A bosom friend afar brings distant land near. The Oversea album shares the lives of Chinese living abroad with all. The No.66 episode is about Henry Liu from USC, who opened art studio Popica.
Why choosing west coast schools?
Having been in California since I was 3 years old, I didn’t realized how lucky I was to be living abroad until I was much older. When it came time to apply for colleges, I was clear that I should complete my education in the American education system, which I have grown to love.
Why coming to Hongkong to start your firm?
I had a job during my last two years of Architecture school and also worked after graduation, but I always had an urge to open my own studio. The first projects I got commissioned to work on are in China, so I decided to open my studio in Hong Kong, a very international city.
What impressed you the most coming back to Hongkong?
Diversity, density, and efficiency.
What do you like the most about China/East Asia regions in general?
Everything here intrigues me. The cultural diversity in addition to the huge wealth gap creates very unique urban conditions. Also, the pace in which a project goes from conceptual design to construction is also very exciting.
As a Chinese American grown up oversea, how do you feel in general working and living in a in Chinese using environment?
It was a pleasant surprise to find that many companies will have some English speakers, this certainly wasn’t always the case. I’m trying to improve my Chinese, but it’s going to take time. Being in Hong Kong, I’m able to get away with speaking English, but to expand in the long run, being fluent in Chinese is essential.
Will you come back to the place you are from? Why?
I don’t think I will ever settle in just one place. I will be traveling back and forth a lot. China to me was that friend you enjoy hanging out with but don’t know very well. I was always excited when I had the chance to visit China, but growing up abroad made China unfamiliar to me.
Is it more distinctive to view China from a different background after coming back to Hongkong? Any thoughts on that?
During my time at USC, I started to think very critically about the environment we live in, and became interested in the differences between China and America. Human behaviors and building patterns of the two countries could not be more different. Growing up abroad made me to view China from a foreign perspective. When I visit, a lot of things that my native Chinese friends were used to seeing seemed very strange to me, especially the street culture and vernacular structures. I became curious about China and studied abroad in Shanghai and Beijing for a semester. Many people thought this was an odd choice because it seemed like I was going home to study abroad. But everything was new to me. During that time, I realized there are many unique qualities to China that allowed for wild design solutions. It was clear to me that in one way or another, China would be a huge part of my future.
What makes your school different from other architecture schools?
This will differ depending on whom you ask. What made USC special to me were the many different approaches to architecture that the professors exposed me to. There was no USC style that I had to conform to, but a USC standard that I had to meet. I realized my understanding of architecture was different from most of my peers, as I was more interested in conceptual art and theory rather than tectonics of a building. Some professors were not interested in my approach, but most were very supportive and encouraged me to continue developing my own style.
What characteristics and interesting facts does your firm have?
Haha, thanks for this marketing opportunity. I see Popica as an art studio that designs spaces and places. Our projects have to be beautiful, but more importantly, they have to say something. We’re playful in our approach but serious about the work. There’s a tendency for us to question everything, especially things that people usually don’t notice, like a traffic cone or scaffolding.
Who is your favorite artist (in wider range such as art, music, movie)? What is his/her influence to you?
Oh too many to choose from! I love art. Most of them are conceptual artists such as Michael Asher, Joseph Kosuth, and Thomas Struth. The whole genre of institutional critique inspired a lot of my thinking patterns. Early in my art education, understanding the idea that the display of art can be the art itself was mind blowing. Learning about conceptual art made it clear that art is not always subjective. There is usually a clear statement the artist is trying to make, and it’s relevant because of the context.
Seeing art as an idea as opposed to a thing really changed the way I perceive the world. Accepting context as content, I tend to analyzed everything as if it were curated specifically to be the way it is, even though I know it was unintentional or just a happy accident. I’ve been documenting some of these happy accidents for an ongoing project, and hope that others will see the beauty in it too. Seeing the world this way revealed a lot of beauty in the vernacular side of architecture and raised a lot of questions about the profession itself. I tried to tackle some of these questions in my school projects, not with the intension of finding answers, but just to start a conversation.
In your opinion, what fascinates viewers the most in your portfolio?
When I was being interviewed for a job, the designers at the firm didn’t think my portfolio looked like architecture work. They then hired me, so I think that helped me stand out.
When did you start to follow gooood? Any suggestions for it?
