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Wang Xiao’an: Architecture = 10% Creativity + 90% Details

Date:2014-04-10 0comments Clicks :3360

Today, Chinese architects are faced with more difficult challenges than ever due to rapid social development and increasing social diversity: Fast-growing cities trigger violent conflicts between the old and the new, and the scale of former cities and their street patterns have undergone constant changes that put them beyond recognition. In many cases, people have removed a large quantity of historic and cultural buildings. On the other hand, many new buildings were long left unused or even removed soon after completion due to design defects or improper planning. Wang Xiao’an deeply feels that it is an architect’s inherent obligation and responsibility to treat each building seriously and help people build better architecture for a better city and better life.

Sustainable architectural development
As chief architect of the ECADI team, Wang Xiao’an has made great contributions to the promotion of sustainable architectural development. He advocates that architecture should adhere to sustainable development and argues that the protection, application and redevelopment of the historical districts and existing buildings in a city should be handled cautiously. Architects should actively respond to the functional expansion of urban spaces and modern architecture while keeping pace with the times, while also carefully considering the future development trends of cities and architectural function. As early as the 1990s, Wang Xiao’an once proposed that architectural design “should be made for the long run, so as to make space for future development”. When designing SMG International News Center and Studio Complex Building of Shanghai TV Station, Wang Xiao’an took the initiative in applying large-span, large-space layout and structural technology on radio and TV high-rises in China, so as to flexibly cope with the space layout adjustments and functional changes caused by the rapid development of radio and TV technology. In the beginning of this century, Wang Xiao’an again was awarded the renovation project of Studio Complex Building of Shanghai TV Station, which was focused on transforming the large studio into SMG News Center. The design team adopted the design scheme that featured a large space and open style news center, and the TV program production processes - including newsgathering, editing, directing, broadcasting and post production - were organically integrated in to the large space where different functional areas were blended. In addition, the application of architectural technologies and architectural acoustics made it possible for several different news areas to work simultaneously. The SMG News Center not only opens up the highly efficient work mode of TV news production, but, at the same time, creates interesting spaces and shooting scenes where dynamic views and visual impact can change as one moves, thus bringing the audience members into the fast-paced and panoramic experiences of news production. Thanks to this pioneering design, the SMG News Center has functioned well since opening, with its TV newsgathering, production and broadcast ranking among the highest in the country.

Wang Xiao’an’s sustainable architectural practice is further exemplified by the design of Shanghai Expo Cultural Center. He explains, “The design of Shanghai Expo Cultural Center focuses more on the long-term and sustainable requirements. Its functional role is defined as a new landmark of Shanghai culture and recreation, as well as a grand city arena where the curtain never falls.” In the early stages, the design team already established the principle of “based upon functionality and the future”, which laid a solid foundation for the architectural creation as well as the subsequent operation of the venue. The futuristic appearance of the building is made up of a curved metal shell. So impressive is the building that in daytime it appears like a shuttle-shaped time machine from the future, laden with a sense of futuristic modernity, while at night it is transformed into a world of fantasy intertwined with light and shadow, breathing its flair like a “floating city”. The design scheme had no intention to strive for a novel and brilliant appearance, but the idea of “function determines form” was always the standpoint of the entire design team. With a limited site, the design team finally determined that the architectural form should resemble a flying saucer, in the aim of making the best use of the inner space of the structure and at the same time creating favorable conditions for the establishment of outdoor public platforms. The interior design of the building is also characterized by high adaptability. The seats inside the center can be gradually adjusted from 4,000 to 18,000 while the stage can change its size and form and even realize 360-degree 3D combinations to accommodate different performances, so as to fully meet the multi-functional requirements of various important performances. While placing emphasis on sustainability, the whole design scheme also gives full consideration to rationality, feasibility, eco-friendliness and environment protection, which agrees with the theme of the Expo: “Better City, Better Life”. After Shanghai World Expo drew to a conclusion, the building was renamed Mercedes Benz Arena for commercial operation. Successive world-class performances, cultural activities and sports events have been held here, turning it into a charming landmark of Shanghai, a city that never sleeps.

