April 1, 2008
by Gregory Haley AIA AICP LEED AP

Event: New York/China Dialogues
Location: The Center for Architecture, 03.20.08
Speakers: Li Chung (Sandi) Pei, AIA — Partner, Pei Partnership Architects; James von Klemperer, FAIA — Principal, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates; Frederick Bland, FAIA, AICP — Managing Partner, Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners; Calvin Tsao, FAIA — Co-Founder, Tsao & McKown Architects
Moderator: Susan Chin, FAIA — Assistant Commissioner, Capital Projects, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs
Organizers: Center for Architecture
Sponsors: Patron: Digital Plus; Supporters: Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners; EDAW; Jerome and Kenneth Lipper Foundation; Friends: Bartco Lighting; Häfele; Ibex Construction; Let There Be Neon; Tsao & McKown Architects


Vernacular architecture in Suzhou.

Annique Fung

Beyond the simple exportation of Western design, there is an opportunity for two-way exchange between China and New York. Because of China’s building boom, James von Klemperer, FAIA, a principal at Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF), sees parallels to “what happened in New York 100 years ago.” “For those of us who think we understand urbanism living in New York, going to China will teach you a lot,” stated Frederick Bland, FAIA, AICP, managing partner of Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners (BBB).

With a long history working in China, Pei Partnership Architects melds geometric Modernism with spatial sequences and materials that “evoke what is familiar to the Chinese,” according to partner Li Chung (Sandi) Pei, AIA. In the Suzhou Museum, designed in conjunction with I.M. Pei Architect, for example, gray tiled roofs and white plastered walls echo similar techniques used throughout history. Similarly, KPF created a pedestrian network of through-block connections at the base of the Jingan Complex, drawing inspiration from the fine grain of Shanghai’s traditional urban blocks. Taking clues from the “ingredients” of the Bund, BBB’s Nanjing Road Urban Design Project for People’s Square in Shanghai incorporates water, open green space, and both historic and contemporary buildings to re-brand People’s Square as a “Spectacle Zone” that functions for Shanghai much like Time Square does for NYC.

Shifting focus from the specificities of design to the logistics of urban development, Calvin Tsao, FAIA, co-founder of Tsao & McKown Architects, has teamed with his developer brother and various NGOs to propose economic and community development strategies to improve living conditions in China. In Chengdu, for example, Tsao and his partners proposed land use regulations that focus development in urbanized centers and preserve open space, and specific neighborhood plans that integrate schools, hospitals, and other community services.

The future of east-west architectural exchange is developing. Pei sees an “emergence of a synergy between Western and Chinese architecture practices,” while Tsao more cautiously urges focus on the specificity of place and culture to avoid the “import and export of architecture as product.” While acknowledging “the enormity of problems” in China, Bland believes there is “potential to effect change,” and it is up to architects globally to promote preservation, “not just of buildings, but of a society and a way of life.”

Gregory Haley, AIA, AICP, LEED AP, is a project architect and urban designer at Studio V Architecture, and has taught at the Boston Architectural Center and NYIT School of Architecture.