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He Jingtang: a Ceaseless Architectural Life

Date:2014-01-23 0comments Clicks :7152

Members of the United Design Team of the China Pavilion discussing the adjustment of design scheme
(Front L 1: Academician He Jingtang; Front L 2: front L1: Deputy Chief Architect of the Architectural Design & Research Institute of Tsinghua University, Zhang Li )

Though aged 75 and grey-haired, Academician He Jingtang still has rosy cheeks and a special vitality exemplified by his straightened back and the spring in his step when he walks. The first half of He Jingtang‘s life is similar to millions of his peers: filled with twists and turns. Some people are brought down by fate while others manage to overcome the hardships and become stronger when they are faced with more obstacles. Undoubtedly, He Jingtang is one of the latter. Throughout his architectural career, He Jingtang has proved that he is not only a scholar with a lot of accomplished students, but also a gentlemanly master architect, as well as a tenacious and brave man. 

A 45-year-old restarter architect
The hometown of He Jingtang, Shilong Town in Dongguan has been a famous commercial port of Guangdong Province since the Ming and Qing dynasties. With sotto portico blocks, the city is a beautiful water town that features litchi forests. In his boyhood, He Jingtang used to go out to learn sketching with his elder brother, so he deeply understood the gracefulness of Lingnan‘s landscape architecture. In 1956, He Jingtang left home to study in the Department of Architecture of South China Institute of Technology. At that time, the 18-year-old He Jingtang did not realize that the place would not only be his alma mater where he would study in his youth, but also would later become the base for his academic research and architectural creation. He eagerly learned professional knowledge in his undergraduate and graduate days. In 1964, when he was preparing his postgraduate thesis, He Jingtang by chance borrowed a valuable English reference book from Beijing Institute of Architectural Design. In those days, there were no copy machines, so he spent three days in a hostel and hand copied the entire book word-by-word and illustration-by-illustration. It was so neat it looked as if it had been printed. Though political movements occurred frequently, He Jingtang still took the attitude of learning for practice, hoping that he would make some achievements in architecture in the future. However, Hubei Provincial Institute of Architectural Design & Research where he worked was unexpectedly dissolved during the Cultural Revolution. Along with all of his colleagues, he was dispatched to the remote mountainous areas in the Yunxian County of Hubei Province where they worked as peasants. After finishing his farm work, He Jingtang would sometimes sit in the farmland, thinking, "Has my dream of becoming an architect become an unattainable dream like the white clouds in the sky?" Fortunately, history did not carry cruelty through to the end. He Jingtang resumed his career after the Cultural Revolution and was transferred to Beijing Design Institute of the Ministry of Light Industry. In this way, He restarted his long-dreamed-for architectural career in his 30s, though mainly working on the design of paper mills.

He Jingtang Studio converted from an old building of the 1930s

Since Reform & Opening, the Chinese economy has encountered another round of explosive development, leading to the revitalization of the Chinese architectural field, which had remained silent for years. Though already in his 40s, He Jingtang was still itching to have a go. His company was mainly engaged in the design of industrial plants. He often felt that what he had learned was restricted by the specialization of his company, as plant design itself had limited technical processes. Follow the routine to 60 and retire? He Jingtang was not willing to give up his architectural dream and being a middle aged man also urged him to face the reality that he had no more time to lose. Right at that moment, his alma mater, South China University of Technology (formerly known as South China Institute of Technology) established the School of Architecture. After much deliberation, He Jingtang and his wife Li Qixia decided to abandon their leisurely work environment in Beijing and start to open up a new path that combined architectural creation with teaching and research. And so, at the age of 45, he got back to where he had set out. On the third day of his return to Guangzhou, the Dean of South China Institute of Technology Chen Kaiqing told He that Shenzhen Science Museum was about to hold a design contest. He Jingtang said, “Upon hearing this news, my first thought was that a chance was coming. At that time, our luggage had not arrived yet. My wife and I worked in the hostel for twenty days in a row and finished our design after working through the night of our last day there. The next morning, we took a bus to Shenzhen. We attended the bidding invitation in the morning and got the results in the evening. It was a big event in my life that helped define the three principles of my design: 1. Treat every design seriously; 2. Make every design excellent and strive for awards; 3. Make engineering summaries and write academic thesis.” This creation method, which brings theory into practice and then further raises practice to the level of theory, not only became the lifetime design principle of He Jingtang, but is also an effective way for him to improve the theory and practice levels of his students.

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