Dean ，school of architecture， Tsinghua University
President & chief Designer，Architectural Design & Research Institute of Tsinghua university
Class A Registered architect
National engineering survey and design master
Weimin Zhuang shared her professional experience and passion for design with GARLIC.
Q1：As the Dean of School of Architecture in Tsinghua University, and the principal of Architectural Design & Research Institute of Tsinghua University, you are in the leadership positions for both teaching in school and design practices of the institute. You mentioned that the culture of a firm is very much related to its leadership. So what are the qualities that you think an architectural leader should possess? And where do you see the differences between the leadership of architecture field with that of other fields?
Actually I have been in the design institute leadership for a long time after graduation. I worked as an architect intern at the very beginning, then an architect, and then the office director, the associate and the principal. Eventually I worked up to the vice dean, and the dean. Of course, this promotion process was rather long. But the time working as a dean of the architecture school is actually short, only three years. I have recently completed my first tenure, and now it is the beginning of my second tenure.
There are huge differences between the two positions. I think the crucial one is that the two organizations are different types. An architecture school is an educational organization, while a design institute is a place for production and market oriented researches. You know considering the development of the architecture discipline, it’s rational for the architecture school to serve as a cradle and a meditation place. In this sense, as the dean of the school you should be an expert in the discipline and its future progress.
So what kind of challenges is the architecture discipline facing today? What are the emerging demands of human settlements for architecture today? To what degree have architecture and other disciplines been integrated? Is architecture bringing us more introspection? Then facing those introspection, what shall we do in elementary education and professional education of architecture? In a word to develop the discipline is the primary task as the Dean of an architecture school.
Of course there is another major, you can say first task as the dean of an architecture school. On one hand, it is very important that you provide an effective platform for discipline development. This platform should be able to attract talents and allow them to fulfill themselves freely. On the other hand, the platform needs to have sufficient financial support. You know almost every successful dean of an architecture school does very well on both two things. One is to attract a large number of people, whether by lobbying, or relying on the school name as an attraction; the other is that they can get enough sponsorship and funding. So, the two positions differ in the starting point and in kind, which results in different major tasks.
As to the design institute, basically it’s a practice platform. But there are still some research projects beyond practices. Moreover, as the dean you need to orient your team to the needs of the market, to seize the opportunities and to complete projects one by one. One of the performance assessment criteria for a design institute leader is being able to develop your staff, your architects, your team, to their full abilities and creativities under your leadership, in order to seize the crucial opportunities in the market. Actually the two jobs differ greatly.
In terms of current energy allocation, my ratio is like one to five, one for the Design Institute and five for the architecture school. There is no clear line between the two jobs. However the dean needs to consider things including the discipline, the faculty, teaching activities, students, and so on, so I devote more time to the school.
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Q2:Do you have any future planning for the major of architecture programming or what are the subversive effects do you expect the discipline of architecture programming to have in the design field?
In theory, architecture programming is within the scope of architecture. There has been a rapid urban growth after the World War II, because the war destroyed a lot of cities. Given this backdrop, how to make rational schemes for urban development? How can we combine the architecture discipline with practice for the post-war reconstruction? That is to say, on the question of how to develop architecture theory and produce outstanding works in the rapid urban construction process, the West has given us some really good experience.
In the late 50s, William Peña, an American scholar, and his partner William Caudier, published an article in the Architecture Record under the title “Architectural Design Analysis – the beginning of a good design”. This article laid the groundwork for architecture programming. It talked about how architects clarify project-related elements and factors through site inventory, analysis, and research, in order to accurately define their design interests and niches.
So his starting point, in simple words, is to use the least amount of money to build the best houses, avoiding waste and simultaneously emphasizing the acquisition of good social, environmental and economic effects. At that time after World War II, this idea had very positive meaning for the American society. In other words, the key point is whether architects could rigorously think about this problem when facing austerity with an upcoming climax of urban construction.
