Could you please give us an introduction of Superimpose and yourselves?
I am Ruben, a founding partner of Superimpose Architecture.
I am Ben, also a founding partner of Superimpose Architecture together with Carolyn, our third partner, who unfortunately could not be here today.
Superimpose (叠加) 的意思是将不同层次的信息叠放在一起，并使每一个层次保持清晰明确。这是我们的设计理念，“使一物与另一物占有相同的位置并与之共存。”
‘Superimpose’ means to place layers on top of each other, in such a way that all layers are still evident. This is our design philosophy.
Superimpose (叠加) 也反映在我们的团队框架中，我们希望拥有一个多元化的团队，并与其他团队合作，而不仅仅是与设计师。我们也把自己看作是客户的合作者，而不仅仅是为他们工作。
‘Superimpose’ is also reflected in our team structure. We like to have a diverse team and collaborate with other institutes, not just with designers. We also see ourselves as a collaborator with the client, instead of just working for them.
Yes. I believe collaboration is very important. Ben mentioned clients, but we also collaborate with photographers, artists, and other multimedia artists. If you look at our projects, we always involve different parties to really get the best out of the design. Another thing that is really important is contextual awareness. When we design a building, we do not only look at it from the perspective of the client, we look beyond the site and what can we use as inspirations. It is all these layers added on top of each other which create more value. That is our goal as architects, to create extra value for the client as well as the users.
Personally, I have worked in other studios and had a lot of fun working with each other, learned a lot. But at the same time, I also developed my own thoughts about how I would do things if I were the boss. For me, it was also not a moment. I did not start my studio because I hated what I did before but because I thought this was the chance for me to really understand design myself.
We did not even know when we started, we just went for it. Jumped into the deep end and it just happened. There were a lot of obstacles and it was very tough but it was a lot of fun as well. Don't force things to happen, I think life will take you in certain directions if you are open minded enough. Just be open minded.
I think all three of us wanted to do something for ourselves for quite a while. We wanted to explore our own design style and our own design methodology, so starting Superimpose really gave us an opportunity to do this.
Could you please demonstrate your Superimpose design philosophies through some projects?
I think one of our better-known projects is Micr-O, which is a small education camp in a valley close to Hangzhou. This project was located on a very sensitive site. The site itself is a nice and pristine valley with rice paddies and trees. The location is very interesting but very delicate, so we wanted to preserve and somehow keep the delicate feeling of this valley. At the same time, we wanted to do something that was quite interesting in order to create a center point. So, we decided to create a floating white ring in this valley. The ring is slightly elevated so that the landscape seems as if it was going underneath the building. We worked with the context a lot but at the same time we wanted to look for contrast and see how to connect a building in such a way that it feels embedded. But at the same time, It stands out. This is something we always attempt with every project, we look at what is there, the context, and then find a way to insert our architecture.
▲ Micr-O © 叠术建筑事务所
Yes, that is interesting because it is really focusing on how the building works together with the landscape and how they do not work against each other. Another example is the Re-veil project, a factory transformation. This was our first client who was developing in Changzhi, Shanxi province. They had a lot of land with fifteen to seventeen bearing factories; beautiful, old factories located in the heart of the city. Our client was under a lot of pressure to develop the land and because residential was more profitable, to make real estate. However, these factories were amazing. We were walking around the site and noting these beautiful structures. The client asked us to take them all down so that they could redevelop the land and make as much profit as possible. In the end, we convinced the client to work in stages since there was so much land to develop. Keep some factories and transform them into a cultural center; into a hub where people can go where people feel attached to, give and create extra value. The rest of the lands could be developed into residential towers. We started working on both projects and the residential towers have just been completed.
▲ 长治博览中心 © 叠术建筑事务所
I think some of our clients also understand and appreciate this aspect when they start working with us. We challenge the brief and we might fail but we always want to give it a shot to see whether we can push a sustainable agenda, for instance, or what Ruben just mentioned, whether we can push for keeping a cultural heritage. This is super important to us.
