Design tools available today, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, far exceed the skill set of any average designer. Co-founder of Dezact, Ping-Hsiang Chen believes designers have to radically change the way they do design, and begin imagining future scenarios where technology improves people’s lives. Dezact is a platform where architects, engineers, programmers, new media artists, and designers can learn about tomorrow’s technology and discuss its contribution to our living environment.
Ping-Hsiang Chen is a Taiwanese architectural and computational designer, working at Mamou-Mani Architects in London. He graduated from Architectural Association School of Architecture, which boasts a number of esteemed alumni including Zaha Hadid and Richard Rogers. Aside from his work at Mamou-Mani Architects, he teaches on the postgraduate architecture program at University College London, and engages the future of design at Dezact.
“At Dezact, we are thinking ahead,” says Chen. “What does our future living environment look like, and what technologies should we start implementing? What can those technologies contribute to our lives in the future?”
Until now, the majority of Dezact’s forums and exhibitions have happened in Taiwan. The team took part in Modern Body Festival 2016 at The Hague in Netherlands, and they are planning a series of events in China at the end of 2017. Chen explains that Dezact was supposed to be a mobile platform in cities all around Asia, however, Taiwan just happened to be the most convenient place to begin.
He co-founded the platform in 2014 with Taiwanese-Irish architect and theorist Doreen Bernarth, and Boston-based Indian architect Ashkay. All three of the founders feel a deep, personal attachment to Asia, strongly believing that Eastern culture has more to offer to the future mainstream in arts, technology, and architectural developments. They are interested in innovative, natural materials from Asia such as bamboo, and the traditional construction methods used by people in Asia. For example, traditional bamboo construction methods from China and Southeast Asia could inspire future architecture, using technology to mimic traditional techniques.
Recently, Ping-Hsiang and his team in Mamou-Mani Architects designed a cable robot for an artificial intelligence exhibition, which you wouldn’t expect coming from a group of architects. It is interesting for people to see how architects can step into the world of robotics, and achieve a level of complexity that the average designer would not be incapable of. Chen explains, they had to reinvent their design tools in order to create an environment where this kind of design was attainable. 4D ecology is a very new but important concept to designers today.
On December 12th at Chongqing E-Cool Design Arts Center, Dezact collaborates with P Square Studio for a series of events, showcasing seven works from five new media artists in workshops, symposiums, and associated events. The artists all come from computer science related background, so expectations are set for a hyper futuristic impression of art and design. This is especially suited to the demands of Chinese audiences, who expect a sensory experience, more than just visual excellence.
“Most of the new media art exhibitions happening in China focus on visual experience,” says Chen. “We are looking for something different, something more experiential. It is not just about visually attractive art, or challenging the way we perceive screen-based work. We really want people to feel it through different senses.”
Chen goes on to explain his philosophy that architectural practice is about immersion; connecting people through space and multiple mediums within the space. When the Dezact team originally discussed the events in Chongqing, they were all hoping to create more than just an exhibition. Their aim is to interject people’s lives with new technologies and ideas of how it can promote their lifestyles.
Recent trends in e-commerce and digital currencies lead by Chinese corporations, Alibaba and Tencent, prove that China is very open to new technology. Chen is openly optimistic about new paradigms in the technological world, and not at all hesitant about the future of humanity on Earth. He admits that Chinese communities are more positive towards new technology than communities elsewhere in the world, a large proportion of whom accept the dystopian imaginary that AI will take over our jobs and ultimately enslave mankind.
The majority of Chen’s architectural practice happens in Europe, and up until now his only work in Asia are the educational events ran by Dezact. Asia is a very exciting place for designers from Europe, who are used to being bogged down in procedures, which are structured as barriers to making a project happen. Over the past three decades in China everything has happened so fast, epic skyscrapers rising from areas that were once home to simple fishing communities such as the famous Lujiazui skyline in Shanghai.
While the main Dezact team members are based in London, they are keen to build connections in Asia, so they created this event-driven platform as a launch pad. Half of the people who attend Dezact’s forums in Taiwan are industry professionals, while the other half are university students, all of whom will drive forward technological advancements in huaren design. By introducing their design concepts and educating designers in Asia, Dezact is constructing the foundation of a huaren design practice for the future.
About Ping-Hsiang Chen
Ping-Hsiang Chen is a senior computational designer at Mamou-Mani Architects and co-founded the educational network DEZACT. He specializes in parametric design, multi-media communication and digital fabrication in architecture. Ping Hsiang Chen completed his RIBA Part 1 and Part 2 at AA School of Architecture and a master degree in Architecture and Digital Media at the University of Westminster. He has worked as architecture and computational designer on a wide range of projects in KPF, ShaGa studio and A+T Partners in London. At Mamou-Mani, he is the project leader of the DNA of Making – a cable robot which automates material assembly process on construction site.
The robot, known as The Polibot, is currently showcased at the first Artificial Intelligence Exhibition”in the UK at Arup, London. He has contributed to journals and conferences such as Smart Geometry (2013) and London Build Conference (2016), and has given several talks on the topic of advanced computation in architecture and digital fabrication in both Taiwan and UK. He has taught at Shih Chien University in Taiwan, the AA Visiting School in Israel, Dorset and with the Digital Prototyping Lab at the AA. He is currently a computational course tutor at the Bartlett school of architecture in University College of London, and a parametric design consultant at SimplyRhino. He has trained companies such as Foster+Partners, Gillespies, CHAM, Forpeople, ASTHEIMER and more across urban, architecture and product design. His architecture and art works have been showcased and exhibited internationally at UCI Gallery (USA); Light in Alingsås (Sweden); Cheers Exhibition / P3 exhibition / SG2013 (UK ); Modern Body Festival 2016(NL).