The Figure

Tao Zhang


Principal at Sasaki

Ecologist at Sasaki

Licensed Professional Landscape Architect






The Interview

” I’m pretty idealistic, but I’m not naive.”

“It’s an art to be engaged at the same time… have a standard or have a choice. “



It’s great honor for us to have you here to participate in our interview. Could you please briefly introduce yourself to the GARLIC audience?


Sure. Well, my name is Tao Zhang, as you can tell from my name, you know, I’m Chinese. I’m a landscape architect ecologist at SASAKI. I’m part of the international practice at SASAKI and I also perform with a few other principals. Personally, mainly in China in the recent years in the domestic project and some projects in other Asian countries and even European countries as well. It’s interesting that how I stumbled into the field of landscape architecture.

I came from sort of the none traditional background, so I was in a hard science field. I was studying biology nature resources in my undergraduate study and then I studied landscape ecology. And then I was pursuing ecosystem ecology in the Ph.D. program when I discovered this field. So, before that time I had no idea landscape architecture was that thing, so you can both be scientific and at the same time be artistic. Then I was drawn to it right away so that was how I came to do this profession. And then I was really lucky to find the opportunity to start my professional career at SASAKI and I had tremendous growth opportunities learning opportunities in those interacting learning from different colleagues. So here I am today.

当然。我叫张韬,可以从名字看出, 我是一名中国人。我是一名就职于SASAKI的景观生态设计师, 是SASAKI 的国际实践部门的成员,也同时与其他几位项目主管进行合作。近年来我个人主要负责中国国国内项目,在亚洲其他国家和欧洲国家也有涉足。有趣的是,我和风景园林学科的渊源非常曲折。我来自非景观专业背景, 本来是硬科学(自然科学)领域。在大学,我学习了生物自然资源学,之后是景观生态学。在博士阶段, 当我学习生态系统生态学时,我才了解到这个学科的存在。所以在此之前,我对风景园林是没有概念的。正因如此,我在思维方式上既注重科学性,也追求艺术化。从那以后我全身心投入其中,这就是我如何开始从事这个行业的经过。后来,我很荣幸有机会在SASAKI开始我的职业生涯,在交流的过程中得到了许多学习成长的机会,这样才有了今天的我。

okay, let’s began our conversation. So you just mentioned you have a background in ecology and landscape and you are very interested in environment. So when you are addressing the relationship between the urban development and environment sensitivity behind a project such as forest city and Zhangjiabang Park, and Chongming Island, so what are the most difficult part you have faced during the design process?


We faced challenges almost all the times whether it is before the design, during the design, and even after the design. To me, personally, the fundamental challenges are, actually, before we get involved. Often, you know, I tend to be critical what type of the project we should be involved, and how to be involved. I’m pretty idealistic, but I’m not naive.

It’s an art to be engaged at the same time… have a standard or have a choice. For example, for Zhangjiabang Park and Chongming Island, Zhangjiabang Park was a lot easier because it’s a land bank dedicated for public ground, for public open space, so I was full-hearted embracing it.  For Chongming Island it’s tricky. As I have written an article about that, it’s a dilemma for the profession. You are given the opportunity, you see you can make a difference, but the premise of the project was debatable. For example, Chongming island, it is supposed to be a preserved area that belongs to Shanghai government…it’s very interesting, very complex. A fluvial island keeps growing over the years. It has been expanded beyond the boundary that belongs to Shanghai.  So, the addition of the island, even though it was part of the island, belonging to another province that is controlling the other side of the Yangtze river, so the local government decided to develop this land. Again, as I said, it’s debatable whether it is appropriate to develop and then the question is how to develop. So that was the biggest challenge to lead the landscape design for that project. And even today, every day in my life, I still question myself some of the projects there isn’t an easy answer, it’s never a yes or no. We all know that we are designers, we are not developers and not policy makers. Often the decisions are given to us and it really depends on us how to react, how to approach it. So, that was the biggest challenge for that project. And I did believe that we made a really positive impact, positive changes, but even today, it’s still a conundrum. Often, I feel frustrated as a designer about the type of the projects that we are doing and we have done. It’s always an ongoing lesson and a dialogue that is worth exploring more.

