Interview with Jane Jianheng Zhang, Founder of Jane Z Studio
2015-01-15 15:33:39    | keywords: 张健蘅建筑事务所  张健蘅  访谈 
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By 90degree
Q: Where does your inspiration come from during your long-time architectural designing experience?
A: The architectural design is actually a job with the combination of technology and art, and as for inspiration, to some extent, it is related to art. My inspiration mainly comes from daily life and observation. Usually, I would like to try my best to keep in touch with many different people and things other than architecture, and to feel and experience the rich life, which relatively inspire me a lot in architectural design.
Q: Which project impresses you most among the completed ones of yours?
A: I was most impressed by the project of Foshan Cultural Complex, which is a large-scale project occupied an area of over 300,000 sqm in my hometown Foshan, and of which some pavilions are primarily completed now. It was a project won an international competition that I took part in as a design team leader with my colleagues when I served as the architecture and planning director of Arup in Southern China. Sometimes, I was thinking whether it is helpful for cultural development to build such a large-scale and maverick architectural complex. Conversely, rather than to prompt cultural development by such complex in form, I think cultural nutrient and atmosphere are much more needed. 
At the beginning, we design team visited some ancient villages in Foshan, among which the one named DieJiao perfectly preserved old buildings and artificial irrigation canals used in the past, showing the unique style of regions along rivers and lakes in Guangdong. Unfortunately, DieJiao was polluted by heavy industry and the waterways were event black. But the villagers still enjoyed pleasant weather, mild wind and comfortable humidity there, holding dragon-boat race on the black waterways. They were all very reluctant leave their home where is a part of our project site. And we were all moved very much by their optimism.
I found, and at the same time, was greatly touched by some valuable quintessence in traditional living environment through the visiting tour of ancient villages, which is necessary to be directly absorbed into urbanization and well integrated into modern urban design, also deserves better understanding and experiencing from us designers. After the tour, I worked with my colleagues to overturn the original design of the Cultural Complex only focusing on large-scale and magnificent appearances of buildings. Instead, we tried our best to integrate space elements reflecting local traditional features into our design, to create a “comprehensive city” with rich native humanistic feelings in Foshan. Finally, we won the international competition and many appreciations and support from related experts.
The vitally important I learnt from this project is the observation of details in our daily life that may greatly influence on architectural design. In other words, architects should firstly discover the problems from daily life, and then solve them by reasonable design. The buildings we create should be able to reflect the future trend of life, which requires architects’ foresight. As architects in modern times, we do not deliberately impose traditionally cultural elements on our works, which we just integrate evolutionarily and reasonably into future architecture to produce innovative design techniques. Thus, the project Foshan Cultural Complex is not to simply combine traditional elements, but to create a dialogue between people and local traditions in series modern architectural spaces.
Another breakthrough I learnt from this project is the well-integration between indoor and outdoor to make buildings and the site as a whole. Actually, we designed more significant but less effective architectural spaces in this project with some traditionally local cultural elements to gradually enhance interactions between people and the site, and to further promote local culture development.
Q: What is your favorite architectural design? And who is the most influential architect for you?
