“Kant is right about how we see the world, wearing different glasses, forgetting to take them off, thinking them as our own eyes. What is this filter that affects our judgement? Education, background, setbacks and strikes that you have been through. “
The traditional Chinese cultivation influence you a lot. At the same time, you gained your education in western culture. Then you founded EDSA, and then Ecoland when you came back to China. These two types of logic or thinking both represent in you. Can you talk to us how these two types of logic influence yourself, your projects, and even your company?
If you call them two types of logic that means they will fight, but they won’t. Let me tell you why they are compatible. The so-called scientific rational logic management in the West emphasizes on facts and practicality, except GSD. If something isn’t practical, you will get a “bullshit” as response. Whereas in China some guidelines that are not practical has highest status. That’s the difference between the roots of philosophy of two nations. If there is a period of time that United States is leading and exceeds Europe in terms of thought, it is now. Its pragmatist philosophy distinguishes it from other European countries, including the United Kingdom. The Unites States marched because there is a simple rule among the blast of information and various opinions — practical or not, where things are completely different in China. The good part is that there is a long history of philosophy in China — Laozi, Buddhism, School of Mind, etc. The bad part is it is too hard for ordinary people to understand. It is harmful to struggle with the meaning. In my perspective, no matter “Western” or “Eastern”, they are the same in the highest level. Kant’s philosophy is the same with Yangming Wang’s and Buddhism’s, at least from my understanding.
On the highest level, variation does exist but doesn’t change anything. Kant said the world is incognizable. Phone in naked eyes can be particles under a microscope. Buddha tells you that you should see it as if it does not exist, which also means unknown or incognizable. They are almost the same. Kant said that everyone is wearing a pair of sunglasses that everyone doesn’t realize it. The world in everyone’s eyes is different because we are not wearing sunglasses of the same color. Why there are so many disputes while so much information and facts are exposing? According to the amount of information we could get on the Internet, supposedly we should tend to be united, why more disputes appear instead? Kant is right about how we see the world, wearing different glasses, forgetting to take them off, thinking them as our own eyes. What is this filter that affects our judgement? Education, background, setbacks and strikes that you have been through.
Reversely, We don’t have filters when we are infants. Buddhism calls it “beginner’s mind”, We observe the world in the same way in the very beginning. But we don’t talk in the same language after we experienced different things, not because of classes sort of things, but because of different angles of how we observe the world. It makes we drifting away from our beginner’s mind. Buddhism and Kant, philosophy of east and philosophy of West, reach a consensus to the essence. But they derivative different theories in the sub-level.
I’m not bragging but there isn’t a difference between West and east to me, only wise enough or not to understand it. I admit that West emphasizes on materiality and east values methodology and metaphysics. But it’s not a competition, there isn’t a winner that is better than another. “Knowledge as action”, says Wang Yangming. To him, there was no way to use knowledge after gaining it because he believed that knowledge and action were unified as one. Any knowledge that had been gained then put into action was considered delusion or false. To answer your question, this is how we prove that philosophy from the West and philosophy from the East can be unified.
You have great insight in space design, paintings, business, as well as exhibition. You have also researched on philosophy and Buddhism. How do you think the research on philosophy and Buddhism raise your design philosophy, firm management, and personal life to a higher level?
陈跃中设计草图 | © 易兰设计
“Back to the beginner’s mind, it means always mirroring the outside as it is without impurities. “
Isn’t it exaggerating to say I have studied on so many things? I did not study, but it becomes easy for you when you grasp the essence of it. Others said I understand Buddhism in the conference when I didn’t really work on it. Sixth Patriarch Huineng can’t read, but his enlightenment of Buddhism is the deepest. When you don’t have prejudice, you will be a mirror, reflecting what you see directly. I’m doing the same thing in terms of design because I’m holding my “beginner’s mind”. Is beginner’s mind our original goal? Like I eventually become an engineer after so many years of up and down in business when I decided to be engineer at a young age? Is it the so-called “keep it real”? Not exactly. Well. we see things as it is when we are young. But when we get older we have other conjectures beyond what it is. We lose our initial impetus.
When the foundation of discuss is based on the way it is, we go back to the origin of the speculative. For example, if somebody says “China is great.” That is what he means. Don’t speculate other explanations like you know what he is thinking. This is how to be rational, arguing with each other based on what has been said. Other people’s thoughts are never provable. Back to the beginner’s mind, it means always mirroring the outside as it is without impurities.
