Cultured Magazine

Summer 2014

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84 CULTURED With architecture as with products, "Made in China" gets a right- fully bad rap. Although the country has injected cash into urban development, the resulting new cities are hollow—eviscerated of heritage buildings and historic planning principles. Native architects report feeling robbed of a gen- uine design vocabulary. Imported professionals grumble that their composi- tions are poorly constructed, isolated from city life and subject to copycatting. Studio Link-Arc principal Yichen Lu straddles these two groups of talents. And perhaps because of it, the Chinese-born, New York–based architect is creating a body of work that authentically expresses China in the 21st cen- tury, while remaining inextricably rooted in place. "Our ambition is to be a global design studio that works on projects all over the world," says Lu. "We are a group of architectural idealists, but we have very clear plans." Lu arrived in the United States by way of Yale, which he attended after graduating from Tsinghua University in Beijing in 2000, followed by stints at Gehry Partners and Steven Holl Architects, where he says he "learned to be- lieve his intuition." For the latter he served as a project architect in China, on complex undertakings that included master planning of an urban district in Wuhan, as well as more discrete commissions like Hangzhou Normal Univer- sity Cangqian Performing Arts Center, Art Museum and Arts Quadrangle. The experiences placed Lu in the trenches of China's explosive urban- ization, so when Studio Link-Arc launched in 2011, its founder immediately began offering remedies for the phenomenon. For the Chengdu Biennale later that year, he created an exhibition championing culturally specific uses and people mixing so that insta-cities embody the ethics of the places they su- persede. Inheriting a plan for Shenzhen Nanshan District conceived by Foster + Partners, Studio Link-Arc then realized that advocacy: The new Dachong master plan weaves cultural, commercial and outdoor public spaces around the large developments previously planted there, transforming the business- man-like scheme into a more familiar village atmosphere. For Lu's latest project, the activist impresario is sharing the double-take design process with his alma mater, enrolling Studio Link-Arc and Tsinghua students in a nationwide competition to design the China Pavilion at Expo Milano 2015. "The China Pavilion is a perfect example of our global working method," says Lu. "The client is in China, the project is in Italy and our struc- tural fabricator will likely be German or Swiss." Their winning entry is a raised-beam structure topped in a dramatically undulating roof of bamboo shingles and, in a nod to China's millennia-long re- liance on farms rather than cities, surrounded by a temporary wheat field. By sculpting local building tradition and historic materials into a contemporary icon, the pavilion subverts disingenuous growth while seducing the very en- tities responsible for it. It poses Studio Link-Arc's approach as a new, more thoughtful normative for the next generation of boomtowns.

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