On Monday, May 14th, KPF President and Design Principal James von Klemperer gave a lecture that accompanied an exhibit held at Tsinghua University’s architecture school. Both titled “KPF Making,” the thematic content demonstrated the practice’s achievement in craft, from the supertall, mixed-use tower to the low-rise, residential neighborhood.
In Beijing, China, von Klemperer presented to a combined audience of around 120 Tsinghua students and KPF colleagues and clients on the importance of making within the field architecture, and in particular, the ability of a global firm to commit design attention to even the smallest, most tactile details on projects of urban scales.
Broadening the scope of this exploration, von Klemperer began his presentation with a brief history of craft in architecture, focusing on architects who responded to their cultural conditions with a reignited interest in the physical hand of design. His examples ranged from the Renaissance, Arts and Crafts, and Bauhaus periods to the intersection of Chinese architectural history and modernity. He then transitioned to defining KPF’s contemporary position in this sequence—the firm holds the unique ability to execute large-scale, complex projects, applying the same gesture of the minute detail repeating to create the overall gesture of the building. Several projects demonstrated this: 23-39 Blue Pool Road’s bronze screens, Covent Garden’s restored brick and tile work, One Vanderbilt’s and China Central Place’s referential terracotta details, One Jackson Square’s carved bamboo lobby, Riverside 66’s adaptation of biomimicry for its glass canopy, Michael Kors Jing An’s scripted, aluminum façade, and finally, Petersen Automotive Museum’s undulating steel ribbons.
von Klemperer concluded his lecture by looking to the future of craft and the role of technology in bridging the gap between nascent ideas and innovative products. Throughout history, the architect has mitigated the roles of builder, artist, draftsperson, and now oftentimes, programmer. Citing contemporaneous examples like 3D printed airplane parts and biodegradable building blocks, he ended by describing KPF’s data analysis initiative—KPF Urban Interface—and its use of data to craft the urban experience. The “KPF Making” exhibit was held in the Tsinghua University School of Architecture Lobby from May 4th to May 15th, 2018. It not only featured the several projects that von Klemperer included in his lecture, but it also pulled from KPF’s extensive portfolio of work to highlight material diversity and international reach. Boards for twenty-two projects and several models and mock-ups created an environment to explore the liminality of each building, from the intimate, micro-scale of the material texture swatch to the complex, macro-scale of the hero shot.