Interview of Xiaonan Yang

Sukki:
Through production design and CGI rendering, post production in filmmaking can recreate a virtual world. Do you think that shares a mutual essence of picture and video rendering in architecture? Does this rendering deliver people’s idea towards future life or a beautiful illusion of Utopia? Do you like this certain type pf videos or films?

Nan:
To some extent, there are parallels between the nature of filmmaking and video rendering in architecture. However, Production design serves the story. It helps create a convincing atmosphere where compelling stories could work. Architecture rendering is also for the audience. No matter it's a developer, the government or a customer, rendering in architecture serves as a stage or container of social activity. The only difference is that in filmmaking, story always ranks the first, but in architecture, the stage where the story happens is more important.

Architecture rendering is to deliver a picture yet to be. Although sometimes it's exaggerated, just like the reality of 2018 is not as fascinating as what we thought about future life could be back in 1988.

For the last part of your question, of course I do. Production design and set building largely correlate to my major. You know, in LA, some architects work in film animation industry after graduation.
Sukki:
How did you think of using the concept of compressing/ condensing? For example, flat image can be torn up and then stretched into mass and block, or into chartlets and skins for architecture, which I appreciate a lot. The original meaning of image has been altered. What does that mean?

Nan:
I was influenced by the Chinese sci-fi novel ‘Three Bodies’ which depicts how it’s like to overlook four dimensional space to three dimensional space and three dimensional space falls into two-dimensional plane. My thoughts about different dimensions were provoked by that. As far as architecture is concerned, it is always the most fundamental to discuss the relationship between two-dimensional diagrams and three-dimensional entity buildings. Therefore, the inner relationship and interaction of two-dimensional images and three-dimensional entities become my direction to explore. To unfold into entities in different dimensions after compressed, or to be projected on to a plane are both essentially part of the technical methods to change from different dimensions. Images are the base to develop buildings, and buildings are communicated thorough images, which highly concludes the main concerns in architecture all over the world.
Sukki:
Does the fact that you chose Torre Latinoamericana and low antient tranditional buildings to be your objects to distort from have some special meanings to this skyscraper?

Nan:
My attention has always been focused on how new buildings connect with traditional culture and how to efficiently establish a benign relationship between existing objective city environment and civilized societies. Torre Latinoamericana and its surrounding traditional buildings, in my point of view, shows the two extremes of city characters, which are isolated. One is the cultural building group full of lives and city memories, the other is the stand-alone Torre Latinoamericana which now has become the regional landmark. I was therefore thinking about building a new tower to glue the crack together. This new tower should be a combination of the way that lower traditional building groups organized themselves and the vertical separation and structuring of Torre Latinoamericana, where people would not only be able to have the spacial experience in the old city zone but also be reminded of the correlations with Torre Latinoamericana on the side.
Sukki:
As an architect, do you think a building is a occupied territory? Is it owned by developers, citizens or the government?

Nan:
Buildings are surely some places taken and enjoyed. But idealistically, we would like the place to be utilized instead of just being taken. As the saying goes, grass goes in, milk goes out. After a building is finished, it is taken by developers, the government and inhabitants in different ways. We as architects have the responsibility to make the benefits bigger instead of deciding on the proportion to distribute the benefits.
Sukki:
Vertical city/ living is the trend to build a skyscraper, which could function as a museum, event space, an Office, a GYM, accommodation and hoteling. How do you like about the trend?

Nan:
This is embodied in where I talked about making the benefits bigger. Your question is no more than how to make it more specific. Just as what Koolhaas said when he was talking about congestion, I think the vertical distribution of urban life is a necessity urban development. This necessity has been evolved from reproduction worship to a simple but effective way to conduct in a high-density city environment.
Sukki:
Do you think vertical city and living could be a threat to future living environment for human beings? (you can say whatever you want.)

