Interviews

Fei Wang

United States

Fei Wang is an architect, educator, critic and entrepreneur. He is coordinator of the M.S. in Architecture program, Design | Energy | Futures at Syracuse Architecture. Wang is a founder of the interdisciplinary studio FWStudio and a co-founder of URSIDE Hotel. His design and research work has been recognized with many awards, and has been exhibited worldwide, including at the Universität der Künste Berlin, Aedes Galerie in Berlin, Venice Biennale, McGill University, Shenzhen Biennale and Beijing Design Week. Wang has previously taught at the University of Hong Kong, Tongji University, China Academy of Art, University of Michigan, North Carolina State University and the Architectural Association. He received his B.Arch from Tongji University, a M.Arch from Virginia Tech and a M.Arch in history of theory from McGill University.

Syracuse Architecture’s Master of Science (M.S.) in Architecture program, led by Professor Wang was selected in our BAM Ranking 2019 as the 22nd best postgraduate architecture program in the world.

We hope you enjoy the interview that Prof. Wang kindly completed exclusively for the BAM platform.

BAM Interview with Fei Wang
April 2020

1.- Please describe the beginning of your professional/academic career within the Syracuse University. What would you like to highlight about its School of Architecture?

I started teaching at Syracuse Architecture in Fall 2014. At that time, I was teaching several Visiting Critic studios, which combined B.Arch, M.Arch 1 and M.Arch 2 students. In 2015, we started a new post-professional MS program, titled «Design | Energy | Futures.»

Syracuse Architecture is the fourth oldest architecture school in the US and consistently ranks among the best professional schools of architecture in the nation. We have a very successful professional degree program built largely upon our well-integrated curriculum developed over the years. We have a large, top-ranked BArch program, a relatively small professional M.Arch program and new post-professional MS programs. Our community of students and faculty is very diverse and international.

2.- In your opinion, why is architecture education so important for our society?

The relationship between the architecture profession and architecture schools today is much more interdependent than at any time in human history. I agree with Dean Michael Speaks’s discussion on this, which was published in Time+Architecture in 2017. One of the great merits of our five-year undergraduate professional degree is that it is arguably among the last true undergraduate liberal arts degrees offered at any university. The curriculum is structured so that our students are much better prepared in the STEM disciplines than those in the arts and sciences, and they are more creative and have better critical thinking and writing skills than students studying engineering or the hard science disciplines. Our school is certainly among the best places to study if you are interested in becoming an architect. And, because the five-year professional architecture degree ranges across such a wide disciplinary spectrum, it is also the best course of study if you are interested in pursuing a career outside architecture, whether as an investment banker, attorney or entrepreneur.

“The relationship between the architecture profession and architecture schools today is much more interdependent than at any time in human history”

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

At Syracuse Architecture, we focus on providing a design education that meets the demands of contemporary architecture practice. And those demands come from two, seemingly opposite, directions. There is an increased demand for specialization, for architects with special skills and expertise. And, there is also an increased demand for flexibility, for architects who have professional skills but who are adaptable to the ever-changing nature of contemporary practice and an ever-changing job marketplace. Syracuse Architecture Professor Mark Linder pointed out in his essay «Disciplinarity,» that today architecture has three models: Centric Disciplinarity, Interdisciplinarity and Transdisciplinarity. The boundaries of the architecture discipline are becoming blurred.

4.- What’s your academic vision in Master of Sciences in Architecture at Syracuse University? What would you like to highlight?

As a way to address the demand for greater specialization in architecture, in 2015, we created the new Master of Science in Architecture degree program, with several specialized courses of study. The first of these to launch is our Design | Energy | Futures program, which focuses on energy and the built environment with research and design projects ranging across many scales, from urban design to high performance buildings, from VR and computational simulation to building material research and product design, and across a range of disciplinary and practice areas. Since students who enter the program have an existing professional degree, we have greater freedom to focus on real-world projects and develop partnerships and relationships with industry and professional practice leaders. It is a research-based program with one research studio, two research seminars on research methodologies, four electives based on student’s research topic and interests, and the final MS capstone project.

MS students have won international design and research awards, including: second place in Low Carbon City Future Center design competition (2015), winner of the Joan B. Calambokidis Innovation in Masonry Competition (2017), second place in the Q Village International University Design-Build Competition (2018), third place in the UIA-CBC International Colleges and Universities Competitive Construction Workshop (2019), and an honorable mention award for the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge (2020). MS students’ design and research works have also been exhibited in top exhibitions worldwide such as the Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture (2017 and 2019), Venice Architecture Biennale (2018), and Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism (2019).

