Being inspired to push architecture in new directions
Andre Kong (MA Architecture, 2014) is as an architect and Project Leader at Heatherwick Studio, London, where he currently leads a team of four designers and architects, of which three are RCA alumni. Over the past year, he has been looking at architectural responses for future scenarios from climate change to the response and integration of emerging technologies, considering how they will influence and shape the future of the built environment.
What did you do after graduating from MA Architecture in 2014?
Straight after graduation I worked independently on a series of small private commissions for student accommodation projects that are under construction now. Then I decided to apply to Heatherwick Studio.
Within a couple of weeks of applying I was at my desk working on the concept for the largest project that the studio had at the time – the new headquarters for Google that is now under construction. I started off as a junior designer on the canopy design and the studio encouraged me to take on more responsibility. I am now leading a small team on a project for an exciting client that focuses on research and development of ideas in sustainability, technology and future scenario planning.
I have also become involved in teaching at various academic institutions. It gives me incredible pleasure to see, guide and be inspired by fresh, young ideas coming from the next generation of future architects.
What’s it like to work at Heatherwick Studio?
There are 15 RCA alumni currently working in the studio, including Thomas himself. I see many similarities between the spirit at the RCA and that at Heatherwick Studio. The studio is a multi-disciplinary practice, focused on working hard to design extraordinary objects, spaces and buildings. We embody the spirit of looking at what has been done and deliberately pushing to do things in new ways.
The large workshop we have at the studio has an atmosphere similar to that at the RCA – one of innovation, testing, making with people from a wide range of backgrounds from jewellery, product design, to cabinet makers, film-makers, architects.
Why did you pick the Royal College of Art MA Architecture programme?
The RCA’s reputation precedes itself as one of the world’s leading art and design schools. But more specifically for Architecture, the programme had something special and intimate that captivated me. There are a number of great architecture schools in the UK but the RCA has the unique appeal of studying in a multidisciplinary context, where independent thinking and critical expression are highly encouraged.
In what ways did the teaching environment at the RCA inform your practice?
The RCA always encouraged us to push boundaries with our projects, to surprise and provoke. I embraced this attitude full-heartedly, and it’s at the core of my approach to design. The teaching environment at the RCA was concerned with what was happening in our broader context outside of design, and it has made my practice political, technological and ever-more importantly, sustainable. Every day I remember these foundations and try to push innovation, whether it’s in the work itself or in how I interact with my team, trying to push them to explore new territories and to innovate.
What impact has the RCA had on your approach to architecture?
The RCA broadened my horizons and the way I think about architecture. I had come from a more traditional undergraduate degree – my view of architecture was very much about space and the building fabric and how you design a successful, well-considered building. At the RCA I became aware of how architecture as a discipline reaches far beyond building design and construction – it interacts with and serves people and societies.
Studying alongside ceramicists, product designers, and sculptors empowers you to think that anything is possible, even if it isn’t common practice in architecture, as you see your colleagues making things in different ways around you. It inspires you to push in new directions.
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