Made in China, but programmed in Britain, says top architect

By ANGUS McNEICE | China Daily UK | Updated: 2017-02-03 18:16

Made in China, but programmed in Britain, says top architect

Chun Qing Li, founder of China Britain International Design Week. [China Daily] 

Architect Chun Qing Li says it's time people start taking Chinese design seriously.

"We have a reputation for being copycats, but this is mainly because of what the media chooses to focus on," Li says at a restaurant in London's Chinatown.

"Ten years ago, I set myself a target-I wanted to be a good designer representing China and to change the way that Western people see us."

In that decade, Li has gone some way to changing perceptions. Three years ago, the Shenyang native won a Structural Award-structural engineering's highest prize-for his design of a London pavilion that judges described as "seminal".

He walked away with one of 2016's Chinese Business Leaders Awards in the Rising Star category last year, for his work and contribution as founder of China Britain International Design Week.

"I dreamt of creating a platform where all the best Chinese designers could come and be represented abroad, to raise awareness about who we are and what we do," Li said with a smile.

Two of Li's most obvious attributes-a diligent work ethic and a refusal to take no for an answer-are likely to be as infuriating as they are inspiring to those around him.

While raising funds to get his pavilion built in time for the 2012 Olympics, his wife would often find him at work on his computer at 6:30 am-just in time for him to shower and leave for a day's work without sleep.

Li says he lost seven kilos in the lead up to China Britain International Design Week's inaugural event in 2014 during President Xi Jinping's visit to the UK.

"From an employer's point of view, education is one thing, but they want to see how hungry you are," Li says. "I work bloody long hours and I have a burning desire to do something different."

Before attending university in Liverpool and working for a number of leading firms in the northern city and the capital, Li arrived in Britain from China as a teenager with limited English.

His parents were supportive, he says, though he felt pressure to make right on the money they were investing in his education abroad. Li attributes his motivation to both his mother, who worked her way up from factory floor to chief executive, and the training he underwent to swim competitively for Liaoning province while at secondary school.

"I used to swim 25,000 meters every day, you need incredible discipline for that," he says.

His affinity for design was evident at a young age, when he would accompany his father, a surveyor, to building sites in the summer holidays. "My grandmother was sick, so my parents used to take me to work," he recalls. "I used to draw all the buildings on scraps of paper. That was my early inspiration."

Li now works for himself at his own firm, KREOD, and plans to bring the same robotic design tools and digital fabrication that he used to create the London pavilion to large scale projects in the UK.

"We have a responsibility as architects-we shape the built environment, and the environment changes people, it affects mood and wellbeing," he says.

"I want to bring high-quality buildings that are affordable to people, built with tools of the future, not in the old, traditional way."


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