Guangzhou Design Week Interviews BAM

International design dialogue, part of the 2022 Guangzhou Design Week (12.09-12.12) spoke with BAM co-founder Daniel Gass on values of design, landscape vision and evolution of BAM.

What is the relationship between design and life in your daily routine?

I founded BAM with two of my best friends from Cornell’s architecture school. Our working relationship grew out of us making art installations together in public spaces on campus. Everything kind of blended together outside of studio classes, it was a form of making parties or events for us to create installations. So in this sense design as ‘work’ or something that pays the bills came after design as us being poor students who would hang out and make things and think of interventions for public spaces.

At a certain level these early installations were a huge amount of work, but they were always fun. For an installation for Martha Schwartz’ lecture I remember at that point we had a whole group of student friends who would regularly join in and help us put things together, at that point we worked for a few nights in a row to get the room set up and avoid getting in trouble for rearranging parts of the campus.

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Nowadays around BAM studios we organize things to keep this sense of discovery of play, of hanging out as the basis for working. Of course, when we need to buckle down and deliver a professional drawing set or whatever we do that too. But for us good ideas come from play and creativity comes from working with the materials at hand.

Besides your design career, do you have any other interests or hobbies that you would like to do in your spare time?

I sailed competitively since I was a child. Jake also has experience sailing. After looking for opportunities to sail in China we organized BAM Racing team, and we are invited to compete at regattas around China from time to time. It is great to get out on the water and see the sport growing here.

What triggered you to move your base to China and set up your business in Shanghai after graduating from Cornell?

I studied Chinese in high school and in college I organized a summer trip with our then-Chair Nasrine Seraji for a traveling studio in China. Jake, Allie, and I were all immersed in China at that time and we also started making art installations around the country as part of the travelling studio. We would find public spaces and set up temporary things from materials we found while travelling. I think we were interested in everything going on and it was only a matter of time until we came back to set up our first studio in Beijing in 2009.

BAM started with an office in Beijing. For us Beijing was an ideal starting place because it was less westernized than other cities in China. Given that our work is fundamentally about the public realm, there exists an important socially progressive message in our work. We therefore believed that placing ourselves in a more art oriented and political milieu versus an environment focused solely on business would be critical to upending typically held views about the value of landscape.

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We opened our Shanghai studio later, in 2018, mostly because our team was growing. We had some great people from the South or other parts of China and we wanted to keep them around, and grow. So we began our Shanghai studio.

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You graduated with a degree in architecture but focus on landscape in your design career. What made you shift the pathway and what is the most crucial point in landscape design from your perspective?

BAM believes that in China, Landscape is a better design field than in the United States because the Chinese culture developed from a garden culture. Historically in China, the garden is the place where people would make paintings, write poems, it’s where governors would reflect on social orders, and scholar would contemplate. Then and now, the garden is intertwined and linked Chinese cultural expression. By extension, the landscape is understood as a place that should be designed, a cultural medium. In the United States the landscape is not viewed with the same cultural lens. In the United States, it is commonly believed, even by practitioners and academics, that the Landscape is not a place for cultural expression. American culture in comparison to the Chinese culture is in its infancy and may never blossom to the belief that the Landscape is something that represents culture. In China, that idea is ingrained in what we do; people see the Landscape as critical to culture.

Furthermore, BAM feels Landscape is the most important field of design in China, not only because China already has great architecture, but more so that when observing the urban public realm it is clear that architecture isn’t really helping the city. The design of the landscape is much more important to the city, because it deals with everything outside of and between the buildings, a realm which not only has the ability to diminish the adverse effects of rampant architecture and robotic urban planning but provides humanity with something which cannot be gained through the design of buildings and infrastructure alone.

Humans have an internal drive to connect to nature, even simply evoking the idea of nature has a positive effect on people’s state of mind and sense of wellbeing. Apart from personal wellbeing spending time outdoors, in the landscape, encourages social interaction, which is nowhere more comically observable than in the Chinese urban landscape which is far more heavily used than the American counterpart. Parks, streets, plazas, and nooks between buildings, inevitably almost all spaces of the landscape, like the ancient garden, are used for socializing, debate, and play, all times of the day and night, across all regions and climates.

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Every region and every culture create different habits and customs. In your projects designed for clients that come from different backgrounds, what do you think are the biggest commonalities and differences? Can you give an example or two?

