For Gordon H. Chong, FAIA, architecture is more than just designing buildings.
He believes in "community-based architecture" that focuses on designing
and constructing public buildings such as hospitals, schools and cultural
Interview: Gordon H. Chong, FAIA, Architect
Chong's firm, Gordon H. Chong
and Partners in San Francisco, is currently designing the Jewish Museum
in San Francisco along with the renowned architect Daniel Libeskind from
Berlin and is working on several hospitals and the School of the Arts in
Chong, 57, who lives with
his wife, Dorian, and two daughters, in Berkeley, Calif., is a vice-president
of the American Institute of Architecture and the organization's president-elect
for the year 2002.
He grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii,
and attended the University of Oregon where he graduated with a bachelor's
degree in architecture in 1966. He then went to Edinburgh University in
Scotland where he received a master's degree in 1968. After working for
two San Francisco area firms, he began his own firm in 1976.
Chong has served as a member
of the AIA Board of Directors since 1997 and led the "Redefinition of the
Profession" task force. He was admitted to the College of Fellows in 1994.
Q: Why were you attracted
to the field of architecture?
My father was an artist and
I grew up in an environment surrounded by design and it left a great impression
on me about the importance of design in one's life. I became excited when
I figured out that those of us who have a design orientation see the world
differently than those who don't.
Q: What do you like most about
being an architect?
I like to build things and
I enjoy seeing a finalized product, if you will, and like most of us, I
have a right brain and left brain side of me that architecture brings together
Q: Can you give an example
of community-based architecture?
We recently did a senior
housing facility and it was just over 100 units. There were 3,000 applicants
for the 100 units. I was walking through the facility and the residents
would come up and thank me and tell me how wonderful the facility was.
It was very touching.
Q: What do you see as the
future of architecture?
These are really exciting
times for young students who might be interested in architecture primarily
because the profession is changing so rapidly. One of the things I'm leading
at the American Institute of Architecture is a program called "the Redefinition
of the Profession."
It begins to talk about what
we refer to as "upstream strategic planning and consultancy" to clients
that may or may not result in a building. It may tell someone how to better
utilize their existing facilities whatever their business objectives may
Additionally, there will
be more of what we refer to as "downstream opportunities" working as part
of the construction industry and the facilities management industry and
the computer industry and the visualization industry are all areas that
architects are now entering.
What qualities do you need to become an architect?
The most important skill
is to be inquisitive and to have a desire for constant knowledge development
and to be unafraid of change.
What other abilities should you have?
You need to have a balance
between right brain/left brain skills sets. You have to have strong communication
skills, multifaceted from writing to verbal. You need strong leadership
skills because you are dealing with many people and you need to have a
business sense to be able to understand strategic planning and those issues
that drive your client's decision making.
What do you look for when you're hiring young architects?
I look for someone who will
set the culture of our firm, somebody who has that thirst for knowledge
and has the ability to change and grow.
What should young people look for in an architecture school?
The interesting thing about
architecture schools is that they thrive on the fact that they are not
all the same. We are able to celebrate different approaches through education.
It's like anything else, it is a matter of finding the right match. There
are many schools of architecture that are wonderful schools that may not
be the highest brand schools.
What can young people do now to prepare for a career in architecture?
I would suggest that they
travel and expose themselves to a variety of cultural experiences. Being
open to experiences is very important. Be sensitive to differences and
be able to identify those differences, whether it's about the way people
respond to buildings or the differences of why some spaces feel better.