" We hope that the function of the space won’t be the only rule that makes us divide space into types, but to use people as the measurement. So when we start an idea, we want to design feeling instead of function."
KE ZHANG: Let's start with a simple and interesting question. As your friend, I know you like skateboarding. Have you ever been inspired by skateboarding, or has the sport of skateboarding influenced your thinking when doing architectural design?
Ning Ding: I like how skateboarding could break the barrier of different races and income, and how it is loved and grown by teenagers. The movement interacts with many public spaces and facility designs, creating another dynamic connection about the public amenities with young people other than their original functions.
My project, Spindrift-Scape is inspired by the changeable natural landforms, which brings new vitality to the community. Skaters love challenge forms, just like the natural landforms.
Wild Life78, 2020
KE ZHANG: As someone who also comes from the Department of Architecture, I sometimes feel that architectural design should never stop at the moment when a building project is built. Sometimes I even feel that a construction project smhould change or evolve over time and circumstances. Do you feel the same way?
Ning Ding: Yeah I think so. One day when I biked around Lincoln Park at night, I met a raccoon family searching for food from my pocket! I realized that animals who live in the city are just like us. We search for food, fight for life, and generate our offspring in the city together. Even though we human beings might never notice, we are cohabitating all the time. Although the city and Architecture are not designed for animals, they still find their way of living.
Nowadays, we put a lot of effort into renovating existing buildings to green roof, adding more natural elements not only for physical needs, but also for mental health. We lose the experience from nature in our daily life, and urden to find it back. That’s why I dreamed that our future city will expand like my project Wild 79.
I would dream that the buildings in the city could develop like woods, partially connect and knit a multi-layer network for different species. Trees as a living mass, hold up the space and provide different functions under different weathers and seasons, so I predict that the architecture should keep the same characteristics.
Buffalo Maritime Center
KE ZHANG: There are many interesting ideas about scale in your work. Do you want to talk more about that?
Ning Ding: In my third year of studying architecture, the studio held a competition to design a boat. It was the first small project I followed up completely, from design to construction. I began to think about how space is generated, how it functions and changes our state. The design concept of that ship is the stitching from line to surface to space. I once received a comment on the day the boat was launched: Your boat is like a shoe. It seems that from then on, I began to realize that maybe clothing, furniture, boats and houses are the same thing, it's the matter of scale.
Renai & Rose
KE ZHANG: I know that you come from the Architecture department, but you also do Fashion design. Have you found some similarities between Architecture and Fashion design? Or similarities in every art field?
Ning Ding: After the experience of building the boat, I will start to consciously rethink the feelings I felt accustomed to. I realized that although the fabric is soft, it gives us a strong sense of security. This made me think that the protection attribute of a building may not only be structural, but more of a feeling. How do we design a space that can enrich and expand people's senses?
There was a midnight when my partner and I walked out of the studio (you never know when an architectural student will go home) and saw the church and rose windows that have been on our way home. I think the light passing through the rose window gives us a similar feeling of the eye looking through the glasses. Glasses are the windows we carry with us. So we began to dig and explore, how to grafting and replacement of this feeling to different scales. We took a picture of the church window that night with our phone and designed the first version of Renai. This is a brand new beginning and the starting point for us to explore the connection between fashion and architecture.
We hope that the function of the space won’t be the only rule that makes us divide space into types, but to use people as the measurement. So when we start an idea, we want to design feelings instead of functions.
KE ZHANG: Have you ever been inspired when you travel?
Ning Ding: Nature always gives me curiosity, vitality and energy. For those of us who live in the city, We understand the steel jungle we have built and enjoy its convenience, as if everything is reasonable. But not for nature. I always think that the confusion and problems we face in the city may only be because we have made too many unnatural choices without knowing it, and we need to return to nature to listen to its answers.
When I was in Peru, I used to follow a local guide along the Inca Trail along the mountain road. He has the blood of a local Inca shaman, and every time he arrives at a sacrificial stand, will sincerely thank nature and talk to Pachamama. Pachamama is what the locals call Mother Earth. In their description, Mother Earth is strong but gentle, and full of tolerance. I was deeply touched by their affection for each mountain and river like family. When I came back I did the work, pachamama, an interactive wearable art. The experience in Peru made me think that even everyone seems to be an independent mountain, but under the river and vegetation, the mountains have a secret connection and communication. I try to use material that could leave texture by time of use, to make the hats look like mountains that can cover human’s facial expressions. And made a shared brim simulating how the river pulls these peaks and also limits them. People who wear this shared hat could sense other people under the same brim without seeing them. I hope to explore the connection between individuals and groups through this attempt.
INTERVIEWER: KE ZHANG
CURATOR: KE ZHANG, WANTONG YAO
EDITOR: WANTONG YAO, KE ZHANG
GRAPHIC DESIGNER: YUXUAN WEI
Ning is a multifaceted creative whose interdisciplinary practice spans architecture, performance, film, and wearable art in New York and Chicago. Much of her practice frames human engagement at varying and related scales. This involves critically looking at the way objects, interiors, community, and urbanism take form in our everyday lives. The interdisciplinary nature of learning led her to realize her interests in architecture, fashion, furniture, branding, and photography. Developing experience spans all phases of theoretical architecture concept, practice architecture projects, exhibition planning, and symbolic wearable arts.