Culture is a tricky thing. Often times local people do not want to address their own culture. In many cases BAM is much more sensitive and interested in local cultural than the clients or local governments. Often developing places want to forget their local history and prefer to imagine a more aspirational future in which it is incorrectly assumed that a break from the past or current situations will give rise to a better future. However, the problem with denying one’s own local history is that when the eventual development does occur, a place which was once unique then begins to look like every other new development across China. Daxing is known for its watermelons, and to us this is a very interesting fact. Where BAM’s park is now was at one point in time watermelon fields, yet far too often, this kind of history and this kind of culture is not what people want to be reminded of. The Jiugong project is directly adjacent to what once was the imperial hunting grounds with a very unique type of Deer called a Milu, or David’s Deer. These are ideas that BAM played heavily with in earlier stages of these projects. Yet as they go through the process of becoming realized the very things that can make a place unique are often the first things to get removed.

People often link "landscape" and "green" & "environmentally friendly" up. How do you imply sustainability perceptions into your design practice since it has been a heated topic among different industries?

Most people’s idea of sustainability in landscape is linked with a nostalgic Garden of Eden mentality. They expect a beautiful ‘natural’ landscape to be ecological and love to create diagrams about water edges and birds and things like that. The urban landscape is much much more than this nostalgic idea of nature. Your trash, your feces, your pollution, your electricity, your parking spaces, all of these things pass through or they are hidden by the landscape. ‘Sustainable’ landscape for most people avoids confrontation with all the realities of how a city needs to function and attempts to create this nostalgic ecological aesthetic which completely misses the point that urban landscapes are first and foremost about servicing humans. Coding them in ecological patterning is fine, but it is also just as green and maybe more sustainable to express the organization of the landscape functions, to show the landscapes for what they often are, as technical factory like organizations of functional elements.

The amazing thing today is that we no longer have ‘landscape’ in the nostalgic sense. Every bit of landscape is in a way supported by humans to an ever-growing extent. So the traditional ideas that a landscape provides ecological functions apart from humans is finally something we can move past. A great example is BAM’s recent campus design for the factories and offices of the world’s largest environmental equipment producer. To make this factory function, the landscape provides sewage filtration, heavy metal uptake, and runoff recapture.

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What ‘s your belief and basis in design? What kind of living belief and basis do you intend to tell people via design?

Nature is an Idea. In a sense BAM attempts to utilize the ecological or nature aesthetic to code functional aspects of our urban centers to improve the performance of our cities. The Boashan Waste to Energy Plant is one example of us using architecture and landscape as a tool to actually make something like a Waste Plant interesting and acceptable. If we can make people more comfortable in the future to bring these plants closer into the cities and greatly reduce the carbon created in the transport of garbage.

How do you define the word 'leading' in the design context?

We call ourselves Machine because the idea is that good ideas come from everyone. I’d say leading is about creating teams that have the tools, skills, and confidence to run themselves. Anyway leadership is really about facilitation and encouragement. It is not about ego, about ripping out sketches and being proud that teams of people are building napkin wads into large buildings.

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Can you recommend a couple of “leading” design projects or “leading” celebrities in the industry that we can learn from?

Peter Walker is a great leader. He is the guy that has in many ways shaped the field through inspiring so many offshoots. Our firm is like the third or fourth generation of branches from his original push into art and landscape and modernism. If you do not know his work then you can visit his Finite/Infinite garden completed with us in Beijing.

What kind of topics or fields that you plan and wish to explore in the future?

I have so many ideas about things to keep studying in the future but one of the most recent is kinetic elements. We created revolving pieces before, and for a new project at an Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in Shanghai we are developing wind activated elements for our landscape. I think there is a lot of room for development of these things, and the design and art community look down upon these things as kitschy so I think there is a lot to potentially uncover there. Ned Kahn has obviously done a brilliant job but I think there is still a lot to do.

Any suggestions for the younger generation in the design industry?*Especially for architecture students?

The best advice for someone starting in the design industry is that we are always looking for someone who can take a simple job and do it well. We make design problems so complex that they must be broken down into pieces. Who cares if you can think through how to break it down if you cannot do the simple steps? Our office is always looking for people who can do a simple task all the way on their own, and proudly pin it on the wall and schedule feedback to move onto the next thing.

IDD世界领先设计对话,是广州设计周联合GIA广州设计周全球伙伴联盟中的中外设计领先机构、组织和媒体发起的一项对话世界设计领先者的国际设计交流计划,IDD世界领先设计对话以「MASTER MIND巨匠的思索」为思想探寻的的主旨方向,希冀通过与世界领先设计巨匠对话,探索世界领先设计思想,以世界领先推动中国领先,以中国领先影响世界设计。

Q1 在您个人的日常中,设计和生活是一种什么样的关系?

