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September 8, 2019

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Enjoying lively engagement with a variety of art forms

WHO is he?

Calvin Tsao, a founding partner of Tsao & McKown Architects (1985), is a recognized and leading voice in contemporary architecture whose work draws from a lively engagement with a variety of art forms. He serves on the Board of The American Academy in Rome, and is an active board member and President Emeritus of The Architectural League of New York.

He is also former Vice President for Design Excellence of the AIA New York chapter, and served several years as member of the Visiting Committee to Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. In 2012 Tsao received a Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Legacy Award and in 2009 the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Award for Interior Design, along with his partner Zack McKown. A fellow of the American Institute of Architects, he has taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, the Cooper Union, Syracuse University, and at Parsons School for Design, and has also served as guest critic and lectured at universities internationally.

Please share with us some of your works, and name the one you are most proud of.

We practice a wide range of work, stretching from architecture to include urban design, interior design, landscape and product design. All of our projects add to our learning and design journey. Whether building senior housing for retired monks in Bhutan, to homes for individuals, or designing a lipstick case for a cosmetic company, all of our projects are precious to us.

What are your current projects?

We are working on a diverse array of projects: a public library in Brooklyn in an ethnically diverse community, affordable housing and hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, and luxury villas in Portugal.

What is your design style?

We don’t strive to create styles, or a style. With every project, we have a process of inquiry and research, then we develop an approach and strategy. I also believe it is important to listen.

When are you most creative?

Creativity is not something one could harness or conjure up at will — it comes to you. Nevertheless, I do feel meditation and contemplation help inspire creativity when one is attuned to their surroundings.

What does your home mean to you?

There is a saying that “home is where the heart is.” If so, then one could be at home wherever they are. Having said that, I believe the feeling of home is when you’re at peace with yourself and your environment.

What do you collect?

I collect beauty that I discover around me, but I collect not just for my pleasure but to help protect and preserve what I gather for future generations. It could be a precious historic artifact, or a beautiful shell on the beach.

Where do you like to go most in Shanghai and why?

I like to walk and be a flaneur in the city; to explore and discover places and human activities that are unfamiliar, thereby helping me understand and learn about as many aspects of Shanghai as I can.

What will be the next big design trend from your point of view?

Trends are a result of like minds and values coming together and creating things that speak to a common ground. I don’t think one should merely follow, unless you believe in it as well. Instead, I think one should look at the movement of the world around them, respond to it, and create their own movement.


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