Students who choose to work with me for their 5th year graduation project are required to define an architectural question that they want to explore. WANG Yunzhu wanted to expand her knowledge, familiarity and understanding of materials. Her proposal was to research and collect a cross section of materials used in architecture design, study them and then build a system to display them. Yunzhu observed that in fact the school had many materials samples, but that they were unaccessible. Not because anyone wanted to limit access to them. But because they were not organized, categorized, or centralized. Her proposal was to build a “materials library” that would allow students to have access to new materials and learn something about their properties and characteristics.

Her process was one of exploration: starting from posing an architectural question, to testing ideas, to adapting her emerging concept to a particular site, to making a proposal to the school administration for funding, to refining her idea, to building a mock-up, to finding suppliers for materials she wanted to use, to learning to use a CNC, to machining and fabricating parts, to ordering a complex piece of glass and supervising its installation, to sculpting a complex form from laminated plywood, to figuring out how to install the parts, to getting friends to help, to designing the display panels, to mounting the materials, to getting the final project professionally photographed.

In the process of designing this materials library, Yunzhu learned much and discovered much. In fact she even invented a new system and was awarded a patent for it (Patent no. 201220682563). The level of care, concern for detail and craftsmanship of this project is truly extraordinary, especially when one considers that it was conceived of, developed, fabricated and installed by someone who before starting only had the most basic understanding of how things are made and the skills to actually do it. Her work exceeds that of experienced professionals. And, has inspired many students.

One of the great pleasures for me is to walk by the materials library on my way to my office and observe students and faculty as they are waiting for the elevator, pulling out the panels, trying to figure out how it works, looking at the materials, occasionally taking notes. The material library also doubles as a window into a conference room, with the base functioning as a bench. In order to do this, she needed to redesign the conference room, install lights, and a new carpet.

In addition to being awarded a patent from the Chinese Patent Office for her invention, she was awarded top honors by both the School of Architecture and Tsinghua University for her excellent graduation project.

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