After that, he published a book called Problem Thinking which has been very popular even today, sometimes translated into Chinese as Problem Detection. The book is currently in its fifth edition. William Peña and his students continued working on this issue. Many of his students, such as Cherry, Steven Parshall and Wolfgang Preiser, are now famous experts in architecture programming and members of AIA (American Institute of Architects). As experienced architects, they are very clear that if we treat a design project simply as a piece of art, just from the perspective of constitution, it is very likely that the design would bring risks or dangers, since environment preservation, human activities, and climate responses are ignored. Today even more issues like sustainable development, green space, ecology, energy-saving design, and fabricated cost of construction are ignored as well. So in order to make our project both aesthetically and functionally elaborated to be s piece of work, or even a masterpiece, it’s necessary to have in-depth researches. This kind of researches are what we called “design analysis” in architecture programming. So the first step is to determine all the problems associated with this architecture, which is called problem thinking. It has extraordinary meaning to us even today.
We all know that the urbanization process in our country has taken around 30 years to achieve the development that might take 100 to 200 years in other countries. Is there any problems during such a rapid urbanization process with such a large number of construction projects, and completed area? These are not simply design quality issues, but what is the more important issue? That is, our research on the design of this project is not enough, especially during the early phase of the design process, or you can say we don’t have enough researches on the foundation of the design.
What is the foundation of a design? Architects all understand that the basis is the design assignment. Who creates the assignment? It is created by the landlord, or the owner, right? So what is the owner or the landlord’s decision based on? They are giving architects questions. If an assignment goes wrong, the final result must be problematic no matter how excellent and professional the architect is. Therefore, the proposal of architecture programming had an absolute significance under its historical background, and it had its theoretical foundation. So the concept which was just mentioned, is called Architecture Programming in English. In fact, this concept defines the most significant dividing line in contemporary architecture field. That is the division of Architecture programming.
Architecture programming was brought up by William Peña and his partner in late 1950s, then we had problem thinking. This theory became a system. Then it had its own methods. After more than half a century until today, it finally becomes accepted by the Chinese. When I came back from abroad in 1990s, I brought this concept back and set up the system. For a long period of time, we are committed to establishing its theoretical framework and to exploring its methods through guiding graduate students, and setting up a professional committee called “China Architectural Association Building Planning Professional Committee”.
Of course, today we have a long way to go in the architecture industry. For example, architecture programming hasn’t been defined as a mandatory procedure stipulated by law. In developed countries, government-funded projects or public welfare projects such as hospitals, kindergartens, nursing homes, must carry out architecture programming research. In other words, the design assignment is proposed by the owner, and must be accredited by management departments, authoritative departments, and certification departments, to ensure that there is no problem in your assignment. In contrast, a lot of Chinese government leaders, amateurs who are not familiar with or do not understand the situation, would make decisions completely on their arbitrary minds, say, “Ah, I want a landmark building here. I want a big piece of water surface there. I want a big square. I want to play with the space like this…” In fact, there are rules behind architecture developments: not only rules of architecture, we also need to broaden the horizons, to interact with history, economy, culture context and so on. So architecture programming has its own set of a complete system.
And today in China, the government has made several clear points about urbanization construction, which explicitly refers to another concept called POE, which is “post-use evaluation.” Now the government requires that important public buildings in China must be evaluated after use. Post-use evaluation is an important part of architecture programming. In other words, we analyze the building in order to see how has the original design been applied on the building and how is the effect, have it caused any problem. All of these need to be reviewed. Then we summarize the result to get a general rule for the same type of buildings. This entire system is known as architecture programming.
Therefore, architecture programming could ensure us a relatively high quality of architecture design and a high level of urban construction, and guarantee us good environmental benefits, social benefits and economic benefits. So the 2014 version of the book “Architectural Terminology” has already included architecture programming as a very important scope. China’s registered architect examination lists architecture programming as a very important part as well. UIA, the International Union of Architects, also makes it clear that architecture programming is one of the seven core tasks recognized by UIA and is a necessary procedure (in architecture design flow).
