Keng-Fu Lo: “Have Confidence”

When it comes to climate change, building construction is a major culprit. According to Architecture 2030, buildings make up nearly 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. When you incorporate other infrastructure expenses and various necessities, that number increases. As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The […]

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When it comes to climate change, building construction is a major culprit. According to Architecture 2030, buildings make up nearly 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. When you incorporate other infrastructure expenses and various necessities, that number increases.

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Keng-Fu Lo.

Keng-Fu Lo, one of the most sought after architects in Taiwan, is the founder and managing director of the Chain10 Architecture & Interior Design Institute. In 1996, he established Chain10 with the purpose of combining cutting edge design and research. The firm operates in every sector of design, with each project encompassing climate-focused and sustainable principles and design — he believes it is important to build connections between people and the environment, and strives for consistency in his designs, from architecture to the interiors.

While having no formal training in architecture, he has managed to assemble an impressive array of projects that have won over 120 awards, including the World Architecture Festival Award and the IIDA 2020 Global Excellence Award.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Coincidentally enough, architecture was not my original destination. After I graduated from university, I briefly sought employment but ended up with the decision to further my education — though I was unsure about what field I wanted to explore. For some time, I considered diving into economics, but that thought didn’t endure for long. I attended the Kaohsiung Medical School, and studied in the clinical psychology department. To support myself during the winter and summer breaks, I took a part-time job in graphic design — which led me to my first chance at designing a commercial space. This opportunity, in and of itself, encouraged me to deepen my knowledge and passion for design, and pushed me to explore more of the architectural realm.

Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

This is a difficult question — however, the first thing that comes to mind is the first time I met the famed Japanese architect Tadao Ando. During an event, a friend of mine introduced him to me, and it felt as though I met a rockstar. I managed to give him a copy of the Leicht Kitchen Yearbook that I was featured in — that was the icing on the cake. Meeting a true leader in my field of interest amplified the spark inside of me and inspired me to keep pushing forward in architecture and design.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

All that I do, in my personal life and work, surrounds the idea of integration — whether it’s design concepts or mindful ideologies.

As an architect, I have come to realize that the field itself can be quite limiting. With this in mind, I particularly enjoy creating depth within space by integrating the external and internal environment. This allows inhabitants and guests to feel as though they are being enveloped in something larger, while pushing for harmony between nature and human beings.

As an individual, I have learned throughout my life that it is important to maintain three ideals: confidence, communication, and observation.

Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

When it comes to climate change, building construction is a major culprit. According to Architecture 2030, buildings make up nearly 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. When you incorporate other infrastructure expenses and various necessities, that number increases.

As architects, we know that this climate crisis is the fundamental design problem of our time. By building green, we can reduce the impact our buildings have on contributing to climate change while also building resilience into our homes and communities.

Currently (as of May 2021), Taiwan is in the midst of its worst drought in 50 years due to the increasing temperatures, lack of rain, and absence of typhoons making landfall. Chain10 seeks to combat the rate of climate change through sustainable design, while minimizing its impact on people who live, work and play in our developments. As an entity, we develop green spaces in a creative manner, by encouraging efficiency through design and utilizing sustainable resources. Our buildings ensure adequate ventilation and air flow to minimize the need for extra cooling. Additionally, we interweave natural light and artificial light to provide a sense of stability indoors. However, our work does not end there.

We aim to instill hope for the future by providing more energy efficient buildings in every sector. I believe that nature is perfect as it is — I have a responsibility to create projects that not only fit the surrounding environment, but help to advance the planet forward while mitigating the impact of climate change.

How do you think this will change the world?

Across the globe, higher temperatures are contributing to record heat waves and droughts, rising sea levels, more intense storms, wildfires, floods, and other extreme conditions — the effects of this climate crisis are clear. When people think about combating climate change, specific images arise in their minds: solar panels, recycling waste bins, and opting for their bikes instead of their cars. But what most people don’t picture is a building.

The average green building saves 25 percent more energy and uses 11 percent less water than a regular building. In fact, it’s possible for green buildings to produce zero emissions. These particular developments not only reduce the damaging effect on our surroundings with a decrease in usage of energy and natural resources — but can positively influence the environment by producing their own energy, reducing their own carbon footprint and expanding biodiversity.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

Outside of altering the ways in which we live to adapt to a new standard, I cannot imagine how building green can negatively impact, not only ourselves, but the land. I do think, as with all big ideas, it will take people time to reorganize their thoughts on how architecture can support, rather than hinder, combating climate change.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

My home country of Taiwan has experienced the brunt of climate change. It has been suffering from a significant decrease in the number of rainy days each year since the 1960s. The sea around Taiwan is rising twice as fast as global sea levels and the temperature has increased by 1.4 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years, which is twice the global average.

I grew up in a different time in Taiwan’s history, where nature was a big part of everyday life. Looking from the time that I was a child to now, climate change has made such an immense impact on the land, and has been a driving factor in my designs. I truly worry about the future of Taiwan for the next generation, as well as the rest of the world.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

Successfully and efficiently creating an environment where green buildings are the standard requires the participation of all. However, I believe that the design industry must take a deeper look at the work we develop — past, present, and future — and how it affects the world. A challenge that we face is the lack of awareness, education and information on the benefits of green building construction.

There are many perceived reasons as to why designers shy away from green buildings — costs, government regulations, insufficient means of training, lack of research and funding. However, we should not allow these ideas to limit us as we progress forward. We should aim to overcome the lack of understanding of green building issues within society.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. The Importance of Observation — Regardless of who you are, being able to truly understand and observe anything around you is an essential skill. Being conscious of everything, from the smallest details to the largest factors, will allow you to have a stronger grasp on reality — this principle is essential in maintaining client relationships and sentiments. It allows you to give them what they want, and what they didn’t realize they wanted in the first place.
  2. Have Confidence — It may sound cliche to say this, but if I had been more confident as a young designer, my career would be a lot further than it is. You have to own your opinion and be able to share it without regret. Be your own advocate.
  3. Architects are Movie Directors — When you’re designing a project, you are not just creating a space, but a lifestyle for someone to dwell in. At that moment, their future is in your hands — it is essential to factor in every possible change into your designs. This especially holds true in Asia as housing tends to be multi-generational, so you are designing a place that will be inhabited for the majority of a century.
  4. Communication — Sometimes, clients don’t fully understand what they want within their space. As an architect, you need to filter their desires through the prism of your own experience and understanding. The end result will be pleasing to both parties.
  5. The Art Of The Sketch — Architecture tends to be realized with computers nowadays, but I believe the fastest way to conceptualize a structure is with sketching. I wish more young architects would incorporate this into their repertoire.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

In my eyes, the most important habit to develop is continuous learning. I read religiously — you will often see me thumbing through industry magazines from a variety of sources. This acts as an inspiration for me.

When it comes to mindset, it boils down to passion — I am energized by design and architecture. Even more than that, I love to share this passion with those around me.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

For some time, it was often encouraged that we employ green products, services and habits for the sake of future generations. However, the climate crisis is steadily increasing and dangerously impacts us and the planet as we know it. Green buildings are a global solution for cities, communities and neighborhoods. While the benefits may not be easily visible, sustainable design achieves a great amount of good — lowering carbon emissions, energy and waste; conserving water; prioritizing safer materials; and decreasing our exposure to toxins. Designers across the world are in need of grants to make these possibilities a reality, so that we may create a world that is viable for ourselves, and those that come after us.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I can be found on Instagram — @kenloarchitect. You can also keep up with us on Facebook.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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