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 Yung Ho Chang: Smallness





In 2008, Yung Ho Chang had a lecture named “The Red Architecture versus The Grey Architecture” in Shenzhen University, China. Red Architecture represents a type of architecture that always attracts people’s eyeball; but, Grey Architecture does the opposite thing: they submerge into the environment. Professor Chang clearly stated FCJZ’s preference of Grey Architecture at that moment. Fortunately, we had the chance to listen to his lecture “Smallness” at April 2, 2014, as a further practice of his concept.


Let’s start to enjoy the lecture with a brief introduction to Yung Ho Chang by Calvin Tsao: “Professor Yung Ho is no stranger to the League. When I was first introduced to him in 1992 when he was elected as a winner to the Architectural League Prize, then called the Young Architect’s Forum Prize. By then, the young professor Yung Ho had already received his master’s from UC Berkeley, had already won numerous awards, many more than I should say now — he is so modest after all — and was teaching in various institutions in the United States such as Rice, Harvard, etc. In 2005, he was appointed as the head of the department of architecture and professor at MIT. During those same years, he returned to work in his native Beijing, both in academia and in practice. He founded the Graduate Center of Architecture at Peking University, and at the same time founded his firm Atelier FCJZ, which means extreme or amazing architecture. I would say over the last 20 years, his work has truly been amazing. I was amazed when I visited his Split House near the Great Wall, made of rammed earth and wood. I was struck by the poetry behind the thinking. The work was so sensitive, at the same time sensible and strategic in addressing culture, heritage, typology, and environment. And that was merely one work from 2002. Since then, his work continued to expand in range and in scale from urban developments to institutional projects, museums to product design. More awards and recognitions came, of course, and he was invited in 2012 to join the esteemed jury of the Pritzker Prize. Most recently, a retrospective exhibition of his firm's work was extremely well received at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. So, reflecting on the comprehensive scope of his work, the Ullens Center's director aptly described Yung Ho as “one of the China's most important architectural pioneers.” Articulating how, over the last 30 years of unprecedented growth in China, his practice “has devised a range of witty, thoughtful, and universal design solutions, inspired by distinctly Chinese problems and concepts.” And as I have the pleasure of currently working with Yung Ho, I totally concur. So without further ado, I give you Yung Ho Chang.”




I was very happy that the Architectural League contacted me a while ago to talk about recent work. So I actually even came up with a title, which is Smallness. Before I start the recent work in Smallness, I thought it is necessary to talk about the not-so-recent work so that you can see the progress possibly changed from the not-so-recent to the recent.

Editor/Transcriptionist: Junrui Wang  /  Translation: Junrui Wang, Ting Hei Lo

Proofreader: Hong Zeng, Gabriel Silberblatt  

Photos Authorization: FCJZ  

Supports by Architectural League of New York




Lecture by Yung Ho Chang, Architectural League of New York, 04/02/2014

Pic-1| Shanghai Corporate Pavilion Design

Pic-3| Peking Opera Series

Pic-4| Peking Opera Series

Pic-5| Peking Opera Series

Pic-6| Peking Opera Series

Pic-7| Peking Opera Series

Pic-2| Peking Opera Series

Pic-8| Siheyuan (Quadrangle)

Pic-9| Hulu (Chinese bottle gourd)

Pic-10| Hulu Series Tabletop Design

Pic-11| Hulu Series Tabletop Design

Pic-12| Hulu Series Tabletop Design

Pic-13| Hulu Series Tabletop Design

Pic-14| Hulu Series Tabletop Design

Pic-16| Hulu Series Tabletop Design

The first smallness is really about making something not only close to your body, but close to everyday life. So this is a picture I really loved, which was taken by a friend of mine who was a photographer and architect from Portugal. The photo captured a particular lifestyle which I grew up with. What's more, if you look at the scene, you start to wonder who designed the bird cages, the clothes racks, tea cups so on and so forth. The clothing, the architecture and the space were all appropriate designs, though not in a contemporary sense sometimes, yet they put together a life style that was very important for generations of people living in Beijing.


So how can architects contribute to that in an environment right way. In our case, we were likely to have the opportunity to work on product design. I would like to show you quickly two products we designed.






















This is the inspiration of our design. In China it is called Hulu. When I was a lot younger, it was a common thing. After harvesting the Hulu, you cut it and clear the inside. Then they become utensils. Actually it is waterproof so you can scoop water and rice, and keep food in it.


We were inspired by Hulu and wondered if it can have a pre-industrial design and could another life. What we did was using computer conceptually to slice ceramic Hulu, so that they can be opened up as plates and bowls. It is an idea pretty straight forward. We just took the idea from the nature and then made them in table scale. After the bigger Hulus we did the baby Hulus, so they start to be a family.