对我影响的建筑师很多,比较现代的可以举例说一下,像Steven Holl,深圳万科总部是他近期的建筑作品,我个人认为这是深圳最棒的建筑之一。对我影响最大的则是马清运,他对我的建筑启蒙有不可磨灭的意义,我认为马清运是能够做好房子的建筑师。1995年我大学三年级的时候,当时我们只知道路易斯·康和迈耶等经典人物,而马清运带名师名作课的时候给我们带来的却是哈迪德和库哈斯,哈迪德当时还没有出名,而库哈斯才刚刚崭露头角,他给我们带来的建筑视野是非常非常爆炸性的。我大学毕业后早期曾经在深大设计院工作,然后是欧洲的求学与实践。其间短暂的在起步期的马达思班工作。后来我去了英国,马老师去了美国,之后我们没有持续并肩作战的阶段,但是我们在学术界、社交场合上有很多的交叉,每次马老师跟我说的事,他的眼神都能带给我非常大的启发。但是他没有因为自己建筑师的身份而无时无刻地只做房子,这多少让对他有期望的人失落,但是我是赞同的。做个好房子不是要每时每刻都在建筑的实践当中就一定可以的,而是走出建筑,感知建筑以外,或许十年磨一剑,可能这个过程看似不是在画图,不是在做建筑。中国有句古话叫“在山不见山”,在做建筑的时候,我一直站在这座“山”,这座“山”是建筑,我看到的不是建筑,但是我跳到外面去回望这座“山”,我才知道建筑是什么。我觉得马老师对我的最大影响不是因为他的一两个作品,而是他的建筑态度。
A: Extensively, I appreciate various architectural design styles, from traditional dwellings to practical buildings. In my opinion, appreciation is not equal to imitation, but to some extent, it will bring inspiration for design. And I would like to talk about traditional dwellings in Guangdong which I am relatively familiar with, such as the so-called “bamboo house” I was living in during my childhood, occupying narrow areas, one by one built like long rows of bamboos. In a bamboo house, several apartments share the public space formed by a corridor on each floor, achieving warm and interesting interactions between family members and neighbors, which is filled with fun and joy of life, and quite different from today’s single apartments.
Well, many great architects in the history influence me a lot, and I also learn much from some contemporary great ones, such as Steven Holl, whose recent work - Shenzhen Vanke Headquarters - I think is one of the most excellent buildings in Shenzhen. And another contemporary great architect brings me much influence is Mr. Ma Qingyun. In 1995, when I was a junior student I only knew a few renowned architects like Louis Kahn and Richard Meier, and through Mr. Ma’s course on renowned architects and their works, I began to know the designs and styles of Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas which enlightened me most and explosively broaden my vision on contemporary architectural trend in the world. After my graduation, I worked at Mada s.p.a.m. founded by Mr. Ma, and learnt much from him when doing projects. Later, I went to make further study on architecture in UK, while Mr. Ma developed his career of architecture in the United States, so I haven’t had opportunities to work with him since then. But I often talked and exchanged ideas with him at academic activities on architecture and some social occasions, and always I learnt a lot. Mr. Ma insistently holds a view that an architect should not just keep doing architectural design all his times, for whom it is more important to get much experience beyond the world of architecture so as to obtain related inspirations or ideas unconsciously from ordinary life. Rather than inspired by one or two of his works, I think I am directly influenced by Mr. Ma’s attitude toward architecture and architectural design.
Q: For two consecutive years you participated into the special session for Architects of Poly Spring Auction in Beijing, could you please share with us some interesting stories about the Auction?
答:这个拍卖挺有意思的,说大了可能是建筑和艺术、资本的对接。建筑师最成功的作品是建筑,把它微缩作为一个草图或者模型,作为工艺品是没有意义的,但是草图或者模型它有意义的地方是它是一种比建成作品更完美的状态,能够体现本初概念和一些建构性的思考,以及后面资本和设计之间互相利用和对抗关系没有产生之前非常纯粹的一些表达。用过程阶段的草图和模型来拍卖对建筑师来说是非常激动的,这毕竟是一个心血的结晶。那一年,我的一个模型最初的定价为8 000元,可能制作的成本都不一定够,结果还意外的有不同的买家竞投敲了2-3锤把它拍出去。这些收藏家们怎么看待我们建筑师,我们的一些过程和作品对于他们有什么样的意义,价值在哪里,我不是非常理解。但这应该是对我们建筑师工作过程通过另外一个角度的认可,是非常重要的社会事件,是建筑师整个群体对大众媒介的一次发声。
A: It is really a very interesting event to establish relations between architecture, art and capitals. At the special session for architects, architectural drafts and models are the right objects to be put up to auction, for they originally show more perfect forms of architecture works which are filled with architects’ wisdom and painstaking efforts. In addition, the drafts and models reflect primary cocept and some constructive thoughts of the works and reveal a more perfect status than that of the built architecture. Thus, architects themselves are indeed very excited in the process of auction that shows public approval for their works and a way of interaction from architecture industry with mass media. Personally, one of my architectural models was auctioned with the original price of only 8,000 RMB which was even not enough for fabricating cost, and finally it won a surprised auction price beyond my expectation.
