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" The more the architect talks, the more the building itself becomes aphasia."

Mavis Zhao

Column + Garden, Architecture Design

KE ZHANG:  There is an architecture argot that architects wear and draw in black and white. Your drawing and your dressing style are very colorful, would you like to talk with us about why and how you utilize colors in your projects and life?


MAVIS ZHAO:  I think I didn't use colors on purpose, and I just put all the colors on equal footing. Many architects tend to use only black and white to express themselves so that people can pay attention to more architectural forms. However, I don't agree with it. I think color and form are equally important in the expression of a space. There are even smells, sounds, and textures, you can never take the color out of a building. So the use of color is not an increase for me, but a refusal to reduce it. Paying attention to color does not mean abusing color, and paying attention to color does not mean giving up other elements. I just put all the elements of space expression in an equally important position superior.


In addition, I think some architects are actually quite self-righteous. They always add a lot of philosophical discussion to their works. I didn’t say that this is bad, but I think this part of the discussion should not be given by the author, but by the audience. All communication between the architect and the audience should be done through the space itself. The more the architect talks, the more the building itself becomes aphasia. A color is a tool I use to communicate with my audience. If people pay attention to my buildings or me because of the color, it means that my communication is effective (lol).

Fillet LA, Architecture Design

KE ZHANG: There are two main academic transitions of yours that I am very curious about. The first one is that you originally attended the China Academy of Art, which ranks no.1 in China, but you transferred to SAIC to start again at a new school in a foreign country. Another one is after graduating from SAIC with BFA you went to a public university, UCLA for a MArch degree. I wonder why you made the two decisions and what’s the main impetus behind it.


MAVIS ZHAO: About the reason for going from China Academy of Art to SAIC, I actually filmed and published a video on Bilibili about it, and judging from the replies I received, many people actually have similar ideas. China Academy of Art’s concept of building an academy is actually very valuable and groundbreaking in China. Influenced by Wang Shu, its direction is actually to translate traditional Chinese architecture into a modern context. They believe that the current Chinese architecture from teaching to practice is actually completed under the framework of the Western system, and they do not want to lose the traditional Chinese architectural system. Tradition is not outdated. It just lacks inheritance and development, so they wanted to be the group of people who inherit and develop (tradition). I think this kind of concept is very good, but I later realized that this is not the direction I want to pursue, so I transferred. I don't want to limit the possibility of my direction to such a narrow range prematurely. The reason for going from SAIC to UCLA is actually very simple; I have stayed in the two Fine Arts institutions for five years, and I feel that my field of vision is still too narrow, so I want to see what architecture outside the Fine Arts institutions looks like. After staying in Fine Arts institutions for such a long time, I feel that I am floating in the sky. It is good to be able to float, but I do want to come down to earth. Therefore, going to UCLA can complement my ability in this area, and I hope my architecture can have the ability to reach anywhere, from the sky to the ground.

Meander, Architecture Design

KE ZHANG: Can you tell us more about your project from like very small scale, for example, Pleat, to a larger scale project, Meander? What’s your design strategy behind the projects?


MAVIS ZHAO: Whether it is a small-scale or large-scale project, the core of the design remains the same. I rationally design a perceptual space with a large number of iterations of models and drawings. In Pleat, the functions and streamlines are relatively simple, so I put more emphasis on the study of form. You can see that I made a lot of models for the same space. For a large-scale landscape design like Meander, I will pay more attention to the sequence and organization of multiple spaces, starting with analysis and derivation. This can be seen in my generative analysis graph where I respond to different factors.

Pleat, Architecture Design

KE ZHANG: How do you interpret the connection between your architecture projects and you fine art projects?


MAVIS ZHAO: They are all art in essence, both are self-expression, and I use my works to arouse the empathy of the audience. It’s just that compared to architecture, fine art has no rules. I freely set any conditions I want to complete my creation, but architecture has rules, and it dances within the established rules. It's more difficult for me. But as Tschumi said, architecture is like a binding game, it has many rules, you can choose to obey or break these rules, these rules are like knots and binding methods in the game, the more rules, the more interesting big.

Multiplicity & Spatiality, Digital Collage

KE ZHANG: You once said that drawing is the thing you love deeply. May I ask why you choose architecture as a major instead of painting or drawing?


MAVIS ZHAO: Because I think architecture actually includes painting. Architecture is a spatial sequence composed of multiple pictures, which is wider than painting. As a 2D art, painting is always separated from the audience, but architecture is a space, an art form that people can enter and exist in, and presents different pictures as time and location change. Of course, choosing a major does not mean giving up one and choosing another. I have never stopped painting.





Mavis Zhao

Mavis Zhao obtained BFA in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and she is a candidate of the Master of Architecture at UCLA. As an architect, I am deeply inspired by the possibilities of design and the impact it can have on the world. I design serious playful spaces, things, and stories that evoke emotions, stir the imagination, and bring joy. Architecture for me is positioned as an active character in the world, enacting a future full of wonder, humor, color, and delight.

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