Every time I see our designers messing up with modifying the project, I would tell them go back to the basic. What is the function of the project? What are the requirements? How many users? It will come out after several sketches. Don’t let things get to you. If your project had been affected by too many people’s “suggestions”, it’s better to restart than keep stitching more patches. If you could initiate a project from the basic, it will be as good as simple, right hitting the target. Adding too many elements would make a project complicated and full of loopholes. Simplicity is the best. Knowing when to back to the origin is an important ability to be simple. That’s my design philosophy. I found it easy to communicate and being accepted when I think it in the simplest way. But when I dope too many things, I can’t make it straight myself, not mentioning make it clear to others.
Your childhood memory has great impact on you. You once said that memory is a kind of art that exists in the dynamic and interaction between the inner consciousness and the external world. And your recent projects are attempts to interpret this relationship, including the Chinese garden project in Shanghai Expo (Muzhongshanshui), Luhu Red Stone Park, as well as the project in JD business center. In those projects, how does the memory become a language that coexist with human and nature?
成都麓湖红石公园 | © 易兰设计
What is memory? British philosopher David Hume once said, memory is a copy, a copy of the live scene. Then what is a live scene? It is the current feeling and emotions, which could never be reached through the design process. That is why we go to a concert hall to enjoy the opera, rather than listening to the radio. The sense of immediacy could never be reproduced. For the Lijiang Impression, why do we have an “impression” in the word? Because Hume called this sense of immediacy “impression”. But Hume also said if we want to distill some elements, and make it a copy, then this is called the memory.
When I go to a site, I first explore the site and search for memories. Is there any texture, story, or flash that reminds me of something？ For example, in the Red Stone Park, many red stones came up once we dug into the ground. Those stones are very fragile, and people just threw them away, because they have no structure or bearing capacity. But we treasured them since they were everywhere underground in this region, which made them symbol of the site. The dig and representation process of the memory is a copy of the site. Not a live scene but a copy. In my mind, the representation of memory has two kinds: the first is preservation. We have an example, the Project 1949, which was an old factory. The red bricks kept the spirit of the factory, thus we preserved them. The second is to discover a memory that was not recognized before. Peopled didn’t know it, and we are here to uncover it, to record, it and to exhibit it. This is an action. To my understanding both ways are important, and I work more in the second way, to explore it, to remember it, to discover the unseen.
记忆是什么呢? 英国有个哲学家大卫·修漠说，记忆是一个副本，是现场的复制品。什么是现场呢? 就是我们觉知的东西就是当下，在做一个作品里永远没有。这就是我们为什么要去歌剧院看歌剧而不是听收音机，因为这种现场感、鲜活感是永远无法重现的。这就是为什么有印象丽江，为什么有印象两字，就是因为莱布尼兹把这种现场感叫印象。但是莱布尼兹又说了，如果我们试图提炼一些元素，产生了一个副本，这个副本叫记忆。
In traditional Chinese Garden Design theory, we call this process “site reconnaissance”. Many designers today make schemes even without site survey, which is ridiculous in my mind. You couldn’t catch the key point if you have never been to the site. To find out the site feature is just the so-called site reconnaissance in our tradition. The West talk about the same thing with us, so it can be comprehended by analogy at some level. But why do many people stick to only one side and fight against the other? I believe it is because they do not fully understand it. If they do, they will find out the two are the same thing, and they both play their proper roles.
When talking about Eastern cultures, the experience of learning Chinese shanshui paintings (mountain and water images) in my childhood benefits me a lot in understanding Chinese gardens. Traditional literati gardens have two kinds of inspiration resources, one is Chinese literary, and the other is Chinese shanshui paintings. I had a great yearning for the life that created by Chinese paintings. I always imagined myself being a human fairy, who meditate within the beautiful nature. After I studied landscape architecture, I can easily interpret the traditional literati gardens, such as the Humble Administrator’s Garden and the Master of the Nets Garden, as they are creating the ideal environment that exists in Chinese paintings. I was moved greatly when the teacher told us some literati gardens are inspired by Chinese shanshui paintings.
Then when I arrived in the United States, I earned more space sensation from the viewpoint of garden making. Professor Joe Volpe gave me a strict education on scale, proportion, and proper space for human beings when I was in UMass. What feelings certain space dimensions may bring, how to shape a comfortable space, what is the diameter of certain tree canopy to provide enough shade? All these are the techniques and art in space creating. The education in China did not emphasize on this aspect as much, but rather emphasize on the meaning and poetic imagery of the garden. Both have merits on some aspects. But how to merge them together is my personal aim. I developed a theory, which is called contemporary literati garden. What is a “contemporary literati garden?” There is an article that I published in Chinese Garden discussing about this concept. The project of “muzhongshanshui” is an exploration of this idea, as well as the project of JD business center. The contemporary literati garden is a concept that mix the architectural space shaping in western culture and the poetic imagery in eastern culture together. It is not an artificial way, but rather a natural implication.