▲ 长治博览中心 © 叠术建筑事务所
Yes, because in China, the government is very important. If you can convince the client that the government might be really interested in keeping an industrial heritage of the city, it could be a way to sell a design proposal. Such a sales-pitch really helped with the project as well as another project we worked on, where the government recognized the value of the design as it helped create an identity for the city. In addition, developers also appreciate the architecture since they can sell it to the government so everybody wins. That is the strategy for us; we also look at what the government is looking for and how can we work along with that.
At the same time, we increased the value of the property for the client.
The community feedback was very good and the client tells us they are very happy. The government was also very happy and even started renting part of the factories. I am not sure how they did it financially, but they took two parts of the space which showed that they really like it. The project became a precedent for the redevelopment of cultural heritage in the city.
Do you find any Chinese specific contextual features through your practice?
I think sometimes it is a lack of context. Sometimes we go to the site and there is a massive piece of land and we look for inspirations that can be found. In Europe, architects look at the surrounding, at elements close to the surrounding, but in China, we look towards a bigger scale. There might be a river a kilometer away which could be the inspiration or the people who live there or want to use the space. We have to look at it a different way, every city, every place is different in that sense and sometimes the lack of context makes us think differently.
▲ 柬埔寨金边 续之湾 © 叠术建筑事务所
At the same time, I still think there is quite a lot of substances and a lot of areas that could be regenerated, even if they developed very quickly, still they locate a social structure. Even though the buildings might not look the nicest, it still might be worth looking at what is there and what could be kept. It invited us to think differently about the existing context.
We start to change the way we work and look towards what we can do rather than what we can look at. ‘What can we keep?’, ‘what can we do?’, and ‘what can we add to it?’. At same time we need to grow, we need to look at the future. We did not want to design a series of residential towers with people placed inside each tower without any meaning. How do we introduce meaning to a project? How do we create a community within a project? How do we create a place which is exciting for people to live, to work, and to be a part of? How do we create an identity for someone?
▲ Y-Loft City © 叠术建筑事务所
Y-Loft City是一个住宅项目，与我们在中国看到的住宅项目完全不同。我们把大多数住宅楼称为“千篇一律的公寓”，一个被复制了500次的设计。我们避免设计通用的建筑，居住在相同的空间并没有给予用户想要的身份感。Y-Loft City这个项目是两座旋转的方塔，为什么只有南向的空间进行日照，而北面却没有阳光照射？为什么我们不把建筑旋转一点，让每个立面都可以有一点阳光，所以我们设计了户外阳台。虽然该设计已得到政府批准，但承包商仍却犹豫不决，因为他不能确定这样是否可行，他可能因此得不到报酬。尽管如此，我们还是坚持建成了它。最后，这个项目很快就卖光了，价格比周围的开发项目都要高。它吸引了很多80后年轻人，因为他们厌倦了同样的空间，他们想要一个与众不同的空间，所以他们觉得自己与这个项目匹配。为什么我们称它为Y-Loft City，因为它是有经济能力并且年轻的80后的聚集地。从这个意义上说，我们从历史上寻找可以被保留的元素，如果没有，我们就去思考未来可以添加的特质。
The Y-Loft City, a residential development, is a completely different development than what we are used to seeing in China. We call most residential building ‘cookie cutter flats’ where one design is copied 500 times. We wanted to avoid generic architecture. It is always the same and is not what people want as part of their identity. The Y-Loft City is two square towers rotated. Why would you create only south facing for sun exposure, but on the north, there's no sun exposure? Why don't we rotate the buildings a little bit with every facade receiving sun exposure. We created outdoor balconies. However, although the design had been approved by the government, the contractor was hesitant since he could not be sure that project would work and he might not be paid. He was worried, everyone was worried. Despite all that, we went ahead and built it. In the end, the project sold out very quickly with a higher price than surrounding developments. It attracted a lot of post eighties young people who were tired of the same, the same, the same. They want to have an identity, they want a balcony; so they felt a connection to this development. This is why we called it Y-Loft City, because it became a post eighties development for a young new generation who had already started earning money for a few years. In that sense, we look at the past for elements that can be kept but if there is nothing, we look towards the future for what we can add. ▲ Y-Loft City © 叠术建筑事务所
What is the most important value in recent built environment and communities?