几乎每时每刻我们都在面临挑战,无论是在设计前,设计过程中还是设计完成后。对我个人而言最大的挑战在于我们介入项目之前。我总是会思考什么类型的项目我们可以介入?并且如何介入?我虽然是一个理想主义者,但我不幼稚。如何参与项目是一门艺术,同时也有标准和选择性方面的考量。例如张家浜楔形绿地规划和崇明岛总体规划。张家浜绿地规划要容易得多,因为它的用地性质是公共绿地,计划打造成公共开放空间,所以我能够全心投入其中。崇明岛规划则是一个难题。正如我撰写的一篇文章所说, 崇明岛正面临进退两难的困境。你面临机遇,你能够做出改变,但项目的前提条件本身就颇有争议。比方说崇明岛原本是属于上海市的保护区,既有趣有复杂的是,由于它是河流堆积作用形成的岛屿,随着时间推移岛屿的边界早已越过上海市域。因此,尽管这些附属部分属于崇明岛,却属于控制着长江另一侧的其他省份,当地政府决定开发这片土地. 正如我刚才提到的问题,这片区域是否合适开发?如何开发?这是该项目中最大的挑战,直到现在我还在自问。对于有些项目来说,没有固定的答案。我们不是开发商,也不是政策制定者,我们是设计师。通常情况下已经有人替我们做了决定,而项目成败全看我们如何应对,如何解决。这是做这个项目最大的挑战。我相信我们的努力确实产生了积极的影响和改变,但直到今天,这仍然是一个谜。作为一个设计师,我会对我们在做的项目或已完成的项目类型感到沮丧。这将一直是一个正在学习中的议题,值得被进一步地去探究。

Zhangjiabang Park, Shanghai, China | © www.sasaki.com

” It’s a large-scale land, and as a designer you don’t have any stake in the city, you don’t have any actual support. But with your almost idealistic argument or reasoning, the client could be listening to us. So, I feel the profession or the designers are sometimes opportune voice for ourselves and also for the general public good.”


Awesome. I’m very curious of this kind of projects, so what’s your position as a designer in the process to negotiate with different stakeholders? Like with communities, with decision makers, and developers?


It does relate to what I’ve just said.  Xingcun Sha or Chongming Island project can be a really good example.

Even though it was difficult at the beginning, but we did try our best to make a positive impact. For example, in the given control plan there were four approved golf courses by the local government and the developer, so that’s where you start to negotiate. So as a designer I often think myself almost like an educator, at a very humble level that you try to communicate what you know what you think is more appropriate, at the same time realistic, to the client, to the public, to the government, to the decision maker assuming they do not have the design background.   So, for that project, we quickly tested the different idea of thinking. Just purely from the development point of view, to have four golf courses in one project was not optimal. And we tested different ideas without being asked for… we really spend some extra time looking at the alternative scenarios. For example, if the last…of course, it’s really not suitable for golf courses development, it’s all basically wetland, can we preserve it as a wetland, as another type of amenity that is complementary to golf courses, complementary to the type of development, instead of that you have internal competition among those land uses. And another golf course was envisioned as a public park, so the recreation public park and a wetland park in addition to the first two golf courses that have been under construction at that time. So, we convinced the client at first, the developer. They bought the idea, “Oh, that makes sense, we don’t need four of them.” So, that was the first step: the developer and us went together to the local government, to the mayor to present them with the same argument, So you lay out your reasons and you try to think from their perspective instead just saying that, okay, we are landscape architects, we are environmentalists, what you are doing is wrong, that’s not the best way to negotiate: negotiation is not argument.

Try to be reasonable. And the mayor followed the developer. They agreed that four courses were not their best interest and they followed our recommendation. so, that was a very convinced experience to me. I feel that it’s a large-scale land, and as a designer, you don’t have any stake in the city, you don’t have any actual support. But with your almost idealistic argument or reasoning, the client could be listening to us. So, I feel the profession or the designers are sometimes opportune voice for ourselves and also for the general public good.


Zhangjiabang Park, Shanghai, China | © www.sasaki.com

So, the next question is about, you know the urbanization in China, especially in big city like Shanghai is basically very high, and actually there are many pioneering explorations happening there. So there are a lot of people trying to think about shanghai, think about problems of cities. As far as I know, Shanghai has participated in many projects which include all types of services in SASAKI, from the big scale to small scale, from the architecture to the public ground. So in your opinion what are the advantages and what are the limitations of the practice in Shanghai, or the environment in Shanghai?

