Li Xiaodong

Director of the Master in Architecture

Tsinghua University, China. 

Interview to Li Xiaodong for BAM.

May 2019

1.- In your opinion, why is architecture education so important?

I believe that it is the responsibility of the architect to strive for the highest order of the human environments. Architects are directly responsible for both physical and spiritual quality of our life.

2.- How do you see Architecture Academy in the future? What would you like to be different?

The main architectural problems we are facing in 21st century is not about style or “exotic” theoretical debate, it is about sustainability and responsibility, it is about the whole process of life span of our built environment. We should not just consider the building process but also de-building process, not just physical structure of our environment, but also the positive energy flow of our living space as a whole. Our criculum emphasizes this very process of whole life span of our built environment in a sustainable way.

3.- Which are the main characteristics that a good architecture professor should meet? Could you highlight the most relevant?

He/She should be both visionary and down to earth; critical and constructive; inspiring and rational at the same time.

4.- Please describe the beginning of your professional career with Tsinghua University and its development.

I Joined Tsinghua University right after my graduation from the same school of Architecture at Tsinghua in 1984, I went to Netherlands to do PHD between 1989 and 1993. I taught in National University of Singapore for 7 years before I came back to Tsinghua in 2005. It was during the 15 years overseas experience that I set up a relatively complete and clearer framework of my philosophy about architecture and architectural education. I was the head of the architectural program (for both undergraduate and graduate) between 2005-2008 and then focused on the development of Master program since 2008.

5.-What’s your academic vision at the English Program Master in Architecture? Would you like to highlight something in particular?

Architectural identity is a special aspect that our criculum has been focused on since its establishment. The students learn to view architecture with a holistic perspective which respects material, space, program, technology, environment, culture and lifestyle of the users. Fixed architectural styles are avoided, as they limit potentials to be unique and creative. However, precedents of past experiences and knowledge are important for us to study to provide a solid background to solve new problems in hand.

Another special aspect in our program is that our students are engaged with at least one real hands-on project, they are involved with the whole process of designing and building of a real project with real clients, through which, they learn how to develop concepts through dialogue and reflexive thinking. Also, collaboration is crucial in our training, two out of 4 studio projects are conducted as team work, students are requested to team up with their peers from different countries of preferably different continents. Our staffs are also composed of different backgrounds, our intention is to provide a truly global environment for students to open up their vision.

«Be prepared to engage yourself with a life of discovery.»

6.- What do you value the most in architecture students? Would you give any particular advice to someone who wants to begin her/his professional career in architecture?

Passion and respect for architecture. Architecture is not just a career, it is a lifestyle per se, it is probably the most diversified and rich subject among others. It take years, even lifetime for architect to understand and discover the true meaning of architecture. Be prepared to engage yourself with a life of discovery.

7.- What would you like to highlight about the Master in Architecture?

Be able to uplift skill into vision, and capable to turn vision into reality.

8.- Which advice would you give to someone who just finished her/his postgraduate studies and wants to become a competitive professional in architecture?

Take design always as a learning and charging process, be brave enough to enter “no-man’s land and at the same time be prepared to become  someone with a humble heart for people and nature,  be very cautious and respectful in making decisions about how, what and for who.

9.- What do you enjoy most about being the Director of the Master in Architecture?

It has been a privilege and very refreshing process in working with staffs from different culture and teaching students of different backgrounds. So far, we have received students from more than 50 countries all over the world. This little “united nations” really provides a wonderful learning environment for everyone.

10.- Could you suggest another School of Architecture where you would like to teach? Tell us why.

I enjoy teaching at Tsinghua and I like the culture and lifestyle in Beijing, never thought of teaching anywhere else besides Tsinghua.