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Archi-Union Architects

Contemporary Chinese architecture can perhaps be understood by adopting a dualist approach. On the one hand, it is an industry in which architects - albeit autonomous professionals - struggle with the need depend on funding and navigate the political context, a social-economic and cultural-political framework that has held back truly autonomous development. On the other, digitization (parametric design) is an instrument that, combined with traditional construction techniques, has created an opportunity for autonomous design. 

In the view of Philip F. Yuan, head of Archi-Union Architects, parametric design is not just a technology tool. It is also a way of exploring the world around us, and better understanding where the values of contemporary culture are heading. Digital design has an unprecedented future. Yuan’s architecture and its smooth surfaces eschew depth and massive structures. He aims to combine digital design (parametrics) with design based on the real world (tectonics) - and interpret the result within the traditional framework.

Seeing architecture as “noumenon” - as an objective thing-unto-itself, to use a philosophical term - is a major step toward architectural autonomy. A building’s geometry can be analyzed as a mathematical object, an objective thing independent of human sensibilities, its many facets revealed by computational calculations. Right from his earliest work Yuan has applied this method to achieve architectures redolent of China’s cultural traditions. The “silk wall” of J-Office recreates the texture of silk cloth thanks to a computer-programmed pattern of small overlapping concrete bricks. Two other projects are predicated on the same approach: Lanxi Curtilage, whose digitally designed sloping roof and brick walls recalls vernacular Chinese architecture; and the base of the Novartis Campus (Shanghai), a computer-generation concrete construction resembling an abstract...

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