency and more opportunities for us to think and practice. There are obstacles between ideas and reality of construction; and contingencies arising from construction work. Architects want to test out their innovations in advance; but meanwhile, the construction is being completed… and so you have to continue your designs on site. In this way, your details and your perception differs from what you might have thought at the beginning of design. This kind of rapid process is actually helpful for the growth of architects.

 

张:从您的角度而言,你们会希望招聘怎样的毕业生?

Zhang: What kinds of graduates do you wish to employ?

王:这个问题其实很好。专业要求和市场要求其实是不同的概念。我会希望我们的团队是富有激情和创造力的团队,建筑师要会思考,而这种思考不是随大流的思考,不是单一的对某种模式的借鉴,建筑师往往需要变化有创意的作品。如果实践允许我们会希望团队里的每个人都有机会去直接设计方案,去讨论。这其实和学生时代的设计课很想,大家都有想法有方案,不同的是我们是过一天或者两天就要出草图,个人分享自己的想法,再圈定方向。这是理想模式,但现实往往是因为时间紧促以及个人能力有限,应届毕业生往往因为缺乏实践经验难以应对市场的需求。这就导致我们对毕业生的要求不仅仅停留在他们的创造力,也在于他们想法表达的效率,比如方案初期的建模。还有很重要的是手头的表达能力,手绘习惯非常重要,图比文字更有说服力。永远不要用电脑做设计,边思考边手绘所带来的感觉是最直接的。电脑软件带来的三维感觉往往不够强烈,做设计隔着软件在我看来是有局限性的。在我看来设计本源还是在于设计师的想法。创造和表达能力,这是第一点。其次,是对于综合知识的掌握。一个设计团队往往为建筑师所领导,是因为建筑专业的综合性很强,从城市发展理论到工程细节,都是需要去掌握的。我们对人才的考察,往往时而考察他们的快速设计能力和工作的主观能动性。学校里面所学的知识往往只是入门。了解建筑设计和做建筑设计是两码事,学生往往只有在工作后去补充自己的设计能力。第三点就是沟通能力,同事,团队,领导,甲方,承包商,都是你需要沟通的对象,你需要的是去点燃他们的激情,让他们带着热爱去完成工作,给整个团队带来成就感。沟通是超越表达的,是让人愿意接受你的观点。我一直以为建筑设计是必须带着感情去完成的,它不是工厂的流水线作业。团队合作,在我理解,就是你的团队愿意接受你的想法,愿意一起共同努力。还有一点就是影响力,这里我想推荐一本书《影响力》,这本书原本是将推销的,但其实建筑师就是推销员,你需要把你的想法推销出去。这本书讲了很多方式,关于你如何去影响别人。总之,建筑师需要学的东西太多了,我常常觉得我一辈子都来不及去学习。我现在其实花很多时间在看非建筑类的书籍,我已经接触了很长时间的专业知识,要将个人的提升已经不仅仅在专业层面上了。理论的知识固然需要继续深入的学习,更多的时候要去体会一种生活的态度,你所做的建筑其实是你对生活态度的反应。我希望能把一种内涵通过设计作品来表达。就像建筑师王澍,他所认为的建筑园林,山水画,他有他自己的精神和内涵在其中,他把自己比作一个文人,所以他认为他的建筑应该是有文人山水的模式去经营,大家都生活在有文化气息的环境里。这是他通过建筑来表达的生活态度。而另外一些设计师,他有别的态度,比如,这是一个热闹的地方,人是社会性的动物,人只有在社会里才能体现出他的存在感,这时候设计师就会希望把所有的乡村放大,把人都集中在城市里,拥有一种存在意识。人会希望处于的尺度是一个小镇,包括苏州古城也是一样,狭窄的街道和河流。一旦扩大,就不再是人能接受的尺度范围。我之前看的一本书叫做《社会建筑》,书中提到人的尺度永远是在步行10分钟范围以内的。他所理解的城市就是对这个10分钟范围的复制而非扩大。人若是通过其他交通工具来出行,便已经丧失了在城市生活的舒适感。这是对的,没有任何一种理论是错的,只在于不同人的生活态度。我现在看很多杂书,历史,小说,评论等等,其实一方面是在感受在中国本土做设计,去拥有一种中国情怀,希望把这个城市,这个国家变得很好。

Wang: That’s a good question, the concept between ‘professional needs’ and ‘marketing needs’ are quite different. I think that a team is supposed to be filled with passion and creativity ad it is necessary for an architect to think for him- or her-self, and not simply to follow the crowd. Furthermore, it is not about learning certain models in a simple way; it is about creating multiples of new things. If possible, we want an equal chance for every member of our office to design and discuss every project directly – in a similar way to student design tutorials. Everyone has ideas and plans. However, for us, in reality, drafts must be finished in one or two days. The ideal situation would be that designers share their own ideas in order to help discover their direction. Unfortunately, the truth is that it is difficult for fresh graduates to cope with real-world market demands due to the shortage of practical experience, limited time… and sometimes poor individual skills as well.

futurepolis modelsThis situation means that, not only do we require young graduates to be creative but also for them to be able to focus on efficient modeling at the beginning of a competition. Another important thing is their hand-skills, especially the habit of freehand sketching – because pictures speak louder than words. Never use a computer to design because freehand sketching e ability to think – is the most direct way of creating. Computer software cannot help people develop a strong three-dimensional confidence and ability. In my opinion, using software to design is limited and the origin of design lies in the thoughts of designers, which include creativity, expression ability and the mastery primary. Knowing architecture and designing architecture are quite different. Students always strengthen their own design skills after doing some real work.

