When I first visited the exceptional China Design Now exhibit that opened this month at the Portland Art Museum, it caused a small epiphany: that for all the nation's hugeness both in terms of population and cultural influence, I could not name a single contemporary Chinese architect of huge international renown - not a single "starchitect".
China's neighbor and rival, Japan, has had a host of them: Tadao Ando, Arata Isozaki, Yoshio Taniguchi. The only exception I could think of with China is I.M. Pei, but he was educated and has lived in the United States since the 1930s.
In the China Design Now exhibit, there is an architectural focus that includes buildings like the National Stadium (a.k.a. "The Bird's Nest") and the CCTV tower. But those buildings were both designed by Europeans: Herzog & DeMeuron and Rem Koolhaas, respectively.
But the answer to this question about renowned modern Chinese architects or starchitects may best be focused on Yung Ho Chang. Who, like Pei, seems to favor circular eyeglass frames.
With design offices in Beijing and a position as head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Architecture (a position the great Portland architect Pietro Belluschi also once occupied), Yung is one of China's contemporary design giants. He designed the China Design Now exhibit when it originated at London's Victoria & Albert Museum, and recent projects include an ambitious urban plan for a "sustainable town" in the Jiading district of Shanghai and the ambitious Shanghai Pavilion at next year's 2010 World Expo (pictured below).
Born in Beijing, Yung studied environmental design and architecture at UC Berkeley and then returned to China to co-found the country’s first independent architecture firm in 1993: Atelier FCJZ (short for Feichang Jianzhu). The name translates to “unusual architecture”. AFCJZ has designed private homes, factories, museums and government buildings, as well as installations, experimental furniture and graphic design.
Yung & company's work is known for combining traditional Chinese forms and materials with contemporary global practice. Besides his current chair position of MIT's architecture department, from 2002-03, Yung held the Kenzo Tange Chair at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design. He is also at work on a new MIT campus master plan.
Yung will be in Portland for two events this week.
On Thursday (October 29), the architect will speak at the Art Museum as part of China Design Now, for a discussion called "China Architecture Now" and focusing on how the rapid changes in contemporary China’s economy, mobility and consumerism are profoundly affecting architectural practice in the country. The lecture is from 7-8pm in the Fields Ballroom at the Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Avenue. (Tickets, available through the museum box office, are $5 for members and $12 for non-members, not including entry to the exhibition.)
Friday (October 30) finds Yung at a cozier gathering: The Back Room, the ongoing dinner-and-discussion series overseen by writer/editor Matthew Stadler. The architect will be interviewed by Randy Gragg, editor of Portland Spaces and Portland Monthly (and previously, of course, The Oregonian's architecture critic). The Back Room evening will be held at Saucebox, which is perhaps appropriate given that the downtown Asian-fusion restaurant was designed by Brad Cloepfil. There will also be dinner and drinks by Gregory Gourdet and live music by Lisa Schoenberg (of Explode Into Colors) and Jonathan Sielaff. Seats are $65 each with dinner, drinks and everything included. The evening begins at 6:30pm. You can reserve a seat here. For more information email Matthew Stadler at firstname.lastname@example.org.