Book List of the Week

Rocco Yim’s Book List: Culture and Connection

By Steve Kroeter September 24, 2013
Rocco Yim, architect: Rocco Design Architects Limited (Hong Kong)
View Rocco Yim’s Book List

Hong Kong-based architect Rocco Yim talks to Designers & Books about aesthetics, design books he recommends to students, and his fourth and newest book about his work, Reconnecting Cultures, published this spring by Artifice Books on Architecture.

Designers & Books: You are known for your position that architecture is first and foremost the art of problem solving. How do you see the role of aesthetics in architecture?
Rocco Yim: Aesthetics is an integral part of the “problem” that architects need to define and address. To me, “problems” are not confined to the practical or functional but extend to the spiritual, including formal and spatial perception, that in turn conditions appreciation, behavior, and use. This is where aesthetics comes in.

D&B: What would you do differently if you were to undertake a large-scale project in London or New York or Paris versus one in Hong Kong or in Mainland China?
I said in my book The City in Architecture that, paraphrasing Louis Kahn, “We should (always) ask the city, which today precedes architecture, what it wants its buildings to be.” This would largely determine how I would do things differently in cities other than Hong Kong. In our premiated competition project for the Opera de la Bastille in Paris in 1983, for instance, our design originated from the spirit of the Parisian street, the rhythmic linearity of the street facade and the acknowledgment of the radial urban pattern, in a manner that would be entirely irrelevant if it were in Hong Kong or another Mainland Chinese city.

Rocco Yim; introduction by Fumiko Maki, Reconnecting Cultures, 2013 (Artifice Books on Architecture)

D&B: How does your approach differ when you are considering a cultural project like a museum versus if you are working on a commercial project like a hotel?
RY: In a cultural project, the essence of the architecture is to shape people’s minds in their appreciation of art and artifacts. In a commercial project, say a resort hotel, the essence is to prepare their mood for fun and relaxation. Whatever the nature of the project, I start with identifying the problem(s) to be addressed; thereafter the architectural approach presents itself.

D&B: You embrace the idea of competitions, yet your buildings ultimately are more about the experience they impart than being impressive in models and drawings. With that characteristic, how can do you compete with the likes of Foster, Hadid, and Koolhaas?
I count on good professional jurors in competitions, whom I come across often. They tend to see past pretty images and models and look for real merit in architectural designs, including user experience and spatial perception. I believe this was what happened, for instance, when we won the competitions for the Guangdong Museum and the CUHK’s Shenzhen Campus, when we were up against the likes of Himmelblau, UN Studio, Eisenman, and Isozaki.

Rocco Design Architects, Guangdong Museum, Guangzhou, China, 2004–2010

D&B: You say in the introduction to your book list that you rarely read books on design and architecture. But on the rare occasions when you do, or when you did as a student, what titles might be among them—whether in Chinese or English?
The first book on architecture that really moved me was Peter Blake’s classic Master Builders: Le Corbusier, Mies van de Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright. The one that intrigued me was Tom Wolfe’s satirical narrative From Bauhaus to Our House.

D&B: For students in China studying architecture, what Western books about architecture would you recommend to them?
RY: I would recommend Peter Blake’s classics, because I think all students, especially Chinese students, need to reacquaint themselves with the basic essence of architecture and the mission of an architect.

Rocco Design Architects, Huawei Conference Villas, Shenzhen, China, 2006–2012

D&B: The title of your newest book is Reconnecting Cultures? Why “reconnecting” instead of just “connecting”?
RY: Architecture was once born from the way we lived. The connection between architecture and culture used to be a given, before the global and digitized age, but alas, that is no longer the case. My book’s title suggests that we should rediscover this connection.

D&B: In the introduction that he wrote for your book, Fumihiko Maki says, “Architecture is essentially a mask on the outside and a labyrinth on the inside.” What does he mean by that? Does that understanding of architecture enter into your work?
RY: I think Maki is actually quoting a critic’s observation on Hong Kong’s architecture, with which I essentially concur. But my work intends to transcend that. I always attempt to give a hint in the mask outside of the labyrinth inside, as I believe in the communicative role of architecture.

Rocco Design Architects, Bamboo Pavilion, Berlin, Germany, 1999–2000. Organized by the House of World Cultures, Berlin, and Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture

All images from Reconnecting Cultures, courtesy of Artifice Books on Architecture.

View Rocco Yim’s book list, and all architects’ book lists on Designers & Books.

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