Terry is a third-year student at Rhode Island School of Design pursuing a Bachelor of Architecture degree with a passion for public spaces, and future-proof design. Originally a freshman as a rising Printmaking or Sculpture major, Chen changed his mind towards architecture to explore forms and human interaction with space, and has demonstrated a keen interest in functionality and user well-being ever since. Chen worked for the China Northwestern Design & Research Institute over the summer of 2022, and has experience as a bartender at Bar Mitty, in Chengdu.
EM: All right, so we're here with Terry.
EM: What would you say are your biggest creative related interests right now?
TC: For now, I have shifted from focusing heavily on the form-making to a more research based kind of perspective, as it gets related to my studio focus as well. So my studio focus on Sophomore year was more about creating form and how does the form evolve into architectural form. And for now it's more to get into the basics and the background information of architecture in total. So how does the architecture influence the urban context and how does that context permeate into personal life?
EM: So doing research is a big part of architecture?
TC: Yeah, research is a big part for now. But it wasn't like that for the sophomore year. As a sophomore, I just kept creating models, forms and reiterate multiple times and mostly focus on the shape itself instead of focusing on the space in it. So I feel that's problematic. Entering the junior year, I began to focus more on the human experience, on the urban context, and also on the demographics of who I'm designing for. These basic questions.
EM: Nice. Where do you get inspiration from? Do you have any architects that particularly interest you or just generally life?
TC: So for now I'm mostly looking at Steven Holl and also Lacaton & Vassal, who won the Pritzker Prize for 2021. They are making really nice adaptive reuse for old buildings, for residential use. And what they did is they add a balcony out of the window and extend it to create like a winter garden and the space to residents to live.
EM: Do you feel like architecture is more about people or form or both?
TC: Okay, so this question gets really tricky right here. So if you're going to ask this question back to sophomore year, I might say form and shape. I used to think back then that architecture is for more artistic use than for human use. But entering junior year, that perspective tuned out to be very problematic. If you know that in Saudi Arabia they are proposing the Line city. So that they are creating a 170 km long linear city. I think that is very much similar to my proposal at sophomore year, which I heavily focused on the form making. I ignored the use and the needs of the people. So for now, I think function, and human experience are much more important than the form itself.
EM: I see. Interesting. Would you say that your personal background influences your work? And can you explain a little bit more about it?
TC: Yeah. So I began my, how do you say this, RISD career. I applied to RISD for printmaking and also sculpture. I was heavily interested in contemporary arts back to my high school period. I assisted artists and volunteered in building their exhibitions. So when I got to RISD, I found that my interest began to shift. I became more focused on the spatial aspect. Especially for the freshman year, I took the Spatial Dynamics class and I met two very talented and also very strict instructors. They brought me into the realm of architecture and how does the spatial form construct itself. And I began to develop more and more iterations of the form. So when I bring that background into my first year in architecture, I mostly focused on the form. But during sophomore year I found that doing form itself is really painful. It's like you have an overall form at first and you're trying to push the functions into it. That process is painful. So when getting to the junior year, I began to shift from finding the functions first. So if I want like an outdoor room, I want a gathering space. What is the purpose of the gathering space? Is there a hidden theory of gathering spaces? So right now I'm doing like cohousing, like people living together and they share a routine, share a kitchen, so they cook dinner together. So I embarked from that concept and then developed my architectural form for making iterations after that. So I feel that process is the correct one.
EM: Hmm, it's kind of similar to ID (Industrial Design) in a way. And would you just say you're more interested in the more authoritative architecture that has an authentic form, or like an architecture that's more focused towards what the audience is looking for. I don't know if that makes a lot of sense. It's kind of what we just talked about.
TC: Okay, so I guess architecture should serve for people who are using it instead of who are watching it. So what do you mean by audience and authority? Is that kind of like the up down perspective of looking at architecture in the whole shape? But I think architecture should really focus on how people are going to use it. I'd even say none of the shape should be the focus point. The real focus point is how people living in there have great spatial experiences, have great living condition. This is what the architecture should focus on for now. Instead of audience, you should have the responsibility for the public and you should have responsibility for the client, but you should also be responsible for the people who are living in it. That is the most important thing, I think.
EM: Do you feel like you have any skills from architecture or any set of knowledge that expands to outside of architecture?
TC: Yeah, I'll say mostly is the thinking method. Also the research method. I will split that into two parts. The first one is thinking - architecture thinking - especially about spatial and representational skills in terms of if I want to represent some sort of idea through drawing, which I learned that specific skill from architecture. So for example, I want to model my house, I want to document the change of furniture in my house so I can do that by drawing stuff in Rhino. So I can, in many ways, do architecture in my personal life or not.
EM: I see, yeah.
TC: But not necessarily drawing the furniture, but also including the systematic ways of thinking. So I began to think about- when I see some news, I begin to think critically. So I think critical thinking is one of the parts. We're getting a lot of critiques from our professors pushing back, making us more open-minded.
EM: And how do you feel like architecture is going to change in the future, say in the next five years?
TC: Next five years?
EM: Maybe that's too short. Like what's the time frame you would say here?
TC: So I personally hold a very negative and pessimistic point of view towards the architecture industry. I think that industry, especially back in China, is toxic. And I personally want to do architecture as my career. I'm just learning skills and thinking methods out of the architecture room as a subject instead of as an industry. So I think that industry needs to change. Have you heard of the word involution? Like people doing unnecessary work to be competitive, to get others to get a limited resource. So that sort of thing is very significant in China as well as in the architecture industry. There was a competition in Sweden where they got projects, proposals from 500 companies in the world, but that sort of project was never built. So there's a waste of money, human resource like that. So I don't think architecture is a good industry, but I think the subject is a very nice subject and I do not think this sort of situation can change within the short time frame. There's some kind of really lucky people whose work are appreciated by the time so they can get more projects, in terms of money, to run their firms. But for the most circumstances, you are just working on a low income but also heavily workloaded.
Your work life is not balanced. So I don't think this industry is healthy, especially how this situation is in China.
EM: I see. What would you say is your biggest design philosophy? What's your ultimate goal when designing anything?
TC: Yeah, my ultimate goal for now is to design for the people who are using it. That's the ultimate goal. To fulfill their needs, to accommodate more people, to be more inclusive. And also because based on recent research of mine, I found that architecture as the building itself, it's structural elements live much longer than its function. So how do I keep that in mind when I'm designing a permanent structure in a way to accommodate future use? So this building where I'm sitting right now, BEB (RISD's Architecture department), was a clothing factory back in 1900, so that began to change into the architecture school. So how do I allow that sort of thing to happen? Why this thing didn't happen in other new buildings in Providence? How do I change that.