In Fall 2020, we are proud to launch the second new MS program, MS.RRED, a post-professional degree program focusing on resilient real estate development. The program addresses the nuts-and-bolts of resilient development, from construction systems and business models to community and environmental stewardship. Based at the Syracuse University Fisher Center in midtown Manhattan, this NYC-resident program draws upon the city’s culture of architectural and urban innovation, where theoretical inquiry meets real-world application.

Our MS is a STEM Designated Degree by the US Student and Exchange Visitor Program.

“At Syracuse Architecture, we focus on providing a design education that meets the demands of contemporary architecture practice”

5.- Which are the main characteristics that a good architecture professor should meet?

A good architecture professor shall be a good mentor, listener and collaborator. A good professor explores each student’s potential and uniqueness, rather than teach them to be exactly the same as him/herself. A good professor listens carefully to what each student says and learns from them. A good professor collaborates with students, other faculty members and other disciplines and industries.

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

Be fearless and limitless. Discover your uniqueness, which is most valuable. I have many great examples but want to point out one in particular. In Fall 2015, I used the Low Carbon City Future Center design competition as a real-world studio topic. Every team attended the two-phase competition, where we ended up winning three honorable mention awards in Phase I and the second place cash prize of $30,000 in Phase II. Our winning team in Phase II was the only student team among the top five prizes; the other teams were professional architecture offices. In my undergraduate study, I attended more than 20 design competitions and won many awards. I wanted to train my mind and hands to find myself. Don’t be afraid to try new things and you shall learn from failure and success.

7.- Can you suggest another School of Architecture or country where you would like to teach? Tell us why.

This question is both easy and hard since I see myself as a global citizen.

I started teaching full time in 2007. I have taught at many different kinds of architecture schools and in many different countries—a public school (North Carolina State University), private schools (The University of Michigan and Syracuse University), a Chinese public school (Tongji University), a Chinese art school (China Academy of Art), the combination of the Eastern and Western (The University of Hong Kong), etc.

Between 2007 and 2010, working with many Chinese colleagues for three years, we interviewed many deans, chairs and professors in America and Europe, including Harvard, MIT, Yale, Columbia, Penn, Berkeley, Carleton, McGill, the AA, Berlage and TU Delft. In 2010, as the chief editor, I concluded the 25 interviews in the book, Inter-Views: Trends of the Top Architecture and Urbanism Programs in Europe and North America published both in English and Chinese by Tongji University Press.

There are so many fantastic schools in the world that it’s hard to pick just one. Currently, I still have my practice as an architect and a hotel entrepreneur in Shanghai and Syracuse. So, I will remain a global citizen without borders.

8.- Given the current situation of the world regarding COVID-19, how do you think it will affect the architecture education in the near future?

COVID-19 began in my home country, and before it became pandemic, it already changed education in China. Then, a few months later, it affected everyone in the world. Syracuse Architecture has been teaching online since mid-March. There are a lot of pros and cons, but we are adapting. On the positive side, it’s more convenient to get many close friends and colleagues from New York, Los Angeles, Dubai, and Shanghai to virtually join my design studio final review when usually I can only invite up to two external reviewers to come to Syracuse in person. We are already in the future. Architecture has always been the ever-changing discipline throughout history, in the face of social, political, cultural, environmental and technological aspects. In architecture education, we have to connect and collaborate more and more in the future for the sake of the human race.

“In architecture education, we have to connect and collaborate more and more in the future for the sake of the human race”

9.- What do you think architects can do to face a crisis like the one we are experiencing in present times?

Architects are connected more than ever before. We are learning new methods and new ways that have pushed us to change and adapt. There are also many buildings in the world like stadiums, convention centers and schools that have been transformed into hospitals by architects. Adaptability is essential for people and space. In Syracuse Architecture, faculty and staff have been producing protective medical masks and designing ventilator for local hospitals.

10.- Do you think the COVID-19 situation will change the way our cities and buildings are conceived? Would it represent a significant change in our manners and priorities?

Connection and participation are more and more from many different levels and across many disciplines. One example is the two large hospitals in Wuhan that were rapidly built at the beginning of the outbreak in China.

Design decisions were made very quickly by architects and engineers both physically and virtually. The construction process was available for the world to watch online, 24/7. Since many of us have been in quarantine, we are more connected with people now than ever before, which was neglected in the past due to busy lives. On this day, we shall realize each one of us is a global citizen and we need connection but not disconnection, collaboration but not disjunction, and togetherness but not division.

“On this day, we shall realize each one of us is a global citizen and we need connection but not disconnection, collaboration but not disjunction, and togetherness but not division”

The BAM Team appreciates the time Professor Wang dedicated to complete our interview and we invite you to learn more about his professional work at the School of Architecture of the Syracuse University by visiting the following links.

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