Interview with Architect Qi Xin, China
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.
Usually the starting point of design is to consider the surroundings and what meaning the project will have in relation to them. In China the urban environment is created from zero or it’ll change fast in the near future, so how can you deal with the absence of context?
Actually this was a very big challenge when I came back to China. For any architect, it’s pretty important that you know what the constraints are when you start your job. I started my career in Europe, so when I came back, every time I got a new scheme to do I would find different maps at different scales, to understand the situation about the region, the city, the district, and the neighborhoods. But it doesn’t work at all in this way in China, because when you look around almost any city in China it’s a big myth. You have the tall buildings and the low buildings, the square and the round building, the red and black, the “European style” and “Chinese style”; everything is put together. So what is your reference, and with what do you want the dialogue? Especially when you have a neighbor here, another neighbor there, maybe when your building is built, your neighbors would have disappeared already! So this is the urban context. More than often we have to start with an agricultural field. You have nothing, just agricultural field. You have no reference, so it’s just like we are put on the moon, and apparently you can do anything you want.
So with maximum freedom you can just experiment?
Yeah, but once you don’t have this reference, you are lost; you don’t know what to do or how to start your work. So at this moment, you have to find out how to make your constraints by yourself. That’s what I’m trying to do. For instance, if you work in Beijing region, you can refer to the physical urban situation, but also to cultural influences, or to something else totally different. The most important thing is that we don’t know where we are going. I mean we don’t know what the future situation of the city will be or what it will look like; we are making the future cities. All we have been told about the city is that it’s disappearing, because the physical world becomes less important, and we are living more with the Internet, you are living everywhere or anywhere. So you are not constrained in a physical street or a physical square, all those architectural terms are not adapted to today’s situation. This is more or less the reality and this reality means architecture is not important, style is not important. We have to admit it – as an architect, you are not important at all.