These days, renders tend to dominate the portfolios of contemporary architectural studios around the world, backed up by the traditional tripartite of plans, sections, and elevations. Given the advancement of rendering software, graphics cards, and processing power, it is, perhaps, unsurprising that these computer-generated images are now a priority as architects attempt to convince their clients with carefully selected perspectives that show a proposal at its best. However, Li Hu of OPEN Architecture utilizes a very different style of drawing: one that communicates scale, form, and the relationship between buildings with a crisp, clean clarity.
“I want to go back to Chinese landscape painting,” says Li, reflecting on the firm’s distinctive array of parallel perspectives and axonometric drawings. “Without all the single perspectives, it establishes multiple relationships between every object; you see the mountains, the trees, the foreground, the background, the people, and the buildings. You look at any of the master drawings of the Song dynasty that use this sense of relationship, it’s a flattened way of looking at things.”
To create these drawings, Li uses the lesser-known modeling program FormZ, which allows more options for creating parallel perspectives than many of the more widely used applications. The resulting line drawings offer a new way to consume OPEN Architecture’s design concepts and are the standout feature in a new monograph by the firm entitled ‘OPEN ReAction.’ Here, we take seven of the most characterful projects from the firm that show how these idiosyncratic drawings help take Li Hu’s visions from concept to construction:
Pingshan Performing Arts Center, Shenzhen, China
Both form and scale of the Pingshan Performing Arts Center — currently under construction in Shenzhen, China — are perfectly encapsulated by this frontal axonometric drawing, which is notable for the inclusion of many people despite its large size. This perspective also allows the roof to be clearly articulated, hinting at multiple programmatic uses beyond the building envelope.
“In Pingshan, luckily, we convinced the local government that we can rewrite the program, so that instead of just a mono program of theater, let’s make it this multiplicity of things [that] can happen, things devoted for the public to use for free,” says Li. “We introduced a commercial program that can generate revenue to support nonprofit operations … we were adding a lot of things to give this typology a better potential to survive.”
Stepped Courtyards, Changle, Fuzhou, China
The parallel perspective drawing of this multiunit apartment block in Eastern China is useful for illustrating the concept of courtyards that are designed to encourage communal living and a sense of enclosure on an open site lacking in context. Stepped roof terraces provide residents with numerous outdoor spaces while helping to break down the massing of each block.
Garden School, Beijing, China
One of OPEN Architecture’s largest and most groundbreaking projects to date, it was possible to illustrate all of the main concepts behind Beijing No.4 High School Fangshan Campus in a single drawing thanks to the use of the parallel perspective: rooftop farming, gardens, landscaped courtyards, and the athletics field are all part of the school’s emphasis on educational green spaces.
“We have these overall spaces, the garden, and the farms, but, then, there’s a lot of intersections, with these kind of focal points such as special stairs, a sort of special outdoor architecture,” explains Li. “These are like Union Square, or Bryant Park, or Central Park in New York City: there is a relationship between these parts and the whole [urban landscape].”
West Bund Oil Tank Art Center, Shanghai, China
Once again, tiny, people-shaped specks dot the drawing for the proposed West Bund Oil Tank Art Center in Shanghai, China, adding a real sense of scale to the master plan. The drawing also illustrates the various relationships between each distinct volume within this urban renewal project, showing how pedestrians might move through the site at ground level and via sky bridges.
“It’s a very exciting project, though not an easy project, to convert these steel oil tanks into spaces for different functions,” reflects Li. “Some will be performance, some for galleries, some for restaurants, so we’re having a lot of fun, exploring the potential of all these strange spaces, almost like the Pantheon inside.”
Gehua Youth and Cultural Center, Beidaihe, China
An overview of this multifunctional center in Beidaihe, China, emphasizes its inward looking layout and surrounding natural context, the building nestled away from the frenetic streets of the city nearby. The courtyard is designed as a multifunctional space that becomes part of the theater itself; a whole wall opens up, transforming the sloped external area into an auditorium for the music and dance performed within.
The Ocean Center, Shenzhen, China
The parallel perspective for this vertical research center in one of China’s largest cities reveals OPEN Architecture’s unconventional method of stacking programs to achieve an efficient layout while also providing some well-ventilated open space between different volumes all the way up the building.
“What’s interesting about that building is that it’s not really just one building, it’s really stacking up six different buildings,” says Li. “There are six different research institutes that are all run independently; some are for Ocean Physics, some are for Biology, some for Electronics, and so on … We pulled them apart to create interspatial spaces between them … the wind can blow through, so the space in between is very pleasant.”
Li’s experimental concept proves that parallel perspectives work to illustrate ideas even at the smallest of scales. The proposal is for a mobile kiosk that dispenses joy in various forms, reintroducing uplifting whimsy to frantic, often stress-filled cities.
“It’s a kind of grassroots way of transforming urban life, an alternative strategy for a more known typology like the community center, that is more mobile,” explains Li. “It’s making fantasies, funny shapes, odd shapes, just trying to draw attention, but what interests us really are the things inside, what really has to do with the city, besides being kind of a spectacle.”