下一个问题是,在中国城市化进程中,尤其像上海这样高度城市化的城市,许多先锋性的探索在那里进行。许多人开始思考上海这座城市,思考城市带来的问题。据我所知,SASAKI 在上海做过从大到小、从建筑到公共空间的各种类型的项目。在你看来,上海这些项目的优势在哪里?局限在哪里?

That is a big question. SASAKI has been practicing in China for a long time. And we do have a very strong presence in Shanghai because of our history, our interests, and our local presence – we have a studio in Shanghai and a lot of people there, which you have visited. In general, in the past, it has been urban design, urban planning, and landscape planning more, but in the recent years we are really ramping up our building-up landscape practice. Currently, we have at least three or four ongoing practice in Shanghai area. So, the question is the limitation or challenge to practice in the density development area in Shanghai. I don’t see it more as a challenge, I see opportunities first. Because it is so dense as a pinnacle in a developing country, it’s interesting just position of concentrated wealth that was not second to New York or any international cities, but at the same time, it does have many environmental and social problems that are typical to China or developing countries. So, I see that’s a fascinating opportunity for us to practice as a landscape architect or ecologist to be part of the dialogue, part of the movement to make positive changes. and often your creative ideas can be implemented in a relatively short period of time, which can be dangerous if the idea is too radical or wrong. But it’s not without any challenges. First, from my observation, that is a lack of public involvement. It’s not only because of the political reason, often it’s the structure or process of the development. So, when the designers or the planners are involved in the process, the public has been removed from the process, so the land often is void of any existing residents.

So even though we tried really hard to speak to the local community, to try to understand what is lacking, what is needed for the public realm and what can we help but often we are speaking to a blank wall, there is nobody on the other side to listen to us. And we can only talk to the developer or the government who do not really represent the general public.  So, that is the biggest challenge. To myself, the future user was the general public who will be using that public space is my real client, not who pays the bill. So, that the ultimate customers, you know, my design is serving, so I would like to talk to them, but the challenge is that they do not exist, or they don’t exist in the time that I’m involved. Maybe they were there before the land use was changed by the government to become a development project. They were gone or they were relocated far before I was involved, or they were moving after the project was implemented ten years after the design, and then I’m not at there anymore. So yes, that’s the biggest challenge.


Chongming Island Xincunsha Master Plan, shanghai, China | © www.sasaki.com
Chongming Island Xincunsha Master Plan, shanghai, China | © www.sasaki.com

You mentioned that the public engagement is very important, and we know here in western culture, it is easy to have the public meetings and public engagement in the design process. But in eastern culture, especially in China, it is a little bit difficult to have public involved in the decision making, but actually it is really important. You have to listen to the voice of people who really live there. So during your experience in China, how so you try to promote kind of public engagement in the decision making process? Is any strategy you have ever tried?

您提到公众参与十分重要,但是我们知道在西方,公众研讨会和公众参与在设计进程 中是很容易展开的。但在东方,尤其是中国,想让公众参与到决策中来有些困难,但同时这又是适逢重要的一步。 您是如何推动公众参与设计决策的?您尝试过真么样的策略?

Yes. This is related to another challenge that I forgot to mention: the physical environmental challenge.

And we all know that it is air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution in general in China. But Shanghai is still a lot better than the most of the rest of China, but it is a challenge for us. You are very part of the larger challenge that nobody knows how well and how thoughtful your design is, and you are under a big envelope if that envelope is still challenging…you become part of that… so that can be a challenge… and at the same time, the quality of the landscape is not as mature and as developed as architecture in China. You can see local designers and really high-quality architecture projects in China quite often, but landscape is still behind. Sometimes you see great ideas, but the construction the execution is not fully systematic or developed yet. So, that is the biggest challenge. Sometimes you have great ideas, but they cannot be realized in one hundred percent. So, I see that lacking right now, but I hope that there will be improvement pretty fast. And then, to respond the public engagement, because of the environmental challenges, the general public is becoming more and more engaged. I think that is the real power, it’s not how and what we do to encourage the public. Only if the public is willing or to have the desire or the urge to voice their own opinion and their own demand. That’s where the opportunities are. So, nobody can ignore that. You can see that now more and more people in China are talking about the sources the reasons or even the political flaws behind the severe environmental problem.  They want to change and they want to see changes realized in their tangible physical landscape. So, that desire is visible, but not so loud and strong enough. The government will have to implement some mechanism to try to connect the general public and the designers and the planners and policy makers.

