WA Interview 2008
SUN Lingbo Interview with
Antoine Predock for World Architecture 2008/10
1. First, I would like to thank you for this interview
My early education was grounded in modernism and
my work generally drifts toward minimal expression but the influence of
Louis Kahn when I was a student profoundly affected me. Through his theories
and work I understood there were critical areas of subjectivity that could
enrich a solely modernist approach. Wright’s intensity with regard
to detail was also very important to me.
2. Most of your early works were in New Mexico. You wrote
in your book:” New Mexico has formed my experience in an all pervasive
sense. I don’t think of New Mexico as a region. I think of it as
a force that has entered my system, a force that is composed of many things.”
Could you please say something about the force you mentioned?
The force of New Mexico is a summation of geologic
time and power, and cultural strata going back thousands of years all
combined with an astonishing natural beauty. In my early work and at present,
although now I only work infrequently in New Mexico, its climatic and
environmental specificity makes the result different from US East or West
coast movements. For students, working in a confusing and sometimes contradictory
theoretical milieu, the important thing to remember is that there are
good and bad aspects of globalization. The worst examples in architecture
are buildings that are merely transplanted from other cultures and locations.
Architecture should grow from its site, responding to the site’s
physicality, layers of occupation, technology and spirit. Each building
should be a singular unique event of its time and place.
3. Someone said your work were austere designs of enormous
visual impact. Those sculpture shape, simple and evocative forms are really
impressive, and always beyond expectation, especially in the large-scale
buildings, such as the Nelson Fine Arts Center at Arizona State University,
the American Heritage Center at University of Wyoming, and the Spencer
These forms are derived from site in a general sense.
Sometimes there are specific abstract relationships to nearby mountains,
as in Wyoming and the Spencer Theater. In the US Southwest, amazing forms
on the horizon are everywhere and the Fine Arts Center makes a kind of
distillation. I think my design process definitely embodies rational methodologies
but tempered by the initiative.
4. On space. You once said that your buildings are processional,
choreographic events, could you say more about your thought on the processional
ordering of your building? What do you want to express through space?
Every building has the potential for processional
narrative. Much like a scenic highway with special vantage points along
it, my buildings attempt to orchestrate spatial experience in a rich,
varied, open-ended way.
5. In several books, I saw photos of you riding a motorbike. It is quite impressive. And you also wrote about your involvement in dance and ski in your book. Are they the sources of the notion of motion in space of your buildings? When we talk about an architect, besides the professional models and drawings, people also want to know something about his/her life, because sometimes the life itself could be the source of creation. Could you talk something about your approach to life and its influence on your work?
I personally retain a hands-on connection to my design
process working with clay, ink, pastel and collage, but I feel deeply
connected to the digital realm at the same time. Computer technologies
and the expansive internet only make my studio’s process richer,
more complex and more complete than ever before. I have extraordinarily
talented, young colleagues who have grown up in cyberspace.
8. The last question is on China. I am glad to see some
of your new projects in China. What is your impression on China? When
you design in China, what are your primary concerns?
I feel as though I am beginning a new life in architecture
connected to China. My travels have taken me throughout the country; the
fantastic ethnicity of Yunnan; Dali, and Lijiang, the surreal landscapes
of Guilin, the power of the Taklamakan Desert and the delight of the Turfan
oasis, a sense of cultural crossroads at the Mogao caves, Shanghai’s
incredible urbanism and sophistication, hiking to the peak in Hong Kong
surrounded by its high rise dance, the feeling of being part of a Northern
Song Dynasty painting at Fuchun near Hangzhou, the infinity of the Great
Wall at Mu Tian Yu, Hutong of Beijing juxtaposed to some sensational new
buildings and many very average new buildings that threaten the Hutong’s
existence, attending the Olympics finals in the Bird’s Nest and
the thrill of Zhang Yimou’s design for the closing ceremony. Because
of the astonishing depth of this culture, I feel a great responsibility
working on various projects in China. The site specificity that I have
spoken of before applies in China just as in other works of mine around
the world. I feel like a cultural translator trying to be true to the
place but not in a trivializing, literal stylistic way. I try to engage
the vast cultural depth as China reinvents itself technologically. I urge
my Chinese colleagues to draw from deep cultural memories in a 21st Century
fashion and not to jump to the omnipresent Western models. Many Chinese
architects are engaged in this search in successful and provocative ways.
A short distance from the fabulous Bird’s Nest designed by European
architects is The Digital Building by Studio Pei-Zhu which shows that
great talent exists within China without the need to look outside the
country every time.