Pic-15| Hulu Series Tabletop Design

Pic-17| Water Lily

Pic-18| Water Lily

Pic-19| Water Lily Tray

Pic-20| Water Lily Tray

Pic-21| “Thick Thin Fold” Screen




Now I want to talk about something bigger. It is a piece of furniture made of an artificial stone from the manufacture Formica. In this picture I was holding a piece and noticed it was about 4 millimeters thick. There was a potential to make it translucent. So we used CNC router to make a screen that is built from one material both for the structure and the translucency. Traditionally, the screen is a combination of two materials: wood frame and rice paper. Now the technology is able to combine the two needs into one material, so you can see it is 4 millimeters on one side and 4 centimeters on the other side. A gradation of the translucency from one end to the other appears.










































Then it’s about interior design. I like to eat, and I enjoy food. So this restaurant is one of the few projects that we did for interior designs since we didn't usually do that. This is a vegetarian restaurant and it is a new courtyard building. There were two courtyards but we put a translucent roof on them so you will still feel like dining outside. We also used blocks of wood as bricks and made these different walls. You can see the details of the wall. We use the traditional tiles to make a very lacy screen. The whole point is to take some traditional materials to see if there are different ways to use the material that is still offering the feeling of the old material but gives it a new life. So that’s the continuity between what we did and what the past generation had. I did some cartoons in every private dining room, because I was asked by the client to do some Chinese soft decorations.






































































So this is the first Smallness, the whole idea is that we like to think firstly how our design would participate in the environment of everyday lives; the second point is to design a not-so-small building from something very small that I will talk about later. The whole idea from jewelry to furniture to interior and to building is that you can never remove the connection between a design and everyday life.























In recent years I am coming back into the core issues of architecture. There are many important big issues: sustainability, urbanism and social issues, which architects could help and I would like to be part of it. There are two issues for the second Smallness. They are not small at all but very close to the foundation of architecture. One is history as you can see in this slide, and the other one is material.


This of course is the biggest, the great hall in the Forbidden City like we are in the Great Hall of Cooper Union, the same idea. What's interesting is although for many centuries, there was not much communication and exchange between the West and China. You look at a building like this, you can immediately detect a classical spirit in the building which means something rather universal. You know that the value of harmony, balance, the expression of gravity and so on. They are there.

Pic-22| “Thick Thin Fold” Screen

Pic-23| “King’s Joy Beijing”

Pic-24| “Wooden Brick”

Pic-25| “Wooden Brick”

Pic-26| “Tile Brick”

Pic-27| Cartoon

Pic-28| Forbidden City

Pic-29| National Museum




All these things I studied first as student and as a teacher later on. Maybe with this museum for the culture revolution I could combine the qualities because the local construction force varies in scales. This is in the province of Sichuan. So I took a risk to see what quality of concrete we were able to achieve. It turned out to be something like this. I have seen some Brazilian concrete buildings; it is actually pretty similar. Of course the raw power of the concrete is brought out.


As a museum, I was hoping you will get the kind of feeling people have towards culture evolution on to the surface of the building. The formal language of it is a kind of classical. I hope that a piece of architecture like this is informative so when people see the content of it, they can start to understand the history is embodied in some way in the building.

Pic-30| Changsha Terminal

Pic-31| Chandigarh

In the same time, we are doing the same kind of social brutalism in the 1960s and early 1970s, and it was an event held internationally especially this project in Chandigarh by Le Corbusier in the 1950s and 1960s. It was about taking on the local conditions of India, which meant women using buckets on their head carrying concrete. I may use the word primitive. That's how this building was built. There were a lot of photographs you can see. Then the architect realized concrete can have a very different expression of roughness.

Pic-32| Museum Bridge

Pic-33| Museum Bridge

Pic-34| Museum Bridge











And then of course reflectivity is important for glass so we did an installation (study) project for Audi, the German car auto manufacture. We decided to play a reflection along with transparency to really stress this property of glass. The idea is not so much about showing the glass, but trying to simulate the illusion of movement with a static car. The motion and the setting became a visual game.


Coming back to Farnsworth House, there is another very famous Glass House by Philip Johnson. They were in open landscape, so that there is no problem with privacy. And then the transparency became absolute again in this case, it changes the way people would have relate inside and outside. The Glass House became a building type that is for the landscape rather than for the city. Although we all know in Chicago there are some high-rise projects. The idea is that if you truly open not only the house, but yourself. Of course you would like to do it here in a rural landscape of Illinois or Connecticut. So what would be an urban glass house? I think there are different options.