The 3rd key point is about communication skills: you need to be able to communicate with others, including colleagues, team members, leaders, employers and contractors. What you need to focus on is igniting their passion, engaging them to finish their jobs with enthusiasm and bring the sense of their part in the success of the job.

‘Communication’ is better than just ‘expressiveness’ especially if you want to make people accept your idea. I think it is necessary to design architecture with emotion since designing is quite different from assembly line work. In my opinion, teamwork means your team members are willing to accept your idea and work hard with you at the same time. Another point is about the power of influence; (actually, I want to recommend a book entitled ‘Influence’). This book mentions many methods that we can influence others.

Simply put, architects always need to learn more, and that accumulation of knowledge is not merely limited to architecture. I spend a lot of time reading about and experiencing life, and I believe that architecture is a reflection of architects’ attitudes towards life. Take Wang Shu as an example, he believes that he is a Chinese poet and his works reveal the unique cultural atmosphere of China. Other architects have a different attitude, for instance, they think people need the feeling of a lived experience and so their architecture is busy and sociable.

Recently, I read a book named “The Architecture of Community”, written by Léon Krier (http://www.amazon.cn/The-Architecture-of-Community-Krier-Leon/dp/1597265780). In it, he insists that the real city should be based on the human scale, instead of relying on ‘zoning’ and ‘transport routes’. People should be able to walk across the community in less than 10 minutes, he says. The city is not the expansion of this “10-minute community” but the replication of it. It is true. None of this theory is wrong, per se, but those theories rely on different attitudes and approaches. In the end, the best thing for me is to read a lot and feel a lot, hoping to gain a perception of the vernacular which will help me make better designs to benefit this city… and this country.

 

张:您提到生活态度,那您觉得您的生活态度是怎样的,你又是怎样把他联系在 的设计里的?

Zhang: You mentioned having an attitude towards life, so what is your attitude? How you relate it to your design?

王:我觉得这个并不好讲,我觉得我还需要至少再过10年,我才有资格和别人交流我到底是怎样的一个生活态度。为什么说建筑师至少要到50岁才能说真的开始做作品,50岁之前,都是在学习和体验,50岁以后,才可以真的做一些东西。我每一年都有这样的感觉,这些年去过很多地方,更换过好几次自己的工作,给我带来的最大的冲击,在我看来,就是你会发现,不同的地方,不同的人,他们会有自己不同的生活方式,不同快乐的原因。比如赖特和柯布西耶的田园城市理论并不适宜所有城市,它带来的很大的问题就是钟摆式的生活方式,人白天在城市中心工作,晚上回到郊区休息。这对基础设施和能源都是一种浪费。不同于中国城市,美国郊区城市的基础功能通常是完善的,而中国城市和农村的差异性就太大了。这样的观点来自于建筑师的浪漫主义情怀,建筑师却没能想到这样的理论随时代发展所带来的问题。然而问题一旦出现就很难再去弥补。最可怕的是,在中国有些地方政府却在推崇这样的规划理论,以为可以推动郊区城市化的步伐,但我们其实是消耗不起这个能源的。这就联系到很多社会学问题。回到刚才那个关于生活态度的问题,你很难去定义你自己的生活态度,你需要很多的体验去总结。一方面是你觉得你究竟是怎样的生活态度,另一方面是你能创造怎样的东西。怎样的东西对周围的人来讲是最合理的,收益最大的。

Wang: It is hard to say. I suppose that only after 10 years (at least), am I qualified to talk about my ‘attitude’ with others. Architects make real meaningful works only when they are over 50 years old. In recent years, I have gone to many places and changed job for many times. The most valuable thing that I have found is that different people have different lifestyles and different reasons for happiness in different places.

For example, the theory of Garden City is not suitable for all cities, especially in China. The most serious issue for Garden Cities is that it creates, what we call, a pendulum lifestyle: that is where people work downtown but live in rural areas. This is a waste of times resources and infrastructure. Unlike cities in America, there is huge distinction between urban and rural areas in China. The Garden City concept is derived from the romantic perceptions of architects, but they failed to consider the problems it brings with development over times. Unfortunately, some local governments in China still promote this Garden City theory without thinking it through.

Architecture is social. You need a lot of experience to conclude what kind of attitude you have to it; what kind of works that you are going to create and how could you create those works that are reasonable and beneficial to society.