I naturally followed many Asia architecture publications when moving back to Asia, and gooood was one of them. I appreciate the platform gooood has created for designers to share their work.
W O R K
Developers have been improving the mall experience by building elaborate theme parks, theaters, stages, arcades, and even aquariums in malls. These components, along with traditional marketing tactics can be found in malls around the world. People shopping or socializing in these spaces get an experience unlike any other, but rarely stop to analyze how the environment around them is actually created or how they are being lured into spending more money. The proposed design, People’s Mall, can be understood as an art museum that functions as a mall. The exhibitions of this museum are the mall components, and the mall itself can be understood as an interactive installation.
There would be two user groups in this project, the subjects, the ones shopping, eating, or engaging in any of the mall’s attractions, and the observers, the ones on the museum level critically analyzing the structure and function of the mall. These two user groups are physically separated, but will definitely mix as they occupy the mall. Subjects may unknowingly wander to the museum floor, thinking it is just a plaza, or the observers may be tempted to become a subject. In fact, the only way for the observers to access the museum platform is through the museum store, forcing them to exit through the gift shop; these observers must become a subject as they conclude their analysis of the mall. The goal of this project is to have people think more critically about the environment we live in. People’s Mall is analyzing a mall, but the same principles can be applied to anything.
The ongoing exhibitions
– 突出的入口/ 吸引顾客：人们通常会被一个精致的脸庞所吸引，那么，对于购物中心来说，同样需要一个华丽的入口。
– 大食代 / 卡特尔理论：将类似的商户集中在同一个地方可以提高商户的业务量，餐饮行业对于将顾客吸引到商场变得更加重要。
– 购物车/ 真实幻景：在购物车或可移动摊位上销售产品会给顾客产生价格比较便宜的感觉，因为不需要支付店铺租金。然而，这些摊位其实以大型商城中同等的价格出售商品。而且这些摊位直接放在来往人流量大的区域，具有更强的视觉冲击力。
– 娱乐元素 / “哇噻”元素：当顾客参与到商场举办的活动中时，他们对商场的满意度会有所增加。 顾客的满意度越高意味着再次回到商场的机会更高。由于许多人去商场的目的并不一定是购买商品，所以，商场必须有其他活动才能吸引顾客前往。这些活动范围从美容院到水族馆到赌场，并已成为许多商场的营销手段之一。“室内滑雪”或“水上乐园”比“很多商铺”产生更好的反响。
– 广告/ 闪光标牌：广告可以是任何引起视觉注意的闪光标牌。 这样一来，人们不仅可以去那里购物，也可以拍下广告牌的照片，并在社交平台上传播。 这是商场的一种免费营销手段。
– Standout Entrance / The Bait: People will generally be attracted to a beautiful face, and for malls, this means a beautiful entry.
– Food Court / Cartel Theory: Centralizing similar businesses together increase the business of all vendors, and dining has become much more important to bring visitors to the mall.
– Kiosks / Authentic Illusion: Selling products on a cart or in a portable stall gives the illusion that the goods are cheaper, since there is no need to pay for real estate rent. These stalls, however, are selling goods at the same price as if they were in a large store. These stalls are also placed directly on circulation paths, and have a strong visual appeal.
– Entertainment Element / The “WOW” factor: Visitor satisfaction is increased when people engage in activities. A higher satisfaction rate means a higher chance of returning to the mall. Since many people do not go to the mall with the intention to purchase goods, there must be other activities for them to engage with. These activities range from spas to aquariums to casinos, and have become a marketing stunt for major malls. “Indoor skiing” or “Water Park” generates a better response than “many shops”.
– Advertisements/ Glitter: This can be any flashy signage that attracts visual attention. This will draw people to not only go there, but also take photos of the billboards and circulate them on social platforms. It is free marketing for the mall.