So, this is something we all know. It has become a very important reference for my work. This is the Farnsworth House, I was very lucky to meet some folks who actually stayed and lived in this house for quite a bit of years. What’s interesting about this project is the invisibility of glass, it's the material you almost had to ignore its materiality in order to understand its power. The transparency is so absolute so the glass is not there.

Pic-35| Farnsworth House

Pic-36| Audi Haus

Pic-37| Audi Haus

Pic-38| Sketch

In 1991, I came up with an observation to really understand the Glass House by turning it 90 degrees. However, now the glass is here and they have to be floors if you want to accommodate programs. I drew a little sketch like this. The glass floors and roof as well.

Pic-39| Farnsworth House Plan

Pic-40| Glass House Plan

Then I wanted to do more studies. Mies van der Rohe's glass house had the very thoughtful way to organize the tectonics so that there were no corner issues. The project is also pretty obvious in the plan. The core of glass room, which is utility room, divides this open space into four rooms connecting with each other but they are self-defined to the point that it's clear you can designate a particular function to them. However, when you go into the Mr. Johnson's house, the core is placed pretty closed to the door here if I remember it is about 80 centimeters so it really didn't divide the space. Although they gave them functions and actually from what I heard he used more as a living room: for reception, for party to really have a full everyday routine. So what's interesting is the possibility for organizing space that is totally open but into such a way that it accommodates different functions.

Pic-41| Glass House Site

Johnson's Glass House is also interesting for a couple of reasons. Because the Glass House could not be a self-sufficient house, there is a brick house and it has three windows in the back, two of them he didn't open them much. So the openness creates a more complete scenario for everyday life. For this duality, I started to think about the organization, which functions not exactly like Mies, but uses glass's transparency to organize them vertically so there are different functions for rooms. Then I had an idea of occupant for the Vertical Glass House.

Pic-42| Drunken Poet

This is a very well-known drunken poet in Chinese history and he was also famous for being naked inside the house. When people asked him “Why you do not wear any clothes at home?” He said :”The sky and the earth. They are my house. The structures of the house are my clothes.” This is the only image you can find on Internet. I don't know whether it's accurate. He is half naked sleeping outside, and also closer to the nature.

Pic-43| Sankai Juku

The photo shows a Japanese dancer, the group is called Sankai Juku . The way they danced made me think of the rather contemporary version of the Chinese drunken poet. His name is actually Liu Lin, I forgot to say that. So I started to draw Mr. Liu in the form of a dancer, having rather than the everyday rites, rituals of doing everything.

Pic-44| Sketch

Pic-45| Sketch

Pic-46| Vertical Glass House

Last year, the house was built in Shanghai as part of the Shanghai West Bund Biennale. It is now used as a guest house for people like architects and artists visiting Shanghai. The building is right on the water front. The outside is rough-textured concrete and inside is open to sky. When it was finished, I stayed there for two nights with my wife. The house, if you remember, is for one person. She came and there is a family-a little daughter. They wanted to try this house. Somehow the capacity of the house is expanding all the time.

Pic-47| Interior

Pic-48| Interior

Pic-49| Fiber Glass

The next project is about material. The material you see here is fiberglass. Fiberglass is a material nowadays widely used. They are made of this material because they are very light and very strong, why don't we use them in architecture? There are a lot of technical issues and we spent eight years trying to solve some of the issues so we are at the stage of building so we will start construction very soon. Fiberglass is a material only 1/6 of the mass of steel but is equally strong. So that is how light it is. We have to go through all these experiments to prove that. So this is about the weight, the columns are extruded and this is used as vacuum section to manufacture the floor plate and structure testing. We think the material is something important to the architecture, so if that is the case, architects cannot afford not to be part of the research and experiment of the material. We can't do it alone; we have to do it with scientists, engineers, but we have to be part of it because they may know material better than we do but they don't really know much about buildings. So this orchestra we need to put together, so here its putting up an entire section, collecting all the data and apply to the government agency to use it as a structural material, otherwise without permission is not allowed. More details and the system in the exhibition in Beijing.

Pic-50| Property of Fiber Glass

Pic-51| Material Lab

I want to say one thing, when I started to work with the material eight years ago, I really didn't like the way it looks. As architects, we actually care much about how things look because I used to and still doing that love wood and stone, but after 8 years, fiberglass start to look pretty beautiful. So it’s very educational for our learning process because you see the wires in there and the translucency and so on. It starts to have a certain qualities.


