Creator of landmark buildings elevated to top-level architect group

By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Ming Zhang is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. (Photo by James Tabafunda/NWAW)

Ming Zhang’s heart is both cultivated and enriched, qualities that the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright once said makes for a great architect.

It became even more enriched when he was selected to the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) College of Fellows last month, an election to fellowship bestowed on only 139 AIA members this year. Fewer than 2 percent of all registered architects in the United States are elected.

Zhang will be formally honored at the 2014 National AIA Convention this June in Chicago, earning the professional designation FAIA (Fellow of the American Institute of Architects) after his name.

“This is especially meaningful to me because I came to the United States in Chicago,” he said about emigrating from China in 1986 to attend the Illinois Institute of Technology for his master’s degree in architecture.

The AIA’s 2014 Jury of Fellows said he was chosen because of his “notable contributions to the advancement of architecture” and for his work in improving the standards of design and practice in China for over 20 years. He has also designed hotels, retail centers, and corporate offices in the United States and several other countries, projects that have achieved a standard of excellence in the profession.

The AIA stated, “Election to Fellowship not only recognizes the achievements of the architect as an individual, but also honors before the public and the profession a model architect who has made a significant contribution to architecture and society on a national level.”

Born in Nanjing — about 558 miles southeast of Beijing — in Jiangsu province, he became the president of MulvannyG2 Architecture in 2010.

Zhang, 51, says his father, a high school Chinese literature and calligraphy teacher, influenced him as a child, so much that he practiced Chinese calligraphy twice a day, every day, for many years.
Zhang said about his commitment, “I fell in love with art.”

In 1973, at age 10, he noticed that none of the buildings in Nanjing were taller than 10 stories. But when he visited Shanghai, his curiosity about structures changed the moment he saw a 24-story hotel for the first time, turning on his passion for architecture.

“It was really amazing when I saw that building. I could not believe you could build buildings this tall,” Zhang said.

At Hefei University of Technology in China, his architecture professor showed some slides of buildings by world-famous architects. He said, “That also blew my mind away. The most striking project I saw was Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater,” a famous house in southwestern Pennsylvania that hangs over a waterfall.

During his final year, he won a national competition for the design of a high-rise office building in Taiyuan, in Shanxi province, an experience that proved to be the first of many international and domestic design wins to come for MulvannyG2. He later graduated in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in architecture.

Zhang moved to Washington state in 1990 and worked at Callison Architects.

“I’m probably one of the earliest ‘pioneering’ architects. I went back to China, practiced architecture, and represented U.S. firms as early as 1993,” he said. In 1995, he started his own design firm, ZGA Architecture.

He merged ZGA Architecture with MulvannyG2 in 1998, bringing his design expertise and strong professional relationships in China with him.

The economy of China continued to grow at that time with the country developing a building boom in its urban areas. For Zhang, this was the perfect opportunity for him to showcase his creativity and fill the need for grandiose, high-rise buildings.

In 2003, he became one of MulvannyG2’s senior vice presidents.

Zhang was named as one of the top 20 most influential designers in China during the 2006 China Landmark Summit in Beijing. His work can be described as combining values and philosophies that have endured in Eastern culture for thousands of years — “the harmony between the people, the building, and nature” — with modern technology.

“Each one is very unique,” he added.

Participating in China’s meteoric growth and development continues to be a privilege to Zhang, one that allows him to use his communication skills to serve as a bridge between American and Chinese cultures. He said, “I started influencing them about American architecture practices, about privatization, and about a (professional) license system. The design process, I would say, is a very exhausting process even these days.”

In 2008, he was invited to be a speaker at the World Architecture Congress in Shanghai, an international gathering that featured best practices in innovative and sustainable development and design among Asia’s best real estate designers, consultants, and developers.

“Most architects will tell you, ‘My favorite job is the last (one),’” Zhang said, but admits one of his favorite designs is the 31-story headquarters of the Fujian Provincial Electric and Power Company in Fuzhou, which underwent construction in 2007 and features roof gardens and sky lounges. It also has a 22-story communications tower.

MulvannyG2 won an international competition to design Suning Chengdu, a mixed-use development in Chengdu, China. The 1.6 million-square-foot building includes a 45-story luxury hotel and office tower atop a 12-story retail podium with an undulating glass façade.

Locally, MulvannyG2 unanimously won the design competition for the Redmond City Hall. It’s an atypical, four-story office building consisting of glass, stone, wood, and copper that Zhang calls “the living room for the community.” It is split into two steel-framed wings, one positioned toward the nearby Sammamish River, the other oriented south towards the main road.

“Art is an important part of architecture design, but it requires [and] is limited by so many other things, such as the functionality, the cost, the local materials, the regulations, and also the tastes of the owner,” he said. (end)

For more information about MulvannyG2 Architecture, visit www.mulvannyg2.com.

James Tabafunda can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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