Scholarly approach to urban architecture

29 Nov 2021

Old Boy Yun Fu (13108) has travelled widely since leaving Christ’s College. His studies and architectural work have taken him to Sydney, Beijing, London, Boston, and Rome. Today, Yun is a Design Critic in Urban Planning and Design at Harvard University.

We had the privilege of recently asking him a few questions:

Do you get the opportunity to visit your family in New Zealand?

For the last three years, my partner and I have been based in New Zealand for three to six months each year – with the combination of unique opportunities to teach remotely at Harvard University during the pandemic and a shift of our professional focus to Oceania. It’s been a boon to spend time with my family, while the more extended stays have spawned several projects in New Zealand. In the next few years, we plan to divide our time between the US and New Zealand – between thinking and making, research and practice.

Do you ever think about Christ’s College?

I recently became a father, which may partly explain my nostalgic gaze towards the geography of my childhood in New Zealand. Memories of my time at Christ’s College have also taken on a new vividness. As I think about what kind of life I want for my son, a new dream project comes to mind – to redesign Rolleston House when it next needs a renovation. I am ready – just give me a call.

What is it you enjoy about architecture?

I enjoy the clarity of architecture – it’s about making buildings. While this much is clear, how we get there, i.e. how to build well, is a much broader question, and why architecture sustains life-long passion and study. We may consider it philosophically, in the sense of what is the good life we are building for, and different definitions of this across cultures. We may also approach it from a technical perspective, from the simple but non-trivial issue of how to construct a roof that doesn’t leak in the rain, to how we might build and rebuild our cities’ sustainability in a world with limited resources.

What makes for a good architect?

There are some basic attributes useful in the everyday work of an architect. These include a sense of spatial and visual logic, and elementary knowledge of geometry and physics. What differentiates a good architect from a merely OK one, in my opinion, is a genuine love of life and curiosity to think about what it means to live well. Just as one shouldn’t trust a skinny chef, an architect who doesn’t enjoy a slow day at home with the cat or being able to take a dip at the local beach during lunch break should also warrant suspicion.

If you had to choose your favourite buildings/structures in the world from a design perspective, what would they be?

As I look to divide my time in the next few years between teaching in the US and practice in New Zealand, I have been thinking a lot about the twin home and studios of the Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, split between his adopted city of New York and native home in Shikoku, Japan. Both consist of simple buildings arranged next to skylit courtyards for working on large-scale stone sculptures. They have the simple elegance of workshops attuned to making things.

How do you like living in the US?
I enjoy life here, though not necessarily for the objective quality of life it provides. It’s more about the intensity of experiences and diversity of opportunities it offers. Our university, for example, is sometimes described as a hybrid of Goldman Sachs and the Vatican, with the revenue of a small country and claims expertise over entire domains. The US also has the unusual ability to span an often contradictory spectrum of diversity. It is home to both Apple and the Amish, Beyonce and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Coca-Cola and Colgate. Seen from where I stand, it remains one of the most vibrant marketplaces of ideas, especially in design, and a magnet for makers and inventors. I think suggestions of its decline are premature.