Q: Could you please talk about your experience of over 10 years engaging in architecture industry? What does architectural design bring you as you think?
答:我的从业之路算比较正统,国内建筑学本科毕业,在学校里面的设计院工作一年,然后申请了英国牛津布鲁克斯大学的工学硕士,专业是建筑资源研究。毕业之后去了荷兰HUBERT-JAN HENKET事务所工作,它是非常强调本土性,具有西欧特质的事务所。Henket先生做人比较低调,但做事比较坚持,它只做荷兰本地的项目,离开荷兰的基本不接。他们的逻辑第一是人对建筑的需要,他的精力只够了解他身边的共同社会文化背景的人,做他熟悉的人群的建筑;第二是建筑建基于工业基础,荷兰的工业基础非常强大,它有自己的建材标准,就是要把工业技术用到极致。这家事务所对我影响蛮大的,非常人性化,做的东西非常有工业感。回到香港,进入了几个大型的事务所,像利安、王董,从事了大量的建造性项目的建筑设计,以及现场的跟进和管理。这个过程我把它定义为对建筑性能效率这个问题的消化,香港在建筑实用性上包括结构和机电系统,建筑材料和细部构造的效率是最高的,项目是做一个建一个。然后也做了一些高标准的国内项目像酒店、商业综合体。
A: My career of architecture follows a regular way began with undergraduate study majoring in architecture at home. After graduation, I worked in the design institute affiliated to my university, and went on my postgraduate study in Oxford Brookes University in UK one year later, majoring in Built Resource Studies. Then, I went to Netherlands and started my work in HUBERT-JAN HENKET, a typical Western European architectural design firm with significant native characteristics. Mr. Henket is low key and persistent in working. HUBERT-JAN HENKET only concentrate on native projects for they just would like to do their best to serve native people whom they are familiar with and share the same social and cultural background by their limited energy as they think themselves. They take the need of native people to architecture as the most important factor in their designs. Since architectural construction is based on the industrial development that is very strong in Netherlands, they would like to support native industrial development by only concentrating on native projects. And they have their own standard regarding building mateirals – a perfect utilization of the industrial technology. I was quite influenced by humanized management and designing style with strong sense of industry in HUBERT-JAN HENKET. Later, I went back to Hong Kong and worked in several large-scale design firms such as Leigh and Orange and Wong Tung & Partners, during which I got much better understanding in high efficient working style in HK, especially in functionality of building including structural and electromechanical systems, building materials and detailing construction. Meanwhile, I also did some high quality projects like hotels and commercial complexes in the Mainland.
It was about a decade of my career in architecture when I entered the Britain-based Arup Group and worked as a design director. Arup is well-known for its engineering design, but not for its architectural design which also possesses a large-scale excellent team with more than 100 staff. That why I unconventionally chose to develop myself in such a engineering-design-oriented firm is not want to learn things about engineering, but to find a more comprehensive way to know better about what other elements make a nice architectural design turn into a high-qualified building, such as different majors, different crafts and art elements. During the seven years in Arup, I was once assigned to make further study on leadership of sustainable development in Cambridge University, which is really an interesting course. And I think the working experience in Arup is a breakthrough stage of my career when I absolutely improved my cognition on architecture in every aspect with an extremely broad vision. After great and comprehensive accumulation of experience and adequate preparation, I founded my own design firm in 2012 to practice all I learnt and experienced. 
The industry of architecture really requires much painstaking and intelligence of us, especially in China, architects are required more energies and wisdoms to deal with all kinds of relative complicated relationships. Most of my female peers in this industry are now responsible for some managements or co-ordinations of design in China, and few of them insist doing specific designing work as I do. Despite of many challenges, I get a lot of joys from architectural design, and it also brings me excitement and motivation in my life. I always enjoy the social circles and living environments related to architecture. This is a small universe which I’m really fond of.
