Dutch architect Ben van Berkel, together with co-founder Caroline Bos, has been at the helm of UNStudio since 1988. Their practice is based in Amsterdam but works internationally on a large range of typologies and territories. Asia, and especially China, is a key territory for the studio. ‘China has a very rich and complex culture and is very innovative and open to advancement on many levels,’ says van Berkel. 

‘You notice a very real cultural urgency there; a passionate momentum and determination to make this their era of modernisation. You could call it a kind of Dynasty effect,’ he continues. ‘We in the West can learn a great deal from this passion and the efficiency that results. In the 1960s Venturi and Scott Brown wrote Learning from Las Vegas, but today we can learn from the cultural change that is happening on multiple levels in China.’

 Edmon Leong

Fairyland Guorui Villas, Beijing, China. Photography: Edmon Leong

The studio’s 2015 Fairyland Guorui Villas in Beijing is an example of a project for which the architects had the chance to really immerse themselves in Chinese culture, exploring the intersections of traditional residential communities and modern living, contemporary materials and nature. This, the Raffles City mixed-use development in Hangzhou and the Lane 189 retail complex in Shanghai are just a part of UNStudio’s growing portfolio in China. 

Van Berkel draws inspiration from a number of sources, such as science, philosophy and visual culture, and his multilayered work reflects that. ‘I have always believed that, while architecture can on the one hand be hyper-utilitarian, it should also always embody cultural forces and references,’ he explains.§

Portrait of Ban van Berkel
Ben van Berkel. Photography: Els Zweerink