The GEN Z Series travels to the University of Minnesota to interview a recently graduated Masters’ student Allison Lin. Having been born in Beijing, Allison moved to the United States and has lived in Seattle and Minneapolis. It is interesting to note that Allison graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree to finally pursue her Masters in Architecture from the University of Minnesota.
Allison Lin recently moved to New York to join Studio Lyon Szot after her Masters. Artistic since her childhood, Allison has had an interesting background in printmaking and watercolor before architecture. Johnny D catches up with Allison Lin to explore her journey into the architectural world and her early childhood ambition.
Briefly explain your Masters’ project.
‘Hotel Void’ is a decentralized bed and breakfast spread along the Nanluogu Alley in nine different locations. The interventions engage the visitors on the public streets, residents of ‘b & b’ and the local residents, spatially and socially in nine different ways. The nine locations are selected based on their immediate surroundings and existing structures, while remaining a similar distance in between.
This design is not meant to be loud, while it adds new experiences. It remains humble within the context. While the nine interventions showcase the new, they also encourage an intimate exploration into the old.
Your childhood ambition, did you always wanted to become an architect?
Oddly enough, I had always wanted to avoid being in architecture. My grandfather was a well-respected architect in China. I was always encouraged to study architecture by my family. As any rebellious kid would do, I had spent time exploring many creative fields that was not architecture (smiles).
I was a printmaker, painter, an interior designer, a graphic designer and almost became a coffee shop owner. However, none of those had worked out well for me in terms of money making. Until I had to choose a field and go to grad school, I chose architecture without knowing what it actually was. After a semester of study, I knew architectural and conceptual design would be what I had pursued for a long time.
What does ‘architecture’ means to you?
It is the vessel of culture. I am probably biased, coming from Beijing, where everything has a deep cultural root. Architecture is not just the physical structure that keeps us from the rain and keeps us warm, it reflects who we are and it carries that for hundreds or thousands of years.
Architecture also influences who lives in it and who experiences it. How we live our days and spend our times are impacted by our physical environment. Architecture can be a powerful and manipulative tool, and architects and artists, more often than not, are more sensitive to details. They are good at noticing and capturing emotions and things that are intangible.
If at some point in my career I could be a willful designer for once, I would design spaces that solely capture emotions, memories and manufacture moments that are personal to each person. By doing so, architecture may be less of problem-solving and even ‘useless’, but it becomes a factory of feelings, mentalities and cultures.
How has it influenced your life as an architecture student?
I have worked more than ever after being in architecture. Working more than 10 hours per day has become a norm. It forces me to be good with time-management, if I want to make and enjoy some free time, and I do. The problem is that it is easy to sit down and work on something that excites me. I am sure most people in creative fields are like that.
Every party that is hosted by someone in the architecture field would be filled with architecture related conversations. The plus-ones might roll their eyes in the beginning, but eventually they hear more than enough about architecture that they get used to us.
Which international architect has inspired you? Please specify as to why?
Tadao Ando! There are too many inspiring architects, so I am sticking with the first one that really moved me. The serenity and simplicity are so compelling to me. Simplicity is not simple, it is very complex! And it shows in Tadao Ando’s design creations. I have heard comments on Tadao Ando’s designs and sometimes his work is described as ‘not at human-scale’, and that odd and unfamiliar interaction with space is actually something that makes it interesting to me.
How has the pandemic changed your learning process?
I used more digital tools than drawings and models. I enjoy both ways of making, but I do wish I had made more things with hands. Of course, there are good things too. We had people from other countries joining for the reviews. It can be a good opportunity to hear from people with very different opinions and experiences.
What are your views on Climatic catastrophes and how architects of the future (your generation) will overcome the herculean challenge?
That is a tough question to answer! For what I know, we are learning to design sustainable buildings and that is what we should all do. There are definitely a lot of questions about this too. What is actually sustainable design – High-end technology or Vernacular designs or a combination of the two? I think I have more questions than answers on this topic.
One thing I do believe is that no one person or even a group of people can resolve a challenge like this. Although, I believe architecture is powerful and can improve our environment. It is something we need to conquer together as human kind.
Briefly write about your University and the course.
I went to the University of Minnesota. Personally, I think University of Minnesota has a great program to build a solid foundation. The program is more about training people to think conceptually than training people to create beautiful images and overly abstract forms, which I appreciated.
While having a beautiful portfolio to show at a job market is essential, I do appreciate spending more time developing designs and creating designs that is more intact to reality. How can design be architecturally interesting without the flamboyance, subtle, but powerful? I do also think how a person experiences the program is very personal based, on which class you take. There are some great professors / instructors in the program.
Image Courtesy: Allison Lin