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Shao Weiping: Growth Means Constant Transcendence

Date:2014-04-28 0comments Click:5431

The moment we met, Shao Weiping started talking about the Z15 Tower (China Zun) enthusiastically. The building, which he is now working on, is a 528-meter-tall super highrise located in the Central Business District of Beijing. With a shape that resembles a traditional Chinese ritual vessel known as “Zun”, the gracefully designed building is a little bit shorter than the Shanghai Tower, but when it comes to design challenges, it is comparable to the latter. Shao Weiping’s UFO Studio gathers design elites from Beijing Institute of Architectural Design (BIAD). As the chief architect, Shao has led these young designers not only in completing classic projects, like China Petro Office Building and Phoenix International Media Center, but also in making contributions to the design of Beijing’s Central Olympic Area and CBD.

Creations must be geared to the needs of the times

After he graduated from the School of Architecture at Tongji University in 1984, Shao Weiping left Shanghai for the city where he grew up and became an ordinary architect at the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design. There, he encountered the first project of his life, Beijing Huanwei Building and experienced the tests of several important projects, including the Beijing Asian Games, 2008 Beijing Olympics and more. The thriving economic development of China offered Chinese architects, like Shao Weiping, a chance to enrich practical experience. In addition, the introduction of the advanced foreign architectural design philosophies helped Chinese architects to learn and follow over the past 20 or 30 years, enabling them to compete with foreign counterparts on the same stage by skipping the century-long development course of the West. At present, when recalling the past and reviewing the projects he designed and constructed, he often feels unfulfilled, saying: “In those days, there were foreign architects doing design in China. Our economic conditions and aesthetic standards resulted in a closed and self-sufficient architectural model. From today’s perspective, you’ll find many projects from that period can only satisfy basic needs and cannot be compared with current ones where human orientation and technologies are concerned. Also, you’ll find many defects in these buildings, so we often renovate previous projects, like the Beijing Asian Games Village for instance, to turn the decay into a miracle.” Compared with the past, Chinese architectural design has realized considerable achievements. With the abundance of building materials and constant progress of building technologies, Chinese architects are allowed to renew their architectural philosophies and realize their dreams. 


When discussing how contemporary architecture should inherit Chinese traditions, Shao Weiping takes a clear stand, saying that the creations of architects must meet the needs of the times. “What we need to inherit are the values of the Chinese people that should be a common understanding of the whole society, but not representative of a specific class in the society.” He advocates the idea that architects should inherit and carry forward traditions from the perspective of development, and he strongly denies fully reverting to old ways or simply copying some practices. “First of all, instead of persuading people to accept something from our ancestors, we should create an architectural culture that can be accepted by the whole society. There’s a great difference in orientation.” He thinks that Chinese architects should forge ahead boldly and create new traditions that are of modern significance on the basis of modern lifestyles, conditions and aesthetics. When designing the sunken garden at the Central Olympic Area, Shao Weiping tried multiple times to come up with a concept. The design team brought forward the concept of “The Open Forbidden City”, which interpreted the connotation of Chinese traditional culture with modern languages and materials. The parameterized purlin supporters of the steel palace gate, the metal mesh partition with Chinese window frame patterns and the contrast between the red steel façade and the huge LCD screen strongly convey the values of modern life while implying the perception of tradition.


Digital technology is a great opportunity

Though Shao Weiping affirmed that Chinese architecture has made tremendous progress in recent years, he also noted that compared with the international advanced level, Chinese architects still have a large gap to fill. However, the digital technology offers a great opportunity for the development of Chinese architecture, giving Chinese architects another chance to leap forward. “In the past decade, we completed many world class architectural works, but normally they were made in China, but not created by China. With the development of digital technology, we have more confidence to embrace the era of ‘Created by China’.” Shao Weiping thinks that though digitalized design seems like an architectural effect, it is in fact the progress of architectural technologies. It causes complete changes from design ideas to design management, and then to the entire design process, so it can greatly improve the quality of architecture. “It is not merely an architectural style, it is more the progress of technology. Thanks to this progress, we are able to create more diversified architectural forms. The value of the new trend lies not only in shapes, but moreover in the accurate control over buildings. It is parameterization that allows us to efficiently design more complicated buildings and realize techniques that were not possible in the past.” Using Phoenix International Media Center as an example, the project’s façade is constituted of more than 3,000 different units. If we had to do it the old way, we would have needed to make more than 3,000 drawings, which is time- and energy-consuming and cannot guarantee the actual effect. Now, through digital technology, we use computer programming to perform the design. This rapidly turns architect’s creative ideas into reality by allowing us to modify and adjust them at any time. “The digital technology not only influences the design phase of the building, but is also helpful in product processing and installation. In the future, it may change the design model by linking the upriver and downriver industries and directly connecting design with production by using digital control. This not only minimizes message errors during delivery in the later subcontract phases, it also helps avoid some unnecessary drawings and shifts to the following link via models. Building material suppliers like Hunter Douglas can fulfill their duties in the later stage very quickly.”

From the T3 building of Capital Airport to Phoenix International Media Center, Shao Weiping and his design team took the lead of digitalized design in the country. When designing Terminal 3 of the Capital Airport, Shao Weiping, as the chief supervisor of the Chinese side, keenly felt the influence of digitalized design on architecture by collaborating with the Norman Foster team. The T3 building stretches three kilometers long, like a giant winding dragon. The entire control of form employs aerodynamics. Shao Weiping found that these graceful curvy lines couldn’t be realized by using a ruler and compasses and must be simulated in the 3D space of digitalized design. “At that time, Chinese architects didn’t notice the limitations of the technology in the expression of forms. Many domestic designers created very exaggerated shapes, but they don’t have a strong aesthetic quality because they lacked the precondition of digitalized design.” Since then, Shao Weiping began using this new technology, which was then little known by other architects, and actively tried with parameterization software like CATIA. When designing Phoenix International Media Center, the design team, inspired by the Mobius Strip, blended the high-rise office and the media studio to create a cyclic structure without boundaries. This unique structure possesses a rounded appearance that cannot be expressed via normal lines. “Such smooth lines and such an ideal effect could never be actualized if we had to count on the designer’s ideas and pen only. This is a new situation brought about by digitalization.” Finally, Shao Weiping completed this extremely difficult task with his many years of experience in digitalized design, and thus won high recognition in architectural circles. He commented that the success of Phoenix International Media Center mainly lay in the proficiency in digitalized design, which “enables a more direct message delivery and a more accurate control over building. It is indeed a revolutionary breakthrough.”



Thanks to the unremitting efforts of several generations, Chinese architects are now starting to emerge on the international design stage. They have more confidence than their predecessors and take pride in their careers. They have won international respect and recognition by their own solid original creations. What satisfies Shao Weiping most is the fact that with the creation power of BIAD continues to grow greater and greater as more and more excellent graduates prefer to choose it as the first stop of their design journey. He believes that this inexhaustible force will keep moving on the path opened up by their predecessors, so as to create a better future for Chinese architectural design.


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