是的,这有我与我刚才忘记提到的环境方面的挑战有关。我们知道在中国,空气污染,水污染,土壤污染普遍存在。尽管上海比其他很多城市的情况要好,但这确实对于我们来说是个挑战。你在这个大环境下,也成为大的挑战中的一部分 – 因为大的环境(全国的环境)就一直在改变,没有人知道你的设计有多好,如何有思想,这就变成很挑战的事情。与此同时,中国的景观项目的成熟度不如建筑。在中国你经常能看到优秀的本土设计师和高质量的建筑项目,然而景观却远远落后。尽管不乏好的想法,但是施工和实施过程却未成熟或系统化。所以这是最大的挑战。有时你有绝佳的创意,但你的想法却无法百分百地被实现。目前这是我们所欠缺的,但是我相信情况很快就能得到改进。对于公众参与的问题。由于环境问题日益突出,公众也越来越多的想要参与进来。我认为这才是核心推动力,而不是我们如何去鼓励公众参与。只有公众自己渴望发声提出自己的观点和需求,公众的权益才不会被忽视。可以看到,如今中国越来越多的人开始谈论这些严重的环境问题背后的原因,甚至是政治原因。他们渴望改变,他们希望在他们可感知的景观环境中看到变化。而现在这种声音是存在的,但是还不够响亮,不够有力。政府将有必要建立一套机制来促进公众、规划设计师和政策制定者之间的联系。

Lujiazui Riverfront Public Open Spaces, Shanghai, China | © www.sasaki.com

And at the same time, I am also trying to explore techniques or strategies to find alternative ways to engage the public. If we are not coexisting in one scope or one project at the same time with the potential users, just stakeholders, maybe in your social media there can be a great opportunity. I know that some scholars are exploring that with the emerging social media like Facebook in the US, Twitter, WeChat, and all sources of social media in China. That is a mine of data that you can really explore and found some patterns or interesting conclusions.  So, I’m hopeful and I’m also in the middle of thinking of a research project how to socially engage the general public on the digital level. So, you are not limited by the space, you are not limited by the time. You don’t have to be sitting in the same room with the community members or speak the same language. So, I am interested to explore that possibility. 


What if we look at a larger area in Asia Pacific area including India or Thailand. Because we saw that SASAKI has done many projects, not just in China but also in other cities in Asia. So, we found many projects are related to new town design, or R&D or innovation district, so as urbanization process is speeding up, many cities are looking for urban renewal or revitalization. So based on your experience, what do you think the next big opportunity in the Asia area will be?


Suzhou Creek, Shanghai, China | © www.sasaki.com

First, I think Asia is not a simple term. I think it way more diverse and complicated than some of the other regions. So, I don’t think we can easily condense it to one term saying how to pursue, how to practice or how to do with Asian project or Asian countries. They are very different. China might be the most visible, or might be representing most of the opportunities, but from a design point of view, I think every single country, every single region, every single project should be treated differently. Whether it’s a new R&D district or it’s an infill urban revitalization, you do really need to look at the local context, the regional context, maybe national context from the policy level. I think especially in China now, China has gone through decades of rapid urbanization or extensive real estate development. And most of the land resources are almost depleted and I think more opportunities for us…to look at urban revitalization, look at what has been occupied, been intensively developed or in last decade or even hundreds of years, then find a creative way to regenerating, without destructing the vernacular character, without destroying the complex fabric.

Suzhou Creek regeneration plan was a really good example. It was so complex that often designer would feel timid:” Oh, where do I start? I can’t do this, I can’t do that.” So, that’s the real opportunity and actually can be challenging too. Because it is not easy. That’s a lot more difficult than doing a new R&D district or a new community, way more interesting at the same time way more difficult. But that’s my interest. So, I really enjoy Suzhou Creek, and I think it’s meaningful to the existing and future residents too.

