HE Shen, WU Chaoyun, CHENG Kun Graduation Project
Dougong Cube Meeting Room (SPRING 2015)

The Dougong Cube Meeting Room is the graduation thesis project of WU Chaoyun, HE Shen and CHENG Kun. The three 5th year students worked together with me over 11 months, starting August 2014 through July 2015. It is a research driven design project where students identified a project through which they could explore their research, found funding, conceptualized, refined, and tested a design solution; then fabricated, assembled and installed their design. From August through October students participated in a weekly seminar during which they presented their research. In November they identified a project. In January students proposed a design concept and sought permission from the school to build it. In January permission was granted, after which the students refined and tested their design, and began seeking funding. Funding was secured in February, allowing the student to begin the fabricating parts and preparing the site for installation. Installation began in May and was completed in July.

The students’ research topics included: (WU Chaoyun) the relationship between tools and fabrication; (HE Shen) the properties of wood, wood products and wood joints; (CHENG Kun) prefabrication and assembly systems. These topics provided the lens through which they framed their project. The project opportunity was presented to the students by the associate dean. She proposed that the students design and build a “salon” in the atrium of the new architecture building (designed by LI Xiaodong) that would provide a space for meetings and discussion. Multiple concepts were explored, including a wall system, a frame system, as well as a modular furniture system. Dougong (bracket set) emerged through discussion and exploration as a means to integrate the students research interests. The cube form came from the form of the new building. The overall size, openings, integration of benches and cabinetry, plan, elevation and section were were influenced by functional, technical, legal and budgetary requirements; as well as the specific conditions created by the choice to base the design on a contemporary interpretation of Song era bracket sets and the use of plywood and engineered wood products as the primary building materials.

The final design included over 2400 individual bracket, 216 different profiles, traditionally joined door panels, custom design hardware, an integrated electrical, light and audio/visual system, as well as sliding glass doors. All of the design, shop drawings, fabrication, finishing and installation was completed by the students. The fabrication process included refining the design. The complexity of the assembly did not allow for much tolerance. To compensate for this, the students made over 100 jigs to insure the necessary level of accuracy. To retain the cleanness of the form, and the clear expression of the bracket sets, it was necessary to anticipate where the conduit would run, how the glass doors would be hung, the location of electrical outlets, switches, light fixtures, etc. as these all needed to be integrated into the primary elements.

The elegant design and level of craftsmanship that the students were able to achieve with limited time, resources, experience and access to industrial quality equipment and tools is truly remarkable. It is a testament to their love of craft, determination, hard work and a clear vision of what the final design would be.

The students were awarded top honors by the School of Architecture and Tsinghua University for excellence, as well as being published by both World Architecture and Domus. This project was also featured on CNN Focus of the Arts.

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