Nan:
The concerns about this type of skyscrapers could be understood in another way. The highest building, Khalifa, under human construction is 828 metres high. It is truly high. But the highness of it is based on a two dimensional system: the present ability of social economy and construction industry and humans’ mindset. We could imagine that hundreds of years ago, European cathedrals of different styles were skyscrapers and super projects at that age, considered as landmarks. But hundred years after, they are not considered as that important anymore. And so on, the super buildings lie on different parts of the world will not be considered that significant as well. As for the mindset, you can understand right away with the simple example of African termitary. If you are familiar with its structure, you will be amazed at the fact that termitaries to termites is what skyscrapers to humans. But we obviously wouldn't be amazed at the height of termitaries of several metres high. To human beings, that’s no more than a hillock. Then how could we ever think the skyscrapers we are building now is more than a spinule on the earth?
Sukki:
In 2016, Schumacher, Zaha Hadid’s partner, from ZHA Architect once raised this idea that most public areas in London should be sold to housing developers to build more skyscrapers to lower the soaring housing prices in London, therefore more people could be accommodated in London, which would benefit those who don’t own a house but on the other hand could hurt the public environment. What’s your opinion on that?

Nan:
I don't think building more skyscrapers can bring down the housing prices in London. Instead, more and more people would move in, thus raising the housing prices here. The history always repeats itself. Just to take a look at incredibly high housing prices in Beijing or Shanghai, and how housing and construction industries bloomed after people accumulating in Silicon Valley. So in a word, what Schumacher said is more like a joke than an opinion. The cause and effect here is that after more and more talents crowd into cities, developers then have the confidence to invest in housing estates. Consequently, we architecture designers earn much more money like the developers do. Therefore, the price goes up, thus scaring those who want to live in London away. Supply and demand are finally balanced, a new age of city life cycle has arrived.
Sukki:
Have you ever considered of living on the rooftop of a skyscraper? Do you want the special rights to use the rooftop gardens? If Hyde Park becomes a building, and a personal garden lies on there, which means public space condensed into a multi functional high level building. I personally think it's a little bit of contradictory, what do you think of that?

Nan:
As what I said before, I strongly disapprove of privatizing public parks. Although the judgment of this question could be derived from objective circumstances, but speaking of willing or not, I would say that all answers are based on their own personal expectations. I know that even if this building is built up, I wouldn't be one of the users of it. Since I cannot be beneficial from privatizing Hyde park, how would I ever agree on doing it? But if I was the developer, or I was preparing to invest in this project and feel how it’s like to overlook the city from this angle, my answer would be yes. In a word, subjectively willing or not is detached from objectively being righteous or not. That’s probably what you thought was contradictory. However, this contradiction, or social responsibility, doesn't lie in an architect’s obligation. What we can do is to make the benefit a little bigger, to make the cake a little larger, instead of questioning whether to make this cake.


Sukki:
The government is in charge of urban zoning. But Schumacher is against government involved in housing market because he wants a free market in architecture. Would that be helpful to bring down the housing prices?

Nan:
I don't think so. When the government is planning, they wouldn't be entirely on the poor’s side. They make decisions based on the market circumstances in order to achieve macro controls of the number of housing estates, proportion of the population and housing prices, where deliberate underpricing and bidding are included under some circumstances. But even though, the government is more helpful on pricing controls than letting developers lead a free market. I’m not simply saying that all businessmen are sheerly profit-driven, but we all know that their goal is to earn good money through building houses, no matter the fact that during the course splendid buildings could be built and they might correspond to the problems from surrounding cities. Those are merely side effects of it, and the best of it. For example, even if a developer proactively finishes a project which is beneficial only for low -income group thus lowering the housing prices partially and solving city problems partially as well. The conduct of his idea is not based on social responsibility or benevolence, instead, it is the best option under the limits of objective conditions. In all, this behavior optimizes the urban environment, lowering the pressure from low income groups and stimulates the growth of consumption, which consequently raising the housing prices in the city generally in a macro way.