我与康奈尔大学建筑学院的两位最好的朋友一起创立了 BAM。我们的工作关系源于我们在校园公共空间一起制作艺术装置。在设计课程之外,一切都融合在一起,这是一种为我们制作艺术装置而举办派对或活动的形式。所以从这个意义上,设计作为 “工作 ”或支付账单的东西,是在我们作为穷学生在一起玩、做东西和思考对公共空间的干预之后产生的。

在一定程度上,这些早期的装置是一项巨大的工作量,但它们总是很有趣。在为Martha Schwartz的讲座设计艺术装置时,我们有一大群同学朋友会定期加入并帮助我们,那时我们连续工作了几个晚上来布置房间和避免因重新布置校园的局部空间而惹上麻烦。

如今,在 BAM 工作室,我们借助空间布局保持这种发现游戏的感觉,将闲逛作为工作的基础。当然,当我们需要全力以赴交付专业绘图集或其他东西时,我们也会这样做。但对我们来说,好的创意来自于游戏,而创造力来自于使用手头的材料。

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Q2 设计之外,您还有哪些兴趣爱好或比较喜欢做的事?

我从小参加帆船比赛。Jake也有相关经验。在中国寻找帆船比赛的机会后,我们组织了BAM Racing队,不时受邀参加中国各地的帆船赛。来到水上并看到这项运动在这里蓬勃发展实在是太好了。

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Q3 您毕业于康奈尔大学,是怎样的契机促使您来到中国发展,并且在上海创立了BAM 设计公司?

我在高中学习中文,在大学里我和我们当时的主席 Nasrine Seraji 组织了一次到中国的暑期旅行Studio。Jake、Allie 和我当时都沉醉于中国,我们也开始在全国各地制作艺术装置,作为旅行Studio的一部分。我们会找到公共空间,并用我们在旅行时发现的材料搭建临时的东西。我想我们对正在发生的一切都很感兴趣,而2009 年回到北京建立我们的第一家工作室只是时间早晚的问题。

BAM 最初在北京设立工作室。对我们来说,北京是一个理想的起点,因为它不像中国其他城市那样西化。鉴于我们的工作基本上是关于公共领域的,我们的工作中存在着重要的社会进步信息。因此,我们认为,将自己置于一个更注重艺术与政治,而不只是商业的环境中,对于颠覆常规的关于景观价值的观点至关重要。

我们后来于 2018 年开设了上海工作室,主要是因为我们的团队规模不断增加。我们有一些来自南方或中国其他地区的优秀人才,我们希望留住他们,并继续成长。于是我们建立了上海工作室。

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Q4 您毕业于建筑学专业,但在设计职业生涯中专注于景观设计。是什么让您调整了专业路径;从你的角度来看,景观设计中最关键的一点是什么?




Q5 每一个地域,每一个文化,造就不同的习惯和风情。在您为来自不同背景的客户进行设计时,最大的共同点和差异点是什么?可否举例一二说明?


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Q6 人们总是把景观和绿色/环境友好联系起来。您是如何将可持续发展的观念融入到你的设计实践中的,因为它一直是不同行业中的一个热门话题。


当前令人欣喜的是,我们不再将“风景”局限于怀旧的意义上。每一点景观都以一种越来越多的方式受到人类的支持。而我们因此终于摆脱了那些认为景观提供的生态功能与人类无关的传统观念。一个很好的例子是 BAM 最近为世界上最大的环境设备供应商的工厂和办公总部所提供的园区设计。为了使这一园区发挥其生态功能,景观设计提供了污水过滤、重金属吸收和径流回收。

Q7 您希望通过设计,给大众传递一种什么样的生活理念或精神追求?

自然是个概念。从某种意义上说,BAM 试图利用生态或自然美学来转译城市中心的功能,以提高我们城市的性能。宝山再生能源利用中心是我们以建筑和景观为工具实现将垃圾焚烧厂之类的事物变得有趣和可接受的一个案例。如果我们能让人们未来更舒适的接受将这些工厂更靠近城市布置,将大大减少垃圾运输中产生的碳排放。

Q8 谈谈您对“领先” 的理解


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Q9 近年来,在设计行业中是否有您认为十分值得关注的”领先“作品或者人物?

Peter Walker是一位伟大的领导者。他是那个在很多方面都通过激励出如此多的分支来塑造这个领域的人。我们公司就像他最初涉足艺术、景观和现代主义的第三代或第四代分支。如果您不了解他的作品,那么您可以参观他在北京与我们一起完成的有限/无限花园。

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Q10 未来您有哪些希望继续探索和尝试的领域和议题?

我对未来要继续研究的东西有很多想法,但最近的一个想法是动力元素。我们之前设计过旋转的作品,而在上海的一个人工智能实验室的新项目中,我们正在为我们的景观开发风动元素。虽然设计和艺术界对这一领域并不看好,但我觉得其有着很大的发展空间。因此我认为有很多潜在的东西可以发掘。Ned Kahn显然已经做出了出色的成果,但我认为仍有很多事情要做。

Q11 您有哪些想要给予中国年轻建筑师的建议?


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