到了西方以后，仅从造园这个尺度来看，得到的是空间的感觉。我学过建筑，对于造园的比例、尺度、适宜的空间，在UMASS的时候Joe Volpe教授给予了非常严格的训练。什么样的空间尺度让人产生什么的感受，怎么样才能舒适，树冠多大底下的人才能舒适，这是一个空间的技术和艺术。中国可能在这个方面没有被强调，它强调的是文学意境方面，各有所长。把它们融在一起，是我的努力方向。我有一个理论叫“当代文人园” ，什么是 “当代文人园” ？我在《中国园林》上发表了一篇文章，我的亩中山水是一个探索，京东商城总部也是。当代文人园就是试图把西方的现代建筑学和空间艺术与中国古典园林的意境创造糅合。这种糅合不是人为的，是一种自然的流露，像中国人拿起筷子那么自然。
易兰规划设计院设计的“融科资讯中心”获得2017英国景观行业协会国家景观奖 | © 易兰设计
易兰规划设计院设计的“京东集团总部”获得2017英国景观行业协会国家景观奖 | © 易兰设计
“Building a company framework is also a way of design, in my opinion. My best work is Ecoland so far. What makes it great is its structure, not a physical design, nor an architectural design, nor a landscape design, but a structure, a company structure.”
Ecoland is also a pioneer in planning companies. You choose to become a listed company when it was a winter for planning industry. This is absolutely an innovative breakthrough. In your opinions, what is the magical chemical effect that capital market brought to Ecoland? How could design industry gain more voice and power under the current times when capital is so dominant?
Many people could not understand why we choose to do this. Why? Niall Kirkwood has once visited our company, and said to Zhen Wu, a professor in Qinghua University, that Mr. Chen is like Sasaki in China. Why would he say that? In my understanding, it is because I was trying to boost the development of large scale planning in China, which is what Sasaki did before. At the same time, I’ve also handled very detailed design work, such as making a carve on a table. The detailed art and craft and the large-scale planning can be mixed in one person, or represented in one company, which is amazed to him. This is also what Sasaki did, who lead the ecological planning development in the United States. So, that is why he may think Ecoland is just like Sasaki. These two factors I just mentioned, plus the one point you mentioned, which is the new way of building company, made us extraordinary. Our company building strategy is also trying to be innovative, while many other design companies are still following the traditional way.
To me, design discipline has no boundary. A city design, is a way of design. You need to coordinate the planning, to talk to the city mayor, to talk to every related party, and to understand every desire and appeal from all related communities. You need to have a strong communication skills and comprehension skills; thus, you can draw out the plan that represent all their needs and wishes. This is a skill set. Building a company framework is also a way of design, in my opinion. My best work is Ecoland so far. What makes it great is its structure, not a physical design, nor an architectural design, nor a landscape design, but a structure, a company structure. At least in China if not global wise, I think we are the only one, or the best one in company framing. When I first came back from the United States, I thought the way of management in U.S. is very modern, thus I brought back some managing skills to China. I worked in EDSA before, but none of the design companies can achieve our way today. Designers need to have a sense of freedom, while big-scale companies need to have a strict management rule. This is true in United States, as well as in China. Peter Walker is a master in landscape architecture, so his design company is a design studio. They have a great sense of freedom; every project is centered on him. He does not need to show up in office every day. AECOM, then, is different. There is no master in AECOM, since this company does not emphasize on this culture. Although mentioning their names are not very professional, but my point is that this dilemma does exist. What shall we do? We want to achieve both.
大家可能确实会觉得挺奇怪的，为什么会选择这样呢？Niall Kirkwood来我们这里访问了之后，回去对清华的吴振老师说，这个Mr. Chen像Sasaki. 为什么会这样说呢，我的理解是，我在推动中国大尺度的规划，这也是Sasaki在做的，同时我也做很细的设计，很细节的东西。比方说桌子上如果要开一个洞，怎么开才好看，工艺美术的感觉，和很大尺度的生态经济规划，在他看来很神奇，这样的东西融在一个人身上，或者融在一个事务所里。这个在Sasaki里是也这么推动的，引领了美国的大尺度规划，所以他觉得易兰有点像Sasaki。这两点再加上你刚才说的这一点就有点更让人觉得不可思议。这个事务所管理也在创新，很多事务所是传统的。
易兰总部 | © 易兰设计
Go listing is not a way that designers normally do. In the future, it is meant to be an institution, which has a way of strict management. Designers need to have a sense of culture. They need to have a free imagination and a pursuit of philosophy and art, which make us designed a framework like this. In our company, which I did not see happening in other companies, designers do not need to show up in office punctually. Although we are a listed company, we give enough freedom to designers, especially entry-level designers. For example, if you are a fresh graduate, you have lots of curiosity of the world. One day it was sunny and beautiful, and you would like to hike. In our company, you can definitely do that, as long as you have negotiated with the project manager. You could choose to work tonight instead of tomorrow daytime, you will get the same pay. In our company, if you work ten hours, you will get paid for ten hours, which many companies could not achieve, even in many design firms in the United States. Who will pay designers if you work overtime? But in our case, you will get paid for exactly the hours you have put for projects. This process is relying on the precise structured software that we invented. After you typed in your workload and get approved, the pay is strictly following that. If your creative work is finished in three hours, but it is worth five hours’ work, we will pay you five hours’ salary. Creativity is priceless.