上个世纪五十年代末，美国有一位学者叫威廉·佩纳（William M. Peña），他和他当时的合伙人威廉·考迪尔，在《Architecture Record》杂志上发表了一篇文章，叫做《建筑设计分析——一个好设计的开始》，这篇文章奠定了建筑策划的基础。说的是什么呢？就是怎样由建筑师通过对项目的分析、研究、深层次的剖析，得到跟这个项目相关的所有的要素、因素，以此来准确地界定你设计的利益和定位。
所以在那以后他出了一本书，这本书到今天仍旧非常受欢迎，叫Problem Thinking，《问题搜寻》，我们翻译出来也有叫《问题探查》的。这本书到现在已经出了第五版了。威廉·佩纳和他的学生持续不断地在做这项工作。他的学生有很多比如说Cherry、比如说Steven Parshall、Wolfgang Preiser，这些人都是现在鼎鼎有名的搞建筑策划的专家，同时他们也是AIA，就是美国建筑协会的成员。作为资深建筑设计师，他们非常清楚的一点就是，如果我们随意地去拿一个项目，单纯地把它当成一个艺术品，从造型的角度来做的话，很有可能会带来一些风险，或者说某些危险性，就是你忽略了对环境的思考、对人的使用、对气候的应对，在我们今天来讲，还忽略了环境的可持续发展、绿色、生态、节能，甚至于造价虚高等等。所以为了要让我们的项目，不仅仅在美学层面上有很高的造诣，同时还不能是个废品，而真正的是个作品，甚至于精品。这样来看，就需要有深入的研究。这种研究其实就是建筑策划说的“建筑设计分析”。那么首要的一个问题就是要把跟这个建筑相关的所有问题全部找到，这就是所谓的problem thinking。即使在今天看来，这对我们同样是有意义的。
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Q3:For rural development projects, there is a “pile on” phenomenon among architectural designers. However, the design qualities are varies, for which require long time to reach substantial improvements. Under such scenario, in your opinion, what could the governments, clients, architects, and others do better for rural development projects?
You have mentioned the word “pile on”. Personally I understand it because rural development is a popular topic today. I think there are two reasons. First one which is very obvious, is that the China has lots of land in rural area. And when we look at the city, we’ve had very intense development in urban area, right? You’ll find many cities too urbanized to build new development. Then what are architects going to do? They definitely will search for more land to build on – that is the countryside. That’s one reason. What about the other reason? Rural areas are relatively less developed, they are more like pieces of white paper, which offers more room to play from many architects’ point of view. Of course this kind of free play contains designers’ understanding about history, tradition, context, environment, especially factors like the territory, climate. This is why the rural development becomes so attractive to architects.
But in my point of view, it is undeniable that the rural developments in China still have problem so far. The problem has two main parts.
First, many people treat the rural area as a place or space to play with their ideas, or say to design recklessly. Actually they should know that compared to cities, there are more natural, kindred, cultural background and fundament, or premises in the country side. You will consider fewer questions when you build a house on a plot in urban environment rather than work on the same site in the countryside. So the key point is the countryside itself has more vernacular and cultural characteristics that you have to consider, which is precisely the point ignored by many of our architects. They feel like that they can just play with the rural sites.
Second, theoretically, the living environment in rural areas may be somehow more vulnerable than cities. The so-called vulnerable is to say, it is not like an urban area that runs constantly like a huge machine, all the gears like transportation, utility, human flow, and zoning bite perfectly. The countryside itself is very fragile, and if you miss one point – for your design concept, for an idea of the facade, or for an idea of constitution, you ignore some points – this might bring a very unacceptable result, which could damage the ecology, cut off the kindred and cultural context. So these are the most prominent points in rural development. Of course many architects today haven’t realized it.
Another critical thing is that urban and rural areas use different land ownership structure, or say different ways of social organization, which also brings about the biggest urban and rural difference. For example, we may need only one set of administrative division system, or just a land zoning system in cities. But in rural area things are not so simple. The first thing you need to know is what it means for farmland. People use farmland for production. Once the farmland is taken away, what could people feed themselves on? You can tear down an old house and build a new house in a village. Or you can replace the old beams or the old windows with new ones, keep part of the ruin as if this is rural development. We say this is not acceptable. Here the primary issue is that the fundamental problem in rural area reminds to be solved.
