Yao Zhiyu (Architect) and Fang Fang (Lighting Designer)
IDA 2022 IDA Architectural Design of the Year
Tell us about your definition of design?
Yao Zhiyu: My personal definition of design is to create something and endow it with meaning which covers many aspects including humility, history, the relationship with the environment, functionality and social issues.
Fang Fang: My definition of design means solving problems, and to help people enjoy their lives and their spiritual pursuits.
What do you see as the strengths of your winning project ‘Shangyu Museum’ and what does this award mean to you personally?
Yao Zhiyu: I suppose the strength of the ‘Shangyu Museum’ project lies in its ability to interpret history, context and complex functions by using a concise architectural vocabulary. It is a great honor for me personally to receive this IDA award and also an international recognition of my many years in the pursuit of architectural practices.
Fang Fang：For me, it is to explore the beauty of the architecture at night with light, where it is the visual focus of an area. I am very happy to be able to practice the perfect combination of architecture and lighting in this ‘Shangyu Museum’ project, so that every lighting designer can have more voice.
What impact has winning this IDA Award had on your career/opportunities?
Yao Zhiyu: Winning the IDA Award will definitely bring us more projects, and there are already owners who have come to contact us.
Fang Fang: Winning this Award will enable us to get more resources and complete better projects.
Can you explain what was most important for you when planning the project and what were the biggest challenges you faced?
Yao Zhiyu: The most important aspect in planning a project is to define the meaning that validates its existence. I want a project to go above and beyond what the owner wants. The biggest challenge of each project is to balance the restrictions.
Fang Fang: My biggest challenge is whether my execution of a project can reach the definition of “perfect” in my mind as much as possible. My undergraduate major is art. The aesthetic quality of a completed project is very important to me, so I often face a choice between budget and effect.
What is your guiding design principle?
Yao Zhiyu: The Eastern philosophy of the Tao of nature, or goodness as water.
Fang Fang: Balance
Do you see design an expression of art?
Yao Zhiyu: Absolutely, though it is an art under many constraints.
Fang Fang: Of course, the ultimate goal of design is to transcend life.
Is design for you a creation of an individual or a group?
Yao Zhiyu & Fang Fang: In the case of this award-winning project it was a combination of both.
Tell us a little about your background. How did you develop a passion for design?
Yao Zhiyu: I come from a family of architects and have therefore received a lot of architectural influence since I was a child, so design is more of an interest than just a job.
Fang Fang: Before engaging in lighting design, I focused on painting for 14 years. When I was young, my dream was to become an artist, but I believe an artist’s creation is a very personal expression. Now, I have the opportunity to make creations for more people to appreciate. I feel very fortunate.
Where does your motivation and inspiration from for your work come from?
Yao Zhiyu: It comes from a wide range of interests and enjoyment of life.
Fang Fang: A belief that I will create better things.
How do you think your own culture and environment has shaped your personal and professional creative vision?
Yao Zhiyu: It is an amalgamation of eastern and western cultures, the philosophy ideology of the East and analytical approaches of the West in particular.
Fang Fang: In fact, my education has not only oriental content, but also many western cultures. Chinese designers of our generation pay more attention to the broader world. My major is western painting. I often compare the cultural differences between China and the West. In this environment, we pay more attention to the exploration of the needs of “people” themselves
Tell us about a project which has been your greatest achievement?
Yao Zhiyu: I was the first local designer to do one of the Alibaba campuses.
Fang Fang: After 16 years of my career, I have won dozens of professional lighting design awards worldwide, and I have two lovely sons.
Which designer in your field do you most admire and why?
Yao Zhiyu: Louis I. Kahn. One can recognize a poetic quality from his projects, and that is also what I aim to achieve.
Fang Fang: Peter Zumthor, I have examined most of his works which I believe provide contrasts from extremely calm thinking to romance.
How do you feel design has evolved over the past years and how do you see it evolving in the future?
Yao Zhiyu: The impact of artificial intelligence on architecture is increasing and may revolutionize the entire architectural design industry in the near future.
Fang Fang: Projects that can be formularized and repeated are becoming progressively cheaper. In the future, I believe that more emphasis will be placed on real personalization.
What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities in your career/industry now?
Yao Zhiyu: The big question right now is the influence of artificial intelligence which of course may be an opportunity to force a designer to innovate more.
Fang Fang: I feel that lighting design is still in its primary stage of development, and my professional mission is to make it even more valuable.
How do you decide to take on certain projects?
Yao Zhiyu: Respectively, there are more projects available in China, so I can choose some projects that I prefer or wish to provide me with a challenge.
Fang Fang: Is there sufficient budget and is the project interesting?
What would be your dream design project?
Yao Zhiyu: I have designed a variety of building types, and probably have only three or four genres left untouched. Airport design is one of them so that would be a dream project for me.
Fang Fang: As a lighting designer, I have experienced almost all types of projects. At present, my definition of an ideal project is a projects with a sufficient budget and excellent partners.
What’s your creative process and what creative software do you use?
Yao Zhiyu: I am still more accustomed to thinking by using sketches. The process of sketches allows me to capture the inspiration and then to determine the direction. I use SketchUp and Photoshop as creative software.
Fang Fang: Use my brain to develop associations, and then draw the desired sketches, which are generally explored through Photoshop or SketchUp.
What kind of questions do you ask before beginning a design project? What piece of information is of utmost value?
Yao Zhiyu: The functions and environmental context are the primary questions. The location should probably be of the utmost value.
Fang Fang: “What kind of results do you want?” I need to judge how much energy should be spent on the project.
What kind of culture or structure needs to exist to foster successful team collaboration?
Yao Zhiyu: I think it is important to share the same values. Although different cultural backgrounds could diversify a brainstorming session.
Fang Fang: We choose partners who have the same values and are interested to join us in a project.
Tell us about a time when a client disliked your work?
Yao Zhiyu: There are occasions when my creation and interpretation did not match up with the clients’ needs.
Fang Fang: The only issues I have had in my career was where a problem had not been fully communicated with the client. I think it is very important to fully understand the objectives of partners.
How do you deal with feedback?
Yao Zhiyu: I carefully evaluate and consider useful feedback, I then consider objections, reflect on the design, and then decide on whether or how to modify accordingly.
Fang Fang: I try to look from the other side’s perspective to understand why they said what they said. I then think of the best solution from their perspective and then consider the best solution from my perspective, and then choose the best solution among those alternatives.
What are you working on, what is in the pipeline for you?
Yao Zhiyu: I am currently working on a cultural center project.
Fang Fang: I am working on a project for the headquarters of a global top 500 enterprise.
What do you see as the future of design?
Yao Zhiyu: Human-computer interaction.
Fang Fang: Experiential research