As a professor at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts’ School of Architecture, Wei He has a unique perspective on architectural and interior design, and as a practicing architect, he has long used that perspective to support his own work.
In He’s opinion, contemporary huaren architects must go back to basics and start from the core ideal of architecture—to care for humanity. With years of practice behind him, he is deeply aware of an unavoidable truth: many architects’ design concepts and final output run counter to people’s needs.
He believes that in most cases, architects in urban construction are bound to the holders of capital. In service of money and power, they have gradually forgotten that the real goal of architecture is to construct and coordinate the relationship between people and the land. “Having worked on so many projects, I sincerely believe that contemporary huaren architects need to go back to the basic mindset of working in service of the user,” He reflects.
He and his team coordinated the Xihe Cereals and Oils Museum and Villagers’ Activity Center renovation project based on this belief. After experiencing the on-the-ground learning and practice of a rural construction project, He surmises, “Rural construction is different from urban construction in that the owner of the land and structure is often the same person as the builder, user, and sometimes even the architect. In these cases, you see that their ideas are basic, plain, and integrated. When an architect is aware of this, his work is more real, powerful, and moving, because the work reflects the reality of life. At the same time, architects need to fulfill their social responsibility by helping rural farmers build up their industries and rebuild their villages. They can’t just be designers of spaces.
“When you do rural construction, you discover that living is what brings design to life. Only by fulfilling real needs can architecture become something of genuine value in the lives of ordinary people. That’s when architects really fulfill their potential and responsibility.” The Xihe Cereals and Oils Museum and Villagers’ Activity Center project won it’s designers a Golden Pin Design Award 2015 Best Design trophy.
Another rural construction project, Grandpa’s Youth Hostel, is also emblematic of many of He’s unique ideas about architecture and the renovation of rural villages. He believes that the way he practices architecture is heavily influenced by huaren culture and philosophy. “For example, I’ve always been against the idea that renovations need to preserve the original style of the building, particularly for buildings that are not culturally significant,” he says. “I think that every era has its own unique language and spirit, and I don’t think we should be obliged to use old methods and techniques in modern construction.
“You would never imagine that Qing dynasty builders would imitate Tang styles, or Tang builders use the same plans as pre-Qin architecture. Even in the past, huaren communities created new cultures and ideas in every era. But in contemporary huaren societies and communities, huaren designers seem to have lost their creativity. We keep proclaiming that we need innovation, but at the same time we remain afraid of it. You can even hear people advocating a ‘return’ to the past in terms of culture or technology. I can’t agree with that.
“As huaren designers search for the essence of traditional culture, the most urgent thing is to learn how to translate this ancient essence into modern languages and ideas.”
About Wei He
Wei He holds a BA in Architecture from Tsinghua University, an MA in Architecture and Urban Planning from the University of Stuttgart in Germany, and a PhD in design from the China Central Academy of Fine Arts. He is an associate professor in the School of Architecture at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, and the director of its Laboratory Center, as well as the executive editor-in-chief for Professional Lighting Design magazine, the deputy director of the Rural Architecture Committee of the Architects’ Branch of the Architectural Society of China, the deputy director of the Environmental Art Lighting Committee of the Beijing Lighting Association, and a founding member of the Building Committee of the Architects’ Branch of the Architectural Society of China. He has worked in interdisciplinary research and practice in the fields of architecture, urbanism, lighting, and art. He has been recognized with awards including a First-class Award in the 1st Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development Farm Architecture Awards, a 2014 WA Chinese Architecture Award, and the Social Justice Award.