Q: As an architect and urban researcher with full visiting and living experience in UK, Netherlands, Hong Kong and Mainland China, could you please talk about similarities and differences among them?
A: Well, as for similarities, the characteristics of international metropolis are reflected here and there in UK, Netherlands and Hong Kong, showing rich and layering life, also enough development space for everyone living there, guiding people to keep thinking and refreshing themselves every day. Personally, I prefer such a rich and layering life sytle.
And about differences, basically, cultural backgrounds in these regions are quite different. British people are very gentle and friendly. While in regard to architecture, each of their significant architectural style represents a revolutionary period in its history, especially with a long-term rapid development since the Industrial Revolution.
Netherlands is actually a small country where people are keen to make new friends and to get to know novelties. It is really a nation filled with inclusiveness and enthusiasm. Thus some avant-garde architecture once relatively came out in Netherlands. Comparatively speaking, the glory of architectural industry in Hong Kong was just like a flash in the pan in the 1980s, and its development has been keeping a conservative pace since 1990s, although it shows highly professionalization in the architectural design. To some extent, I think professionalization may result in series restrictions which would not be helpful for architects to freely develop their design thoughts.
Q: As a female architect, what do you think is the greatest challenge at work? While what advantages do you take from the specific sensitivity and aesthetic view of female at work?
A: I think the greatest challenge is client relationship management. Both in China and in any other country, the architectural industry is always dominated by males, in which females should comply with the rules mainly for males to imitate and form manlike thoughts and behaviors. Once I had been being caught into such imitation for a while, but finally, I awaked myself to stop imitating and to keep normal thinking as a female.
As for the advantages, in my opinion, the particular intuition of female may be helpful for me to produce special design, especially in the aspects of overall planning and space creating. Rather than the design with more rational and expressive elements by males, as a female architect, subconsciously I pay much attention to the interactions between people and space to design space more human-oriented. 
In addition, pretty strong abilities of communication and coordination skills and the ability to understand comprehensive design need are really advantages of female architects. We are relatively patient to listen to clients and to take much concern on them with our sensitivity, so as to guide them reach an agreement on our design concept, also to coordinate the different needs and balance benefits for each party. This is helpful to form design concept via integrating all of them into the architecture.
张健蘅, 国家一级注册建筑师,张健蘅建筑事务所创办人,JS A2空间创办人。1975年出生于广东佛山;1997年毕业于马清运任教的深圳大学建筑系,获建筑学学士、优秀毕业生;2000年取得英国牛津布鲁克斯大学建筑资源管理硕士。曾于深圳大学设计院,荷兰Hubert-Jan Henket、香港利安Leigh and Orange、香港王董Wong Tung & Partners担任建筑设计师;2005-2012年出任全球顶尖设计机构-英国奥雅纳工程顾问Arup的华南区建筑和规划总监,期间为这个国际领航企业组建了中国的华南区建筑团队,并逐步拓展到了城市规划和可持续策略的领域;2012年开设张健蘅建筑事务所。
Jane Jianheng Zhang, a National First-Class Registered Architect, the founder of Jane Z Studio, the founder of JS A2 Space, was born in 1975 in Foshan, Guangdong. In 1997, Jane was graduated as a Bachelor of Architecture and an outstanding graduate from the Department of Architecture in Shenzhen University where Ma Qingyun has once taught in, and obtained Master's degree in Architecture Resource Management from Oxford Brookes University in 2000. Once she worked as an architect in the Institute of Architecture Design & Research of Shenzhen University (SUIADR), Netherlands-based Hubert-Jan Henket, Hong Kong-based Lee Leigh and Orange, and Hong Kong-based Wong Tung & Partners. During the years from 2005 to 2012, Jane served as the architectural designing and planning director in Southern China Branch of Arup Group to develop its services of urban planning and sustainable development in China. In 2012, she founded Jane Z Studio cooperating with Mada s.p.a.m..
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