Interview of Architect Qi Xin of Qi Xin Architects and Engineers,China
Currently in Chinese society, nothing is permanent, everything is transitional, and everything is evolving. Experimentation is actually something that is really common. Is your differentiated approach to design a reflection of this?
Yes. We are human, we are not God. And if you are not God, you’re not that sure what you are doing, so you cannot say one style or one way to do architecture is hundred percent correct – you have to admit that you are not the guy who knows the truth. Once you admit this point, you need to create pleasure with what you are. So that is my way. Pleasure to me is that you don’t know; it’s not that you know everything. And you can play with what you don’t know. In other words, it’s a bit like what Deng Xiaoping said; “摸着石头过河(Mo Zhe Shi Tou Guo He),” which translates to “cross the river by feeling the stones.” He tried to cross the river and to find where to step on different rocks and stones, without knowing exactly what direction he’s going to take. I think this way of crossing is like this profession. You don’t control everything; a lot of things are out of the architects’ control – you have a lot of constraints. The fun thing in doing this profession is to enjoy these constraints, instead of avoiding them or hating them. Every time there are different constraints, the challenge is to play with them, and each time you will find a different issue.
Compared to Europe, China has very few architects – one architect for every 40,000 people – yet in China you find one third of the entire world’s construction. How is this condition affecting architecture?
I think at this moment, we don’t have the same notion about architects in China as in Europe. In Europe, architects are more like a creator, and here they’re more just like an engineer. Here not every architect has an opportunity to make a kind of creation, but rather to solve a social and economic issue. So at this time, you don’t need that many architects. In Europe maybe you have a lot more architects, but you don’t have a lot of work to do, but here you have to build everything for a lot of people. It’s not the same way to explore this profession. It’s more about the quantity than the quality. In Europe you have a long urban and architectural tradition; you have to consider what is this relationship between the existing urban situations and what work you are going to do. Here you don’t have to think about this kind of context, so it’s more or less an easier way to make architecture. This is the general situation in China; we are creating an existing situation for the future.
So what should be the focus of design? Users, future users, or permanency?
I mean architecture is not important. You can make a microclimate or situation, but you cannot have any more influence than that on life or the urban situation – it’s just a very small operation you are working on, and you cannot control the situation of the city. But even if you are just working on a single object, you can always try to have a positive influence on the city, you can always contribute in your way to the city, to the citizens. Here everything is more or less an independent event but with this independent event, you can still make something for the city. So it depends on how you are going to treat it. But in a larger view it’s not that important; it’s you or somebody else. People are happy or they’re not, their happiness is not relying on your architecture.