Then what is the fundamental problem in rural development? As urbanization continues to encroach on rural land, villages in the cities are springing up, which means villages have been surrounded by cities. During the land transfer process farmers are losing their production material, so they can’t earn their own livings. In this case, what can they feed themselves on? It’s not that we tear down the farmers ‘ houses and build some tall buildings, and they will all go upstairs. We had a slogan in the past said “Farmers go upstairs”. But the history proves that farmers can’t live in the tall building. Why? Farmers must use production material to feed themselves. When land has gone, what can they do? Some people suggest building factories. Some people suggest developing agritourism, to build restaurants and guest houses. But how many visitors would come and stay there?
As a matter of fact, the biggest problem is the hollowing-out of rural areas. The mid-aged are moving out to work. So there are very limited locals but a bunch of migrants hired to farm. Those migrants bring in external cultures, which are hard to be blended with the existing culture where only the aged and the children are still living in the countryside. This kind of severe social problems brought by the hollowing-out of rural areas are precisely the urban and rural difference. This is an inevitable, or say the paramount problem to consider if architects start projects in the countryside. Otherwise it’s likely that nobody will live in or use the houses once they have been completed. Those houses can only work as a scenery with no rural issues solved, sometimes even exacerbating the issues. So for today’s rural development, maybe we should concern more about the problem of how to achieve sustainable development in rural area, instead of simply caring about the constitution problem.
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Q4:You have just mentioned the science and other industries in the topic of rural development. Relative to them, the architecture industry has less social impact. So how could designers pose more social or political impact, so as to help us do better in rural development projects, or generally in all design tasks?
Now architects are getting more and more respect in the society. And increasing number of people understand what do architects do, just like doctors, lawyers, and accountants in the western world. Architects are people’s consultants. I have money. I just bought a piece of land, and architects help me decide what to build on this land. Architects help people create human settlements, create qualified and sustainable living environment, which should be respected.
In a really long time, especially since 30 years ago or even earlier in our country, architects have been treated like a tool of the government. The government, or say many politicians have been using this tool to achieve their career goals. For example, some leaders might want a skyscraper to show his ambition, to show the city’s power, or to show the government’s ability. So a leader would look for an architect to do some experimental design. The architects might be asked to use certain kind of constitution, with certain heights and building mass. Lots of architect’s working mode become like this.
Some clients even require architects to add a gate or something with granite as the only construction material, or require the architecture to be western classic style etc. They impose their ideas, some even have political reasons, on the architects and ask the architects to achieve those goals for them. As a result, architects become the tools. This is actually putting the cat before the horse. It breaks the basic value of architecture design.
Architects should be respected. Why? Because architects synthesize history, culture, environment, function and human activities to create pleasant, enjoyable, and interesting living environment within limited area. They are great designers who create beautiful human settlement. It should be a notion like this.
The good thing is, people started to realize that architects should be respected and architects are getting more and more attention, some even become public figure. For example, when we heard that an architect built a landmark in a city, then the city would also become famous because of the building, sometimes even boosting urban development. These are all very recent examples.
Of course, we still have a long way to go in our country. Lots of architects are still working as a political tool for government leaders to achieve their goals. The good thing is architects start to advertise their theory, idea and the design about green building. They would even influence a city’s positioning and development. I think in this sense architecture do have political meaning.
Actually the government needs leaders with architecture or planning background. This are very important positions. Unfortunately not too many people understand this. If architects or specialist who have professional planning, architecture, and landscape architecture knowledge could work in the government, they would have more powerful influence in decision making process.
A beautiful city would not only allow people to enjoy their life, but is a symbol for human value. So I think architect is a great and holy profession who is creating significant human value. With further development of urbanization, people will have deeper understanding for cities and the living environment. Then the influence of architects will be more widely recognized.
庄惟敏院长在2016“建筑之本原 • 哲匠之精神”清华设计学术周致辞 |
庄惟敏院长参加2016“建筑之本原 • 哲匠之精神”清华设计学术周开幕式 |
Q5:The architecture field has relatively high unemployment rate and relatively low income. Thus, many architecture students, or architects, have chosen to change profession. Some of them even become very successful after they change profession. What do you think of this phenomenon? What do you want say to architects or young architects who have the idea of changing profession?