We live in a society where it is about quick selling, sell sell sell, make quick money, developers quickly step out and focus on another project. We need to avoid this concept which only focuses on selling and start to focus on quality as well. The developers want to make money, fine, they can make money. But they can also make money by looking at the community value of a development, to create and give something more to the residents than a small apartment. I think we need to start adding more layers to every development to make a livable community.
Yes, ‘inclusiveness’. The project should try to focus on including all these, instead of having only one target group. The target group should be the entire community, which I think is what we look at in every single project. Public space is always a main essence of a project. How can we create a space that includes people and invites people to interact? We are very often limited by the client's brief, obviously, but within the parameters that has been set up we need to try and include this concept of inclusiveness.
▲ Y-Loft City © 叠术建筑事务所
这也是我们在Y-Loft City中一直强调的，Y-Loft City是城市中第一个非封闭式的住宅社区，其中一层完全对外开放，这意味着我们试图将项目与其周围场地连接起来。这里有文化中心、学校和医院，还有一个中心广场，也可以变成一个集市。我们试图让项目尽可能开放，让人们走进来，成为新社区的一部分。我们试图不创造孤岛，而是创造一片完整的城市肌理。
This is also what we have been doing with Y-Loft City, which is the first non-gated residential community in the city where the ground floor is completely open to the outside. This meant that we were trying to connect the project to its surrounding site. Since there is a cultural hub, schools, and a hospital, we really tried to make this project as open as possible for people to walk in and be a part of this new community. It also has a central square which can be a marketplace. We tried to not create islands but instead, to create an integrated urban fabric.
That is the goal in our projects; to be smart and to think about strategies. It is another thing which we think we can, as a company, distinguish ourselves. How we distinguish Superimpose is we really work with strategies, super important.
▲ 天空之城 © 叠术建筑事务所
We are close to completing a very big office development called Sky City in Hangzhou. It is a project by the developer, Vanke, with a master plan of a million square meters designed by SOM. We are designing 80,000 square meters of office development with subway entrances and exits. It is a TOD project and the subway is in front of the site. If you arrive by subway, you are underground, it is dark, you do not know where to go, and you are looking for an exit. We thought it could be better. The government is one of the investors of the subway and the plot. It is very important that the arrival situation works really well and is very well connected with all the offices, which we are designing. We decided that the green corridor in front of the site, where there is a park owned by the government, could be partially pushed into the ground. This created a natural environment at the arrival and basement level of the subway with daylight coming in, greenery, and clear visibility towards the office buildings. This was a strategy we used at the very beginning of this project during the tender stage and was how we got selected. Over time, circumstances changed and we needed to negotiate, but we still have this concept at the subway arrival. It has always been very important for the arrival of the space, of the architecture, of the offices, and the whole development.
We think that the brief together with its parameters and what we think is a good solution should dictate how a design looks like. We are not looking for a very particular design style. Our design style could be described as very simple because it focuses on the solution. It is not focused on making us look great on social media.
What we would like to achieve is that people recognize our projects through their simplicity which solves a problem elegantly. They would say that project must be by Superimpose because it is so simple, so clean, and it solved a problem very well. If you were to place our design style in a certain category it would be simple, solution-based.
▲ SOHO 3Q共享空间 © 叠术建筑事务所
With the development of general technology and the change of the way of social interaction, what do you rethink about public space in urban environment?
Ben：作为设计工作室来说，我们坚信一切都需要平衡，也包括媒介的使用。你可以使用，但不应该使用过度，因为人们可能会与现实脱节。我们的项目是关于环境体验的，关注与自然，周围人，以及现实生活中其他人的联系。Where we stand as an office is that everything needs to be balanced which also includes the integration of media. You can do it. But you shouldn't be doing too much at the same time, because people might lose connection with reality. Our projects are also about experiencing context, about a connection with nature, connection with your surroundings, and actually connecting with other people in real life.
这就是我们工作室的立场，也是我们工作室的研究方向。That is where we find ourselves at the moment as an office. It is also a direction that we are looking into as an office.
We need people. Covid-19 is a perfect example. We are all detached from our family; I cannot wait to go back to see my family and get some hugs. We are people, we are social animals and we need each other.