The second Smallness it is really about the ideas, questions and thinking we have in architecture as disciplines. In some way only people within this professional field can fully understand the power of them and know how to use these knowledge to do things. While we are talking the big issues, I think at least for me it is always important to come back to the basic idea of architecture.




Pic-53| Shanghai

So the last one is a short one, but it is very important. Does it mean that smallness has to be small? In some way it does, because we cannot do a huge thing and not relate back to daily life. But however small, can we go fromsomething small and gradually make something big? We are in the process of trying that.


This is Shanghai. Shanghai is much a nicer city in Beijing. If I could move my office, I would be in Shanghai. But anyway, try to look for people here, this is right in the heart of Shanghai. Maybe there are a few, most of the people they are pushing on the side, they are riding the low-tech bicycles. This is the Xuhui District and now there are cars and decorative landscape meaning it’s a park you have to risk your life to go in there to do Taiji, of course nobody does that. The urban issue is for real. It's a big issue we encounter, and confronting in a daily bases. So what can we do? As architects again, we cannot really act alone, but we can start to do a little bit of something when opportunity arises.

Pic-53| City Grid

Pic-54| Density

Pic-55| Planning

Pic-56| Construction

So the project we did was actually very simple. In the Jiading district in Shanghai, has the average block size around 1600’ X 1600’. The New York block has a standard as 60m by 130m. So after a lot of study, we decided maybe for Jiading, the appropriate size of a block should be about 130’ X 130’ so that is how big a typical block is. This is not only for Jiading, all over China has these huge blocks, like for Beijing the starting point would be 2000’ X 2000’. So that is the reason why we have traffic congestions all the time. We study older cities' periphery blocks and it’s very important to have the covered walkway for each block.


Then we ran into a problem: the density of certain lines became higher while we are doing the design. So we decided to do a two tier design: four small blocks on the bottom with a donut building on top so the FAR was able to be higher, and then the program allow us to have the donut for hotel. This year all these buildings will be under construction. So this project is much bigger; all the projects I presented previously in combination would be smaller than this one. But the point is still thinking something small. Literally is the size of block, and the size of the street but conceptually it is how it is always on the ground, close to the way people live. I think the smallness project hopefully would extend in such a direction.

Pic-57| FCJZ Studio

So in the very end, I just want to say, before the question comes up, I don't really have problem with colors. I do live in a rather colorful world to some extent. This is our office. I painted.


That’s my presentation.

And this is the traditional Chinese architecture. And probably many people saw this building before. It’s on the Tiananmen Square and now it is a national museum, one of the socialist buildings we have in Beijing. The influence came from Soviet Russia. The architect was my father. As you can see the kind of western European classicism is present the way I described the great hall in the Forbidden City. This is built in 1959, the 10th Anniversary of the Chinese communist and this building was built during the cultural revolution as you can see the political icon on top of it. 


Otherwise it is still classical and classical in its spirit. If you wonder what it is, it was meant to be a torch. Because it is an ideological thing, there is a problem with the direction of it. It was pointed west initially, for the whole idea is the eastern wind is overwhelming the west, but later people said it brought too much attention to the west, and then it was turned around and then it didn’t work, and tried a lot of directions. This is the first architecture in China received a nickname:” Little Red Pepper”.



So the first smallness is rather literal, I don’t know whether you can tell how big it is. It is a ring. We started a couple of years ago to design products including jewelry. Jewelry is something that is very close to your body. We also design clothes, but I am not wearing any of those tonight. Anyway, you can see the smallest thing we have done is something like this. The scene you see is very architectural. This is a section of a room but also a stage for a Peking Opera. Here is a Peking Opera, if you are a dancing fan you will know what I am talking about. From there, let's have something that would put this jewelry and maybe the smallness in content.

The slide you are looking at is the World Expo 2010, and we did one of the pavilions. I hope that this particular project actually concluded the not-so-recent work, it was all about making fireworks, although we didn't get to make as much as we could. Somehow because of these fireworks or fire crackers, I started to reflect upon a number of things that have resulted in talking about something else; and I produced hopefully slightly different work. That something else is Smallness.

Here is a park next to our office. This is an old summer palace. I was working on a tray for Alessi for over a year and didn't have any decent ideas. One day before I walked into my office, I saw the water lily pond. Before leaving we had stolen a leaf and put it in the studio. What I saw was a tray. Holding it up, eventually we had the leaf scanned and digitalized. We made minor adjustments then we had a tray. This is a stainless steel tray, because that is the very basic technology from Alessi. In this case we designed even less than the gourd. We really took something directly from the nature, everyday life and even the urban everyday life and the nature that is far apart.



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