If we treat the architect as a profession, then the adulation of the society towards this profession, or say the rising and falling of this profession, is actually related to the market, related to the development of the society. Architecture was so popular during the past decades, which in my mind was not very reasonable because it was more like a real estate bubble. People thought we didn’t have enough architects that you could earn a good sum of money per drawing if you graduated from the architecture department. But in fact it was only an illusory sense conducted by the housing bubble.
Actually I think it is a good sign to see some people change their careers if they don’t want to persist any more. Rational thinking returns, which is a process that had been through by western countries way long ago. But that aside, simply concerning the students, many students applied for an architecture degree, and now a lot of them decide to transfer. Many parents whose children are topmost students, let’s see what they say: their child is going to apply for the best department because he or she is the top student. So what is the best department? It is the one that has the highest admission score, and that is the department of architecture, or the school of architecture at Tsinghua University. If you furthermore ask them why, you would find out that they didn’t deliberate on the problem.
Many people think that life of architecture students are hard because they need to spend five years, which is quite a long time, to burn money and to stay up late, and now it’s even hard to find a job. But you can see, we do have people who transfer to other schools, but there are still students who wish to transfer into our department. I think it’s normal to both transfer in and out. We will find out if we compared with other countries, our students in Tsinghua also have the same feeling when they study abroad, for example in Harvard, Yale, or MIT, that it seems like local students in the U.S. or in Europe treat architecture more of a preference, or an interest, that their love and persistence in architecture are stronger than Chinese students. Chinese students might choose architecture because they got the highest grade in the college entrance examination, and they followed the market trend speculatively, or say, to consider more about the market. But foreign students don’t make choices for these reasons. It’s hard to get a job in the U.S. considering their depressing economy, right? Architect is not one of the most demanded jobs in that country. Why do so many people choose this discipline if it costs five years and a lot of money, it makes people tired, and it’s even hard to find a job? Because many people pursue it as an interest and a career.
So I think the differences are obvious at this level. The profession will be affected by the changing market no matter how developed the economy is, but the architecture profession is, to a large extent, essential in such a society. Many young people persistently pursue architecture because it’s a discipline combining science, technology, culture, and fine arts together. They learn it because they like it, get enchanted by it. So you say some people changed career. I think it’s good for them to do this because they finally understand that their initial choices are merely influenced by the market. It’s really normal to change career when the market goes sliding.
If you are going to do project on Mars, how do you plan to convert Mars for human being?
Actually Mars brings more of a puzzle. I think it is more because mankind use thousands of years to evolve in order to fit into our environment. If we move to Mars, are we going to adapt to the environment on Mars, or are we going to convert the Martian environment to make it livable for mankind? I believe this is a critical question
From ecological point of view, what is the ecology on Mars? Then there comes a more interesting topic. That is, the ecology conditions on different planets would be different. For example, within the universe, what is the ecology condition on the earth? The ecological civilization, ecological sustainable development that we talk about today both refer to the ecology on the earth. So for other planets in the universe besides the earth, on the Moon, Mars, and even some other life-bearing planet, what are their ecological environments look like? This is actually worth exploring.
Increasingly we don’t believe in the old saying “Man will conquer the nature”. So I think it’s absolutely impossible and unnecessary to say that we need to move onto Mars to build Mars, to transform Mars into a planet that is livable for today’s human being on the earth. I don’t think it is very probable.
Some would say, let’s build another environment like the earth on Mars, and we could cover it with a big dome or something. However, will this affect the existing ecological environment on Mars? So, if we want to build development on Mars, the primary task is to figure out this question. To copy an earth or whatever planet, or what kind of planet, is one thing. To develop Mars is another thing. First of all, it is important to make sure what kind of living condition we would like to have on Mars.
I’m not sure whether it is programming. Programming may be too cross-border in this case. In my understanding, there would be more researches on Mars. What is the aim of going to Mars? Immigration is one kind, and doing scientific researches is another. Different purposes will definitely bring about different operation modes and usage modes. So we have to be clear about the purpose. To prove that mankind have been on Mars, just like the idea of “Mars Rescue”, or to do researches on Mars, or to emigrate the whole human race onto Mars, these are all different. So if you want to answer this question, first you need to get a clear idea of the three premises.