An architect whose China heritage inspires his designs

Updated: 2014-02-28 13:12

By Deng Yu in Seattle (China Daily USA)

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Zhang Ming, a widely recognized architect and successful Chinese-American businessman, ascribes his success to his Chinese background and the fast development of his homeland.

"My Chinese heritage and my cultural roots contributed much to my architectural designs. I have drawn my inspiration from ideas of architecture of Ancient China, and it is the reason that we won the design project for the Redmond city hall building," Zhang said, referring to the Washington State city that is the home of Microsoft Corp.

"What is more, I always keep in mind of the qualities shared by overseas Chinese people such as hard working and humble, which allowed me to overcome all difficulties and challenges".

This year, Zhang - who is a leading designer of mixed-use developments, corporate offices and retail centers worldwide - was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). He will receive the fellowship medal during the investiture of fellows' ceremony at the AIA's 2014 National Convention and Design Exposition on June 27 in Chicago.

The AIA's 2014 Jury of Fellows elevated 139 members of its organization to its prestigious College of Fellows. Election recognizes the achievements of architects as individuals and their significant contribution to architecture and society on a national level.

The jury awarded Zhang the honor because of his "notable contributions to the advancement of architecture", and it especially recognized Ming's work that has dramatically improved standards and design in China.

"China's fast development and urbanization also created opportunities for the success of overseas Chinese," said Zhang, who has practiced architecture for more than 20 years in China and the US.

In 1986, Zhang left Nanjing, China, to attend graduate study in the US. He was impressed and deeply attracted by Chicago, a city rich in architecture, design and education.

"Chicago is dedicated to the modern - from the skyscrapers that punctuate its skyline to the spirited style that inflects many of its dwellings and institutions, from the New Bauhaus to Hull-House - it is one of the models of America's urban designs," Zhang said. "My stay in Chicago not only let me see the huge gap between China and US in modern architectural design, but helped established my own style of high-rise designing later."

After Zhang got a master's degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago in 1990, he moved to Seattle.

"At that time there were a lot of open spaces on the West Coast and Seattle is the closest hub to China. It is a perfect place for immigrated architects like me to realize my architectural dream," Zhang said about what he called one of the significant decisions he has made.

An architect whose China heritage inspires his designs

At the beginning, Zhang worked as a designer for an international architectural firm based in Seattle. Due to his Chinese background, in 1993 he was put in charge of projects in China. His first one was a hotel in the Shanghai's Pudong District.

"I feel I was reconnecting to China and I saw the huge opportunity presented by Chinese market," he said.

In 1996, Zhang founded his own firm - ZGA Architecture. That same year, his beautiful design style and deep understanding of China beat world famous designers in competitive projects in Xiamen, China, and his name was soon widely recognized in China.

Projects such as office and bank buildings were given to his firm from the city of Xiamen, Jiangsu province and Fujian province. "To be chosen from among other competing firms and designers is a testament to our design capabilities and solid reputation in China," Zhang said.

Zhang's creativity in the design of high-image projects and his deep insights into the Chinese market were soon recognized by Jerry Lee, head of the architectural firm MulvannyG2, and in 1998 Zhang joined the Bellevue, Washington, firm.

"He is an exceptional designer and has singularly moved MulvannyG2 into the international arena, carving out a solid foothold from which to establish MulvannyG2 as an internationally renowned architecture firm," said Lee.

Now MulvannyG2 is ranked among the top 40 largest architecture firms and is the second-largest retail design firm in the world. It has worked with hundreds of clients, in 13 countries, spread across five continents and every time zone.

"Of course, China is our important market. We recently celebrated the 12th anniversary of our Shanghai office with 12 million square-feet of projects built across China," Zhang said.

Zhang thinks every Chinese American should be an ambassador to the US, to promote communications and bridge differences. He has actively participated in US-China exchanges activities and contributed to the Chinese community in the Seattle area.

In 2005, Zhang accompanied Washington Governor Christine Gregoire and her trade mission to China and hosted a visit to Zhangjiang Semiconductor Research Park.

With Zhang's help, a historic Chinatown gate in Seattle's Chinatown-International District became a reality in 2008. He voluntarily joined the team to design it and raise funds to build it.

Zhang served on the executive committee of the Washington State China Relations Council for many years, and he has contributed to Chinese organizations and groups through consultancy, presentations and donations.

Zhang travels frequently to Asia for design projects and spends one-third of his time in China every year.

"To participate in China's incredible growth and modernization is a privilege and especially meaningful to me," he said. "As a youth growing up in Nanjing, I never imagined that I would be recognized for designing landmark buildings in China today."

(China Daily USA 02/28/2014 page11)