首先我认为亚洲不是一个单纯的词汇。它比部分其他地区要多样、复杂得多。因此我不认为我们能够简简单单地用一个词汇概括我们如何在亚洲进行实践。亚洲的国与国之间有许多不同之处。其中,中国也是最突出的,或者说展现出了最多的可能性。但是从设计的角度而言,每个国家、每个地区、每个项目都应该被区别对待。不论是开发研究项目还是城市更新项目,你都需要研究当地的社会、宗教,甚至国家政治层面的背景。我认为尤其是在目前的中国,在经历了快速的城市化过程和密集的开发之后,大多数的土地资源已经枯竭。我认为更多的机遇在于城市的更新再造,回头看看那些在十年前甚至百年之前已经被占据的,已经经历过开发的地区,寻找一种有创意的方式,在不破坏当地脆弱的特征和复杂肌理的情况下进行城更新改造。苏州河两岸城市设计项目是一个很好的例子。它是如此复杂以至于让设计师有些畏畏缩缩。 “我不能做这些,也不能动那些,该从何如入手?“所以城市更新的确是机遇也是挑战,因为这绝不简单。相比新研究开发区设计或是新的居住区规划,城市更新项目要复杂得多,但是这是我的兴趣所在。所以我很享受参与到苏州河项目中,并且我认为这对现有的以及未来的居民来说非常有意义。

Suzhou Creek, Shanghai, China | © www.sasaki.com

” I think it has to be done at a more conscious pace, not to fast, because it can easily become an urban-land grabbing activity or some of the important farm land could lost to the aggressive urban development or no-profit driven development.”


Cool. We talked a lot about urban areas in China, and the next question will be a little bit different. So in addition to the high speed urbanization area but also in China, the rural and suburb area are really important actually. Also in recent years they have more opportunity for development, and if you think about national level policies, government are trying to make the rural area famous on development there. So do you have some takeaways or project that working on this area or some ideas you can share with us?


I did a few years ago, work on an art village. So, we’ve done a few including Songzhuang. Songzhuang was a grassroots, self-formed art colony at the beginning and then became an art district and then becomes a quite important urban district.

And I did another one outside Shanghai. That was part of the…it was called “beautiful countryside remodeling movement”, something like that. It’s literal translation. That the Chinese government was trying to improve the living standard in the rural area, but at the same time, it could be taken the advantage by developers for real estate development opportunities. So, I have mixed feelings. I think it has to be done at a more conscious pace, not too fast because it can easily become an urban-land grabbing activity or some of the important farm lands could be lost to the aggressive urban development or non-profit driven development.  So, it has to be done consciously, with the thorough analysis to support the type of the development, the scale of the development, not only benefit the local residents: to help them gain a better living environment, but at the same time not completely transform their life that they do not have a stewardship of their hometown or their community anymore.


798 Arts District Vision Plan, Beijing, China | © www.sasaki.com

The next question is about the power of voice of designers-how to empower the designer’s voice? One told me that in the strategy meeting last week the team here mention that our role as urban designer or landscape architect is expanding to as a consultant, which means we are not only to designing something, we are trying to consulting something. So do you see the opportunity of the changing roles in the context of design industry?


I mean to me design is a kind of consulting, we are providing ideas, we are providing intellectual services.  So, there isn’t a hard line that, okay, design is design, consulting is consulting.  We are trying to help, so that’s what I perceived as what we do.  And it’s not always as simple as using pencil on paper or on the trace, drawing an idea. Ideas could be special, ideas don’t have to be tangible.  So, some part of our design effort or exercise is to come up with a strong narrative or direction of this project.  One project can go a million different ways, and all of them could have a beautiful plan, could have thoughtful and functional, special quality or texture.  But I do believe that there are certain ways that you can do the project at the best. Both spatially meaningful at the same time really critical, ecologically functioning and sustainable too. So how the ecology today? How the ecology tomorrow? And also, reflecting what was here in the past…


Compare with people in other disciplines like politics, economics and technology who have larger and social and political impact, our efforts as landscape architect designers seem to be less recognized by the public. When we ask people do you know what we are doing, maybe they think about that we are just planting trees or digging a dirt, but actually we can do much more. So the question is, based on your experience, how can we landscape architects get more social and political impact? Because I think we are important, maybe there are something you want to see to improve our impact?