It is very important to not forget where we come from and who we are. In that sense, we are not worried that AI is going to take over the world because as humans we need to stand with both feet on the ground and have spaces to feel attached to.
建筑仍然应该向公众提供这些。Architecture should still offer this to the public.
One of the projects we had previously worked on is CO2 Pavilion, located in Beijing. It was a temporary exhibition where we collaborated with a visual projection artist. This project was very interesting because it was in a fairly large courtyard which was used as a parking space most of the time. There were two trees in the courtyard but no one ever noticed these trees because they were basically surrounded by cars. What we decided to do was to keep the essence of the courtyard but make it smaller. At the same time, free these trees which had been lost in a space filled with cars and allow the trees to become the center point of the courtyard – the center point of the design. We made the scale of the court small so that it relates to human scale and encourages people to behave differently; to be maybe quieter.
▲ CO贰装置 © 叠术建筑事务所
We made the corridor so narrow that if you have to pass someone, both would have to make space. You invite people to look at each other, maybe touch each other's shoulders, have a bit of interaction. But at the same time, sometimes we need to make space a little bit different for people to behave differently, like with dense, smaller spaces which make people look at each other or pay attention to a paving so that they start to see different things.
This is an exhibition design of a piece of courtyard, so we thought this was a great opportunity to show people that by changing the scale of the courtyard, everything changes. The focal point changes and peoples’ behavior changes.
▲ CO贰装置 © 叠术建筑事务所
It also relates back to the integration of virtual reality and media. At night, the huge, white campus becomes a projection screen for with the projection artist. The outer shell is this projecting screen which has media everywhere. However, when you go inside, you still experience the space nearly free from this visual projection. It is quite a nice balance where we tried to position people at both sides.
时机时机：对建筑有什么看法?有什么可以和年轻一代分享的吗？What is your opinion on architecture and do you have anything to share with younger generation？
Architecture is all about people because they use it. That is the thing we are looking for and once you start building projects, when you get out of your need, and visit them after they had been completed, you will see why you do this job and why you can be very happy with the results.
Yes, I think so too. This project starts to live in a way. We also did some other projects which did not come out exactly the way we wanted to because of multiple reasons; perhaps the client did not have the budget for the design to be a certain way. That is fine, but to set up a design requires the right design strategy which is why design strategy is more important than visual output. If you have the right design strategy, the contractor can mess up a little bit during construction but because the strategy is still present in the building, the overall effect remains. We designed a high school in which we only worked during the concept design stage but because our concept of the space was there, students use it exactly the way we hoped they were going to use it.
▲ BACA艺术教育学院 © 叠术建筑事务所
那一刻你会因为自己是建筑师而感动。That moment is what makes you happy as an architect.
Ruben：建筑系的学生不应该只纸上谈兵，还应该去事务所工作，让自己的手“脏”起来。他们甚至可以去建筑工地工作，了解所有与建筑相关的流程。这是建筑最酷的地方，设计只是建筑很小的一个部分。建筑是关于技术知识、预算和对材料成本的资金控制等理解，建筑也与人相关。Students in universities should not only work on paper but also work at a firm to get their hands ‘dirty’. They could even work on a construction site and understand all the processes related to architecture. That is the cool thing about architecture; it is not just designing which is a very small part of architecture. It is about technical knowledge, budgets, and a financial understanding of material costs. It is also about people.
Ben：还需要和客户打交道。It is about dealing with clients.
Dealing with a client is about being very social. It is about being a salesman selling a product. There are many, many layers, and it is a very complicated job because there are so many layers to deal with.
There is passion and moments of happiness. It might sound very hard and we are saying that it is a very difficult profession and so on but we have been doing it for ten, fifteen years so we must like it. I think it suits us. I like that it is very creative but very practical at the same time so you are challenged from both sides. That is why I am still here.
It is a diverse profession. It is challenging but life will be really boring if it is all flat, right? Sometimes you have to go through a little bit of a dip in order to see the beauty of something else again. I really like this feeling of struggling for things, but you also have moments that are pure beauty where you enjoy what you did. This is what we created. Life should be a challenging, exciting, and it should be rewarding.
And do not get too comfortable. Stay critical.