My name is Edbert Cheng, and I believe architects are more valued today for their ideas, intuitions, and design insights than their ability to draw construction documents. To comprehend and fully engage with the larger world, and use their design competence in the best manner possible, architects must take a quantum leap outside the safe, comfortable confines of the drawing studio and into the realms of business, computer science, and real estate.
Over the past couple years, I have struggled to grasp the business of architecture and see my place in it, even as the forces of disruption tear apart and remake practice in all directions -- from the rising sophistication and influence of computer software, to the increasingly litigious nature of construction contracts, and the lobotomy between design, construction, and real estate. Architects and designers claim to shape the built environment, but they have mostly lost the ability to establish a clear agenda in a complex world, a world that has irrevocably moved beyond the scale of the street to the global realities of Wall Street and the Internet.
Straddling the fields of visualization, real estate finance, and construction management, the architect risks becoming a mediocre conductor with little true expertise, finding existential meaning in an outdated mode of practice.
I don’t want to just design a beautiful facade; I want to participate in the process of determining what is behind the facade, and crafting an agenda beyond fashion and beauty.
In architecture school, I learned not to build a building, but to understand, dissect, and communicate problems through the lens of drawing, models, and visual media. I was most engaged in my studies when I was researching, analyzing a problem, and creating a compelling narrative that speaks to what I learned, and what makes places and programs special. Through the process of drawing and modelling, I enjoyed revealing invisible layers, connecting disparate threads, and making powerful messages. What I love, above all, is to present these findings, to engage the audience in what I have discovered, and how that reveals and clarifies something important about the world we live in.
My highest creative potential is to create and present meaningful messages, and that should not be limited to the field of architecture.
In the past decade, while I was completely married to the idea of being a competent architect, I was pursuing these seemingly disconnected and irrelevant things that tried to point the way to this path of making messages. I tried hip hop dance and performed a House Dance performance in Boston. I went to an open mic and performed stand-up comedy in Shanghai. I worked with a group of friends to pull off a Kinect-inspired motion capture dance performance at Cornell University. I pitched an Asian-inspired Donut Food Truck concept to a retail group. I helped design and build a swing and a composting toilet. I made some websites. And along the way, I made many storyboards, blogs, and videos, capturing my experiences in Chicago, Rome, Hong Kong, and imaginary radioactive worlds. My innate desire to express abstract ideas, to think through impossible things, will never go away.
I don’t want architecture to get in the way of my potential to craft meaningful messages, which can change the world.
Jing An Shi, Shanghai, 10 June 2018
Ferry Port Terminal, Yokohama, 5 July 2018