Architectural design in the diversified age
In recent years, the public and the media are vociferous about some uniquely-shaped buildings, even giving them vivid nicknames like “huge pants”, “cow dung” and “long johns”. Wang Xiao’an thinks that people should treat this social phenomenon with an inclusive attitude. “The diversity in society means there are diversified criterion of architecture. Today, society changes fast, and the development of technologies and building materials helps enrich the forms of architecture. On one hand, people have too much to take in with their eyes and, on the other, society is becoming more frivolous and people are not mature enough. Some bidding documents attract people’s attention by making it clear that the design should not be out-of-date in 50 years… Architecture is not fashion; it lasts much longer. It is reasonable to pursue a unique appearance, but the overall design needs to take more factors into consideration.” The New CCTV Building, which was nicknamed “huge pants”, was named “2013 Best Tall Building Worldwide” by Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Some comment that it is a revolutionary building and the design scheme creates a true 3D experience, which breaks through the inertial thinking that skyscrapers compete for height in the 2D aspect. As the supervisor of the Chinese side of the design team of this controversial project, Wang Xiao’an thinks that “it is the certain result in the certain period of the certain city of the certain country and by the certain owner”; it is normal to have academic or social controversies on this building; however, people should justify the effort of architectural creation and exploration, but not over- or underestimate it. In his point of view, the public’s understanding and acceptance of architecture need to be a part of the process of learning and experiencing. In this process, architects “should put themselves in users’ shoes and realistically introduce their designs. Starting from interior space and people’s experience, tell them why you choose to use this structural form and space layout”, so common people will have a deep understanding of the building.

With the rapid advancement of society and the ever-increasing globalization, many new things have sprung up in China over the past 20 years, totally transforming the original old architectural patterns. Chinese urban outlook is now undergoing an unprecedented change. Construction of various public buildings is in full swing and people’s living environments are greatly improved, but negative effects gradually occur, like the planning of different cities appears to be too similar, numerous historical districts are damaged and the designs of many new buildings are aimed at sheer scale and foreignness… Wang Xiao’an recommends the sustainable architectural outlook, which tries to meet the functional requirements of buildings via highly adaptable design schemes while maintaining a sound interaction between architecture and streets as well as the city. He commented, “The reason that all cities take on a similar look is the one-size-fits-all policy. Each city should be given the freedom to make plans on basis of local conditions, as cities differ in size and region. Why do we like to travel to the old cities and ancient towns? That’s because they have different urban scales, space forms and architectural styles. In many cases, architectural problems are in fact planning problems. The problems of a city should be solved from the planning level. Like architectural design, urban planning should take people’s experiences into consideration to create reasonable designs. Traffic jams occur because the road is too wide but not because it is too narrow. A city may have many traffic arteries, but the scale should be reasonable. Only then will the efficiency and value of streets increase. With a proper scale of the streets, the commercial and cultural values of a street can also be further developed.” Taking Shanghai lanes and streets where he grew up as an example, he explains how architectural design changes people’s daily life. He said that Shanghai still preserves many small streets today, which, like capillaries in a human body, are not large in scale, but are characterized by a large density. While performing transportation functions, these lanes offered a comfortable living space for citizens.

Wang Xiao’an maintains a peaceful and calm personality. He always speaks softly and treats people sincerely. The young architects in the institute like to communicate with him while he encourages them to participate in various project practices to lay a solid foundation for their future career. He stressed that: “Architecture is a profession that requires constant accumulation of experience. Be mentally prepared and don’t underestimate any tiny job. The current architectural education excessively inculcates them with the orientation of becoming a star architect. In real projects, the exciting creative parts may account for no more than 10% and the remaining 90% are always painstaking, and even boring or tedious, creating arduous tasks to solve many specific engineering problems. If you’re not fully prepared, you cannot be a professional architect.”



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