In Conversation with Stephen Buckle

ASPECT insights
In Conversation with Stephen Buckle

ASPECT Studios is celebrating its 10 year anniversary in China. Starting with the bid for the Guangzhou West Tower – that ASPECT worked on till completion in 2010 – to currently designing major placemaking projects like Shanghai Dream Centre and Shanghai Library. We’re proud to reflect on the past 10 years and excited to look forward to the next 10 years and beyond.

ASPECT's Shanghai studio director, Stephen Buckle, explains what goes into making one of ASPECT Studios' largest studio run smoothly.

You’re in the 4th year as Studio Director leading the Shanghai studio, what were your expectations when joining and have they been met?

I joined ASPECT Studios for the opportunity of leading a prominent, contemporary landscape design studio; one that had both a strong local and global reputation. I wanted a platform that would allow me opportunity to work on some of the most exciting and large-scale projects while leading a team of creative passionate and innovative designers. …And what a platform ASPECT’s given me! In my four years we have sustained our strong reputation for the design of large scale, people orientated, mixed-use and complex projects. Our reputation and work ethic has opened the doors to collaborate on such projects as Shanghai New Library, The Humu plot 10 and New Shanghai Museum and a 29,000 sqm multi age playground on Hainan Island, to name a few.

      

How has the team in China grown over the 4 years?

Our team has had the opportunity to work on a wide range of high profile city-shaping projects across China. We’re designing and collaborating with some of the world’s leading architects, designers and artists. These projects have inspired, challenged and refined our design approach as we strive to develop innovative, unique and sustainable solutions that respond to each projects contextual, cultural and environmental requirements.. Over the last four years the team and studio has grown and developed greatly, this is all down to the support, strength and passion of our dedicated designers and the studio leadership team, the combined efforts of Cathy Zhao ( Studio Manger), Vivi Xie (Business Associate Director) and Sissy Chen (Associate + Design Team Leader) have been the driving force behind our ability to: run a successful business, position ourselves within the local market, and importantly most importantly keep things fresh, new and diverse.

   

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How have the projects grown/evolved in 4 years?

The strength of our reputation, and respect of our valued clients and collaborators has supported our growth into a range project typologies. We’ve been invited to design a diverse portfolio of mixed-use commercial projects, large parks, civic, public realm, hospitality, and resorts. With the 13th Five Year Plan directive from Beijing, we have seen our clients undergo a transformation and a re-focus on sustainability in how they plan – and therefore how we design – in urban areas. The Chinese government has positioned water sensitive design as one of the highest priorities for their built environment. These principles and design align with the message ASPECT has been pushing for many years and its real pleasure to be part of, and to experience such rapid change for wholistic sustainable solutions.

How does the industry in China differ to what you’d experience elsewhere in the world?

I’ve lived and working in China for 7 years. One needs to truly understand and respect the culture in which you design. I’m a strong custodian of living and working within the cultures and geographies I design in, and I have had the privilege to do so. Working across the diverse climatic and cultural locations of UK, Middle East and China has provided me with a unique understanding of the essential connection between the society, people, every day culture and how it should influence and guide design. I believe that without appreciating the day to day, design runs the risk of imposing foreign principles that do not connect or engage with the local demographic, culture or society.

What are some of the noticeable difference between designing in China, Australia and the UK?

There are few similarities and then some obvious and large differences between the work and designing in China and Australia and UK. Within all ASPECT’s design there is an overarching principle of a focus on people, people orientated experience, how the landscape can be more than just aesthetics, bringing both social, environment and cultural benefit to a project. In China there are many unique processes that craft the design journey that differ from elsewhere. For example; the depth and rigor of analysis, and uptake of digital technology. Data is becoming a big thing, and the use of data to inform and influence design considerations, the study of spatial uses, capacities and footfall is increasingly embraced across all project types. Another example is the considerable difference in scale of a general project. ASPECT Shanghai’s projects average between 30,000 to 40,000 sqm in size – with some project reaching as large as 200,000 sqm, with such large areas to develop and craft it provides us amazing opportunity to explore, study and realize people orientated principles and experience on a much larger scale.

What’s next for ASPECT in China?

As we celebrate our 10th year of designing in China, it’s a great opportunity to look back on the principles and projects that have forged our foundation and successful of reputation in China while looking at how we can retain fresh and innovative dynamic edge to our work as we look to the future. To do this I believe in mixing things up, breaking down conventions and not following a path, each project has its own journey and story to tell, and its our role to peal back the cultural layers to find this distinctiveness.

In the coming 12-18 months we will see a significant wave of my studios designs become reality, the hard work and dedication of my team over the last 12 months has resulted in some truly inspiring and creative designs that are currently (or soon to be) under construction. Projects such and Dream Centre on the West Bund, Shanghai, Poly Zhuai mixed use, Gemdale Wuhan, the new Shanghai Library. In addition, a significant number of significant living architecture and green infrastructure projects with sustainability at the core will bring leading thinking and technology together. My team and I look forward the continued close working creative relationship we have with our clients and collaborators as work together to bring these projects to reality and bringing more life, vitality and enjoyment to the cities and communities in which we design.