Absolutely. I hate the profession sometimes being trivialized as planting a few flowers and trees to make my lung healthier, such kind of questions. I’m always offended by that, at the same time I’m trying to be patient, to be understanding that people do not really understand our profession. I do believe our profession has huge potential, way more than what we are doing now, what we have been doing, what we are being perceived to be capable of. We should voice ourselves more, we should have a stronger tie with the academic so we have the strong intellectual support to our argument.  And one example is LFC, the last summer in the fall, 2015, and you were there too. I think it’s very inspiring. As a profession, we come together and make a strong statement for ourselves, projecting into 50 years for the vision we should achieve.  So, we are not serving a lead population like we did the past. We are not gardeners, we are not making the beautiful home for rich people only.  We can do a lot more with a stronger voice and more engagement. I believe that we can make a bigger impact, not only within design profession and design industry but we can contribute socially, environmentally to the bigger society. I always hope that one day the design profession will be an integral part of the policy making so we can influence some of the policies or upper-level decisions before we get involved. Kind of down-streamed, things are fixed already, we are just trying to make that work. But ideally, I want to design how things work best. 


张韬与Sasaki各专业同事在设计工作坊中 | © www.sasaki.com

I think you are amazing here right now, we know that may be eight or seven years ago you were student from University of Michigan and now you are becoming a principal at SASAKI which such a huge transition for yourself from a student to a principal. So during the eight years, how does SASAKI help you to grow your own voice, to practice, to learn, to test, to make mistakes. So how does this company offer you this kind of opportunities?


” I think, first, believe in yourself.  And be serious too. Design is not something that “okay, I make things beautiful, I make thing cool.”  It’s okay for designers to have ego, but it’s a serious business, it’s a real deal. It’s not you know, self-entertaining profession.”


Yeah, I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities and for the growth I have had in SASAKI.  The firm is very nurturing, and I’m very fortunate to be able to work with some of the colleagues here that I can learn tremendously.  And I was given the trust and the support to explore, to grow without the fear of making mistakes. I think that’s very important to young designers.  You know I just have to say that again and again. I’m really grateful.  At the same time, you have to believe in yourself, too. There are talented designers everywhere in SASAKI. It’s such a great place to learn, to really absorb knowledge. It’s such a great place to learn from your surroundings.  I think, first, you know, believe in yourself.  And be serious too. Design is not something that “okay, I make things beautiful, I make thing cool.”  It’s okay for designers to have an ego, but it’s a serious business, it’s a real deal. It’s not you know, self-entertaining profession. So, believe in yourself, be dedicated, don’t be afraid, and then you know I was lucky enough to be surrounded by talented and nurtured people in SASAKI so I was grateful that I have space and trust to grow really fast.

是的,我由衷感激我在SASAKI得到的机遇以及它所带来的成长。这个公司像一片沃土。很幸运我能和这些同事一起工作,我从他们身上受益匪浅。并且我被给予了充分的信任和支持去鼓励我探索、成长而不怕犯错。我认为这对于一个年轻设计师来说尤为重要。我还是要一遍遍重复。我真的十分感激。与此同时 ,你也要相信自己。在SASAKI,有天赋的设计师到处都是。这是一个绝佳的从你的周围学习和吸收知识的地方,有一个非常好的互相学习的环境。我想,首先,你要相信自己,同时也要保持严肃的态度。设计不仅仅是把东西做的漂亮或者酷炫。设计师可以特立独行,但是这是一桩严肃的买卖,这是真实的交易,而不是一项自娱的工作。所以相信自己,勤奋肯干,不要畏惧。我很幸运在SASAKI能够有这样一群有天赋、值得学习的一群人在我身边,给予我空间和信赖助我迅速成长。

Based on my understanding, I think you are so passionate and really love you are doing and learning from the people here at SASAKI, but also maybe the other part is your personality. You have many interest like you are playing with music. You are doing with a band. You are playing with motorbike, you are trying to do a lot of drawing and do some adventures. So how can these interest or hobbies help you to make good design?


“I believe a good designer not have to be, but better to be an interesting person. “


I believe a good designer does not have to be, but better to be an interesting person.  I like being surrounded by interesting people with broad open mind and interest. The society sometimes is boring enough already and I don’t want to be an addition of what’s there. I want to be interesting.  I do have a lot of interest and that makes me energetic every day, and that makes me more curious about the world, makes me connected with more people.  So overall, I want to stay open, stay curious, especially today the topic is so divided, at the same time so diverse. We can easily become complacent of what we have and what you believe in, then you close off. But I am interested in learning always.  You know I remember when I came to SASAKI, when I was interviewed there was one message stayed with me and I felt I was so right away so this is the place where I should come.  I was told that SASAKI was like a SASAKI University, where learning process can never stop. And I felt, well, okay.  At that time, I was nerdy and I like school, I’ve spent years in school and that’s great you know, you will be paid to learn, to do what you like. So, that’s how I feel that you should always explore your interest.