– 促销大促销 / 虚构事实：要么实际上没有任何商品是打折的，要么打折活动持续整年，但商品上的标识可以随不同的打折活动而变化。春季打折活动，随后是夏季打折活动，然后是秋季和冬季的打折活动。
– 退货部 / 策划的退货周折：商店有退货政策规定，如果顾客不满意，商品可以退回全额退款。这给消费者一种购买安全感。然而，顾客如果想退货，则必须经过一个精心设计的过程，从而使顾客以后为避免周折而打消退货念头。
– 办公和酒店或住宿/ 本地客：多功能用途项目开发是目前的趋势。 让人们在购物中心附近或购物中心内生活和工作创造出的亮点可以确保在顾客不购物的情况下也会客流不断。
– 艺术品 / 装饰品：在商场展示艺术主要是为了增加文化价值和视觉冲击力。艺术可以是永恒而富有变化的，可以作为游客的视觉形象纪念品。艺术品可以是壁画，也可以是互动式配套设施，并可以放置在商场的任何地方。
– SALE SALE SALE / Fake Fact: Either nothing is actually on sale, or the sale goes on throughout the year but is labeled differently. There will be a spring sale followed by a summer sale followed by a fall and winter sale.
– Return Department / Designed Distress: Stores have return policies states that merchandise can be returned for a full refund if the customer is not satisfied. This gives the consumer a sense of security for their purchases. Once it comes time to return the goods, however, customers must go through a process that is designed to be so distressful that they are discouraged from returning anything ever again.
– Office and Hotel or Housing / The Natives: Mixed-use projects development is now the norm. Having people living and working in close proximity to the mall, or in many cases in the mall itself, ensures a constant flow of people even though they are not there to shop.
– Art / Decorative Distraction: Displaying art in a mall is primarily to increase cultural value and visual impact. The art can be permanent or inconstant, but acts as a visual memorabilia for visitors. Artwork can range from murals to interactive installations, and placed anywhere in the mall.
2D建筑表现方式正在迅速变化，同时它也是建筑交流中一个关键的部分。Reel Qualities（渔线轮特质分析）是一个关于分析建筑表现特质，同时试图将这些特质在实际环境中表现出来的项目。通常，建筑以一种“讲故事” 或产生“感觉”的方式来表现，但是最终的产品充其量只是一种对图纸所呈现的效果的诠释。
2D architectural representation is changing rapidly, and a key part of architectural communication. Reel Qualities is a project that analyzes the qualities of representation and attempts to translate these qualities into the physical world. Oftentimes architecture is represented in a way to “tell a story”, or generate a “feeling”, but the final product is, at best, a diluted translation of what the drawings promised.
This investigation began by translating a physical object into 2D space. A fishing reel was chosen for its intricacies and movement. The reel was drawn in a way that maintained its identity as a fishing reel, but began to show qualities that were only possible in 2D.
These qualities were extracted and intensified in a series of drawings that would only show qualities achievable in 2D. Borders between objects suggested flatness instead of space, the background becomes a virtual idea, and materials become a pure graphic language…etc.
A series of characters were designed to bring this investigation back into the physical world. There was no right or wrong way to do this, and there was no calculated system to quantify a quality. But what was fascinating was the general agreement amongst my peers and professors that certain qualities were clearer in one character versus the others. Once it became clear which one was the closest relative of the drawings, the character was physically built.
Once again, qualities that were not in the 2D space showed up in the physical object, and these qualities were then analyzed and brought into a larger scale, an inhabitable space. The project ultimately resulted a series of follies that may or may not resemble a fishing reel, but contained qualities that were only discoverable through the use of 2D representation.
The first statement I’m trying to make with this project is that a tower does not have to be a stack of horizontal floors. With vertical high-rises, we often see repetition that drains every floor of any spatial variation. Storefront breaks up this rigidity by replacing every complete level with multiple sub-levels, allowing a constant change in space as people circulate through the building.
Storefront is designed as a high-rise for artists in San Francisco, where the residents will work and display art in their personal studios. Every unit has a storefront that can open to the public central core, and will be accessible from stairs and elevator. This approach makes the whole building feel like one interconnected space, with corners of privacy and moments of display.
The second statement I’m trying to make with this project is that a tower does not have to be tall and shiny. The competition amongst developers to build the tallest and shiniest buildings is not necessarily healthy for our built environment. In the material choices and design attitude, I am hoping to show an alternative approach to creating impactful architecture.
The entire exterior façade of Storefront is cladded in corrugated metal, and the bare walls are designed to be blank canvas for artists to use. These choices help the space feel unconditional; artists here shouldn’t be afraid to chip a wall or scratch a floor. This will hopefully create vernacular spectacles that only bottom-up development can yield. The freedom and imagination that I would like to see occur in Storefront is much more important than the frame itself.
When: 21 years
Where: San Francisco, Los Angeles
Who: Henry Liu
School/Firms: USC, Popica