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    From east to west: Buchan Group's Hang Xu on influences and state of Chinese architecture

    Stephanie McDonald

    Hang Xu, senior designer at the Buchan Group, was recently promoted to the firm’s associate group.

    Xu has over 20 years’ of experience in Australia, New Zealand, China and South East Asia, including the Westfield London and the mixed-use tower comprising a Sheraton Hotel and luxury apartments at 27 Little Collins Street, Melbourne.

    Architecture and Design spoke to her about China’s transformation and its design future, expressing culture in design, and the positive changes to come in Melbourne.

    You have 12 years of experience in China, a country that has seen a huge transformation in its landscape. What do you think has been the biggest change in China's development?

    China has a rich culture and a very long history, but it experienced the Cultural Revolution in the mid 1960-70s, which eroded much of traditional Chinese culture from the public forum. In the last 20 years, China has opened its doors to international architects, which has helped the country to develop at a rapid rate from both an economic and design perspective.

    The biggest change is that architecture in China has progressed from a localised homogenous design language to one that is pluralistic and multicultural. The country is like a massive garden where different design ideas have blossomed together.

    What major changes do you think will happen over the next 10 years in China?

    This is a big question. In China, the amount of construction projects will decline, but the standards of design and construction will improve: quality over quantity. There will be more renovation projects for existing buildings.

    In terms of the design approach, firstly, there will be functional evolutions. Functionality continues to be a core of planning arrangement, and as the lines between different functions become more blended, multi-functions and convertible functions will become increasingly popular.

    Secondly, as a result of technological advancements, more sustainable materials will be used; this is in line with China’s ambitious sustainability targets. Thirdly, increased information will help projects to be completed with greater quality and efficiency. We used to work in a 3D world, but current technology allows us to gradually assimilate further dimensions into projects, such as time and construction process measurement, and dynamic cost measurement.

    Lastly, trends are leaning towards a popular revival of traditional Chinese architecture in contemporary architecture in China. Like a phoenix rising from its ashes, I expect these traditional Chinese architectural elements to retake center stage in China from Western design in coming years.

    You believe that architecture is the physical expression of culture. How do you try to reflect this in your work?

    Culture is a complex and abstract subject that involves many elements. When undertaking projects, I always keep in mind the perspectives of different cultures, as this helps me to gain a better understanding of my work, and grants different points of view when problems arise. I tailor my design approach based on the cultural context of a project. I believe that architecture has to embody the culture of its users and occupants, to some extent. For example, when I work for Chinese clients, I always put on my Feng Shui hat.

    Eastern and western architecture can be very different. How hard or easy is to incorporate eastern and western influences into the one project?

    As an architects immerse themselves in a particular lifestyle and working environment, their design approach will inevitably be influenced by it. They will naturally combine different design languages onto the drawing board. I observed this in many western architects when they worked and lived in eastern countries. So in this sense, it is not difficult to incorporate both eastern and western influences into one project. It is a natural part of an international architect’s growth and maturity.

    Have you witnessed more eastern influences in western design in Australia?

    I haven’t witnessed much as yet in terms of architecture, but I have observed a lot of eastern influences in interior design, such as in casinos, hotels, and shop fitouts.

    You believe new competition will bring many positive influences to Melbourne and its people for generations to come. How do you think this will be reflected in the approach to design?

    We are currently experiencing changes in planning control policies. The current planning laws for central Melbourne are more than 30 years old. We could definitely learn a few lessons from other international developed cities. This also applies to new design ideas and technologies. Fresh approaches should be reviewed in conjunction with local knowledge to develop a more modern and advanced Melbourne.

    You have a very international perspective, so what is one country you would like to work in that you haven't yet?

    I would love to work in Austria, and not because it sounds similar to Australia. Austria has a beautiful and gentle natural landscape. Its four seasons are distinct, and it has a culture that is deeply aligned with the sound of music: from Mozart to Julie Andrews, music in the air. In saying that, I also would love to work in as many different countries as possible.

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