张韬拍摄的优胜美地国家公园 | © www.sasaki.com

We also one more question about traveling. We know designers travel a lot and maybe you also travel a lot and do some adventures, so do you have some very interesting stories or travelling tips that you can share with us?


There are many of them. I do like to travel, for work and for personal interest. For work…work is work, but at the same time, it’s fun.   For personal interest, it’s hard for me to narrow down. It is something like a flashback, a movie.

I would say, just don’t be lazy.  Often many people have many thoughts like I want to go there, I want to go there, but you never really make a plan.  Sometimes you need to be really spontaneous like kicking your butt. Ok, I’m going to make it tomorrow, I’m going to do it tomorrow. You might regret, but my experience is that long as you do it, it’s almost always better than your thought.  And I never regret.   It’s easy to stay in bed “Oh, it’s more comfortable, cold as here.” But no. Explore, go out to see things.   And with the internet these days you can see a lot of without moving or without going there, but being within that environment, it’s still different.  I love hiking. I love sports. I love going to different places by myself and I have never been in a different culture in a country in a region with different languages. It’s just fascinating. Again, it’s easy to be comfortable, it’s easy to be stable, but it’s more exciting to be active.


You have also work on many projects outside China. What interesting story do you have or what experience do you learn from that kind of project that you have never expected before?


I’ve worked on Belarus, in Minsk city which is the capital city of Belarus.  The final design was to present it to the president of the country. I had never worked on a project that would speak to the president of the country directly, so that was something new at that time.  And currently, I’m working on a project in the US in Denver. The whole process, the pace, the scope was very different from a typical project in China, so that was really refreshing to me after working on so many projects in China.  And I worked on Philippine as well. Yeah, I mean, they are similar in certain ways but they are all unique with a different context.  But I am quite open to different types of project.


Minsk Forest City: A regeneration of the Minsk-1-Airport | © www.sasaki.com

During our conversation, you mentioned you like new stuff, new social media, new communication ways, maybe you like new technology. So how do you see the new technology like nowadays we have visual reality technology like VR and AR , we have google glass and maybe in the future we have self-driving car. We also have many Big Data. So all these technology help us not only to understand our physical environment but also provide some new ways to interpret our future. Do you see some new opportunities or how new technology will help shape our future?


I am interested in new technology, but I think I am getting less and less engaged in technology because first, I’m aging, and technology is advancing so fast, and I feel like I can never really follow.  I used to be such a techs-heavy guy you know for a while I was so good at 3D modeling and I am so into it.  I was following the development, the newest software, the cool tools.  But overtimes I think I’m still interested but relatively less.  I think technology can make fundamental changes and I am open to that and I look forward to that.  For example, sharing economy like you know Uber and Airbnb, ten years ago there wasn’t that thing, but today it’s really changing how people move and how people travel.  Another example is iPhone, it’s hard to imagine ten and years ago when first iPhone came out before nobody have a smart phone personal GPS or anything.  So, I am quite open, and I do believe there will be big changes or radical changes.  I think autonomous cars are emerging very rapidly and I think that will become a reality in almost no time. I think that will really change the car ownership, the infrastructure, the energy industry in many aspects.

我确实对新技术感兴趣,但我投入的越来越少了。因为首先,我的年纪大了,而科技又发展得如此迅速,我觉得很难跟上潮流。我曾经是一个技术迷,有一阵子我特别擅长、特别迷三维建模。我关注最新的发展,最新的软件和最酷的工具。但是随着时间推移,我对这些仍然有兴趣但是相对减退了。我相信科技能带来重大的改变,对此我持欢迎和开放的态度。例如,十年前并没有优步和Airbnb这样的共享经济,但如今这些改变了我们的生活。另一个例子是苹果。十年之前,当第一台苹果手机诞生之时,我们很难想象智能手机或是个人GPS 这样的东西,所以我的态度是开放的,我相信科技能带来巨大的变革。我认为自动驾驶汽车很有可能在不久的将来成为现实,并改变我们对汽车的所有方式,改变基础设施以及能源产业。



Zhangkan Zhou
Wen Zhang


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