URBANUS studio visit and interview with architect meng yan
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URBANUS is recognized as one of the most influential architecture practices in china. founded in 1999 under the leadership of partners xiaodu liu, yan meng and hui wang, the bejing-based studio has situated itself as more than just a design office, but as a think tank and research laboratory for urban-scale innovation. since its inception, URBANUS has aimed to formulate architectural strategies to maintain, activate and improve upon the everyday realities of life in china and its ever-changing urban conditions.



part 1: about meng yan and URBANUS




the company’s sensitivity to historical and social structure, and attention paid to the balance between new and old, has formed a portfolio of work that effectively responds to the complexities of china’s urban environment. currently, URBANUS is extending its existing design and research platform, and exploring opportunities for international and multidisciplinary collaborations. their research bureau named URB focuses on contemporary urban china to conduct a series of analytical projects, including creative city development, post-urban village development, and typologies for hyper-density.


during beijing design week 2015, designboom visited URBANUS’ office and spoke with partner meng yan about the studio’s dedication to research, their exhibition for BJDW 2015, and exciting upcoming projects.

the entrance to the studio features models of old projects alongside photography
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‘one very unique thing about URBANUS is that for us, it’s less interesting to do just interesting, cool buildings, than to really to try to find the right problem, the right moment and right strategy for that,’ meng yan tells us. ‘so we always want to learn at the beginning, through a heavy research process, and we want to understand what the situation is. once we clearly define the problem, then we can come up with a design solution for it.’

images and sketches from the office’s archives are presented along the office’s main entry wall
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‘the urban architectural approach wasn’t really the main discourse in china at the moment us three partners were finishing our studies. there were other discourses, but not many people at the time really focused on the urbanization and an urban approach in architecture. so the three of us thought and discussed that this is the right time, we should start doing that, and that we should name our company related to that issue. we’re very glad that is has continued like that.’

the studio has turned old models into light fixtures that hang overhead the office space
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a detail of one of the paper models transformed into a chandelier-like design
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current and previous models are displayed on a long table that runs through the center of the office
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a mock-up cardboard construction of a cluster of homes
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model of the tulou collective housing in guangzhou, china
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small model of a hutong housing development in beijing
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during beijing design week, URBANUS presents the exhibition ‘protective preservationism: preconditions and strategies for the future of the beijing qianmen hutongs’. the display of sketches, renderings, research and models shows a comprehensive summary of their work and thinking over the past two years. exhibited within in an on-site gallery at URBANUS office, the presentation aims to unearth the essential features of the hutong courtyard space in the east qianmen area and provide strategic advice for the revitalization and preservation of this tragically vanishing district of old beijing.



part 2: meng yan tells designboom about URBANUS’ exhibition for beijing design week 2015




‘recently, after the olympics, a very dramatic change occurred in the qianmen region,’ meng yan tells designboom. ‘there was a very strong need to upgrade, but at the same time keep some of the historical areas. so there’s this conflict between development and preservation. when we started to research, the focus was really on how to build a balance. we’ve learned a lot from the past failures. a lot of the development in the hutong areas is a very single minded, with a very simplified method. there’s a danger of them becoming a super rich, high-class residential cluster. so facing these types of multiple complicated tasks, we did a very thorough research with individual courtyards in the hutongs and we tried to figure out the problem.’

a narrow walkway in the exhibition space is lined with research and sketches
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‘in this exhibition, we showed an overall research, the current condition, and finally we came up with three very important strategies to improve the overall situation,’ meng yan says of the project presented for beijing design week.


the first is the courtyard — based on our research, we came up with an idea of hybrid courtyard instead of single family courtyard. next was to fix the hutong, to put new infrastructure and provide some amities for the area, including an upgrade of the public toilet and added storage for residents’ bikes. finally, the third step, after we regenerate hutong life, is to make the society better. we found out that historically, an important part of the community is the club houses, which has now been empty for years. we came up with a proposal to reactivate the traditional meeting place and public space in the area.’

drawings and architectural plans form a large part of the process of the project
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the exhibition features large-scale models illustrating the urban situation
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panels featuring 3-dimensional models hang overhead, allowing light to pass through them
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a series of solutions envisioned for the area are featured on one wall of the exhibition space
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a video is projected onto the concrete floor of the gallery space
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part of the gallery is exposed beneath the surface of the office’s courtyard by a glass roof 
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the URBANUS gallery is located on-site the architecture office 
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URBANUS inhabits a building that was once a former printing factory 
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part 3: meng yan tells designboom about URBANUS’ upcoming projects

portrait of partner meng yan
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