The Beijing Honest Architectural Design Company is located on the 29th floor of one of the towers at JianWai SOHO. The company is managed by three partners. We speak with two of them: Yang Chenggang and Tian Bing.
Yang: I have been interested in architecture since high school. Actually, I enjoyed art and design when I was a kid and I started to learn painting at the age of 4 or 5. However, art didn’t promise a serious career in the 70s or 80s in China and so my parents hoped that I could do something better than art. That’s why I became an architect.
When did you start designing?
Yang: In 1994; it has been 17 years now. He (Mr. Tian) started earlier than me, he has been doing it for over 20 years.
What’s your first project?
Yang: I started doing some projects with my director when I was still studying in university, but I don’t feel attached to any of them; I just did what my director told me to do. My first own project was the Annwa Mansion near Anzhen Bridge, with a design that seems pretty naïve to me now and doesn’t match with my present view on designs.
Your company’s business is in commercial property or residential?
Tian: More in residential.
Tian: In my point of view, it’s quite hard to strike a balance between art and marketing demands under the present circumstances of architecture in China. The majority of our projects are more commercial than artistic and we are not satisfied about it.
Yang: But the truth is that we never give up finding a better balance. Because every one of us does have a dream on architecture, even though architecture itself is affected by many other factors, such as policies, clients, time etc.
What would you design if you could ignore all the external pressures?
Tian: Architecture can never get rid of the society. If it’s extremely idealistic, I would design something that meets an individual’s needs. However, needs vary from people to people.
What about the style?
Tian: I believe that the trend is a cycle of history. For instance, people now prefer simple design; however, today it’s modern but it is likely to become retro after 5 years. Just like villas, it’s popular to have a Tuscan-style villa nowadays, yet it could be an avant-garde Japanese style in a couple of years. I think it’s same with fashion; it involves both vintage values and the psychology of the majority.
Some architects put more emphasis on the aesthetics of the design, while others focus more on the ecological aspects. What’s your position?
Tian: As an architect, I hope that my design can contribute to an individual’s living style. Ecologic buildings are certainly part of our plan, including low-carbon and low-energy buildings. I also wish that we could have more design with Chinese distinctions. As you can see, most ideas in China are from other countries which lack our own distinctions.
Now please mark the following buildings on a scale from 1 to 10.
(1) New CCTV Building
Tian & Yang: Nine.
(2) The old (JianWai) SOHO buildings
Tian: 5, I think. This is a famous Japanese concept (SOHO: Small Office, Home Office).
Yang: It can’t be great on the form of design, but it is a successful project considering the operation afterwards. When evaluating a building, we need to take the period in which it was designed into account as well. Some buildings may turn out to be a failure years later, but it can be a masterpiece at the current time.
Tian: Chinese architecture still puts a lot of emphasis on the appearance in the design, due to the uncompleted development at present. However, form is just part of designing.
(3) The LG Twin Towers
Tian: Five. I feel that Koreans do worse on this very aspect (he means designing), so are their clothes …^_^
Yang: It’s not good, not even as pure commercial buildings.
(4) The Phoenix Office Building
Tian: It has not been completed yet, a 7 perhaps.
Yang: I give only 6 points. First of all, I don’t think that it fits the environment there. It’s without saying that architecture should coordinate with the environment. Besides, I have seen some other designs at the competition of this project, and they were better.
(5) Interesting. What about the Bird’s Nest?
Tian & Yang: Nine.
(6) Forbidden City
Tian & Yang: 10!
(7) China World Trade Center Tower III
Yang: I agree.
Among the projects in your company, which ones satisfied you most?
Yang: We are still developing.
Tian: I was awarded for the best design for several times, but I’m not particularly satisfied with any of them. There’s always something, professional or commercial, affecting us.
Tian: Frankly speaking, some of the foreign designs are also not so good, such as architecture in the 60s in America, as they were in the process of a big development. Like the current the situation in China; architecture is still developing.
Yang: Yet, we are always seeking for a better opportunity. In fact, we always consider how much development a case can bring us.
That’s sensible. I’ve observed that your company seems to be doing well. When did you start it?
Yang: This corporation was founded by the Ministry of Construction together with Hong Kong partners in 1994. Then we three bought this company in 2003 and later we became the managing directors of this company after the elder architects retired.
I used to run a company with a partner as well, what will you do when there’s an argument?
Tian: Arguments are inevitable. We need to consider more about collective interests, and seek the common ground while respecting differences.
Yang: Architecture is a rather idealistic job, for everyone holds their own ideas. Thus, it’s necessary to communicate, to have discussions and then come to an agreement with each other. That way we can work out the best scheme.
Tian: It’s kind of different with western people. Occidental individuals tend to stick to their own grounds; while oriental people are likely to find a balance between two sides. I think that’s due to the different cultural backgrounds.
Are you also good friends after work?
Yang & Tian: Of course!
You have many employees working in your company. With the fierce competition going on, how do you retain your staff?
Tian: With money.
Yang: Of course not. China is a pretty materialistic country nowadays, thus the economic basics are important. However, employees are also seeking for good opportunities in their careers, challenges as well as happiness at work.
How much does a senior architect earn every month?
Tian: A senior architect can make at least 200,000 RMB per year. That’s 15,000RMB for a month. The cost of manpower increased a lot these years in China, while the payment for our designs still remains the same.
Tian: What people pursue is different. Some prefer making more money, while others are more interested in opportunities. To illustrate it with our company, if a project cannot bring any opportunity to develop ourselves in new directions, we will make it a commercial case and try to maximize the profit. By contrast, if a case can contribute to our development, we will ask for less money. So, our strategies are different.
Tian: Anyway, architecture in China is still in a process of development, so the social status of Chinese architects isn’t as important as in foreign countries. It’s not a problem only for this industry. Actually, the situation in Beijing is much better then in the provinces.