Have you heard any company do as our way? We are the origin of this idea. Many people say, you are a talent in creativity, or you are a talent in management, or you are a talent in planning, or even you are a talent in interior designing. In my opinion, if you look deeply and comprehensively, it is all the same. In the United States, a project can be used for both a cup making and an atomic bomb designing, both called project manager. However, project managers maybe don’t know how to make a cup or designing an atomic bomb. What does this mean? It tells us the work is all the same in some level. If you can achieve this, you could solve that. The problems that we are dealing with are all the same – people. You need to listen to their appeals, you need to deal with real problems, and you need to solve it before the deadline and within the budget.
Wang Yangming has said, we need to unify our knowledge and action. You know it, but do not put it into action, that is not a thoroughly known. The way you can put it forward is very limited. If you said you know but you’ve never tried, you do not know how to cook. Mao has once said, practice makes truth. It is quite simple. If you want to make a cup, you could read books, which is theory; but you also need to build one in real life. Why? Because one half of the knowledge lies in practice.
So above all, designing the structure of a company has more self-satisfaction than designing a project. The process is all the same. Our way of constructing the company is quite innovative, which gives us a result of a respect for the designers and a strict management for the projects.
易兰总部 办公室 | © 易兰设计
你在哪个设计院听说过这个？我们是原创的。有些人会说，你是创意人才，你是管理人才，你是规划人才，你是做室内的，越分越细。在我看来，当你把它融会贯通以后，都是一回事。在美国，不管是做一个杯子还是造一枚原子弹都叫project，都叫project manager。Project manager并不知道怎么做杯子，也不知道怎么造原子弹，这说明什么呢? 说明工作是相通的，能做这个就能做那个。要解决的问题是同样的，都是deal with people。要倾听他们的诉求，要deal with problem，解决这个问题。在给定的时间/预算内解决问题。
Designers travel a lot. I am sure you have some interesting travelling tips. Would you mind sharing some with us?
Travel is a progress that makes you think and grow. We can only remember limited things in our lifetime. Sometimes we remember something doesn’t matter while easily forgetting something important. If you think carefully, does this has some special meaning? Let’s say dreaming. According to Floyd, all dreams come from things you have been through and ideas you have thought about. It is not fabricated but the continuation of the reality. Dreams are all like that. For example, I always dream about myself sleeping while driving. It gives me a sense of crisis. I figure it is related to my experience of driving in the snow storm with a couple of families in the U.S. when I was young. I was driving a van, all the way from Massachusetts to Florida, with snowing all over the road. Snows hit on the window, and the road was extremely slippery. I couldn’t see anything out of car. I tried to be a hero while others told me not to drive. To be honest, I had no idea what was going on in front of me with the car whizzing along. Of course, we were fine eventually. But these few minutes are so impressive that I keep dreaming about driving, not necessarily that car but always a car in my dream. I think it has something to do with the fear of losing control.
Travel gives people deep memories, and makes you grow up. It will definitely leave you something that routine life doesn’t. It is a pity that I haven’t been to many places. I am a stay-at-home person. But I went to another city for college, later on went to United States for education, and then traveled from the North to the South for jobs. I was forced to travel. When I was working in Soho, New York, I had to learn contemporary arts. If I’m not a person who tend to stay at home as much as I can, my travel experience would be richer. My travel to Europe was also for work, to collect information for my project. Even then I benefit a lot from travels. The older I am, the more I agree to that.
我觉得旅行给人的记忆是很深的，它让你成长。每一次旅行都会给你记忆，但每天其他的事情就不一定给你记忆。很遗憾我旅行的地方不是很多，我这个人喜欢呆着，因为从年轻的时候就不得不跑到外地去上大学，二十多岁又跑到美国去留学， 在美国又从北边跑到南边去工作，逼着我迁徙。在纽约SOHO工作的时候，逼着我看了当代艺术。我这人实际上是能宅就宅， 能不出去就不出去，要不然可能更丰富一些。我到欧洲也是。做项目时，要搜集资料，但我依然觉得我从旅行中收获特别大。年龄大了，越来越意识到这一点。