Faculty Spotlight: Yaohua Wang

School News

Faculty Spotlight: Yaohua Wang

May 31, 2017

Yaohua Wang received his Master’s in Architecture with distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. His final project was awarded the James Templeton Kelley Thesis Prize for best graduating project. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), where he was awarded the Best Thesis Award.


Prior to founding his firm, Preliminary Research Office (PRO), Yaohua worked in several offices in the US, including Oyler Wu Collaborative, Baumgartner plus Uriu (BplusU), and Jones, Partners: Architecture (JPA). His academic works have been widely published and exhibited, including exhibitions at the Venice Biennale, the Beijing Biennial, and Creative Artist Agency.


What is your exhibition about?

I have two partners who also graduated from GSD. We started a firm called Preliminary Research Office. We do a range of projects, including competitions. Part of the exhibition is a collection of drawings we’ve produced.


The other part is work from last semester’s studio. The topic of the studio takes the idea of transforming a shipping container. These transformations resulted strange boxes with surfaces misalignments and interesting volumes. This strategy was then used to develop a civic center in Australia. They produced a huge model and the drawings as well.


So what was the studio brief?

It was a fourth year studio titled Computer Transformations. The goal was to examine the box as a metaphor. I was arguing that there is an important difference between a mere box and a cube. When you use a box as a metaphor in design, what you’re really working with is a cube. So if you take the idea literally and seriously, and then proceed to stack them, this will produce different behaviors because they can be viewed as hollow volumes. There were five groups and each one had its own way of approaching the problem.


How did you first get interested in pursuing architecture?

In China, education is very scripted. You study hard and go to a good university. That part of your education is not very creative. This is why I got interested in architecture. I was seeing it as a cross-section between art and engineering. You have a rigorous side of it as well as a creative side.


I started my undergraduate education at a university in China and I wasn’t that excited with the way they taught architecture so I transferred to SCI-Arc. Since then I’ve been in the US.


What do you like most about teaching at USC?

I see USC as aiming to be the next top architecture school. It’s exciting to be here.


What’s your firm’s approach?

We’ve always been interested in combining an academic approach with very real practical constraints. We’re interested in geometry and the ways you can produce interesting forms and states.


What are you working on right now?

Right now we’re working on a CD drawing set for a project in China which is a good opportunity for us to learn the construction side of architecture.


Where is your work located?

We’re open to doing work everywhere. We do a lot of competitions, which of course are international. We’re currently working on a competition located in Seoul. The commissioned projects are mostly in China.


What is the China project you are getting ready to build?

This was an historic urban renovation project. We were asked to design a small commercial complex within this south China historical neighborhood. So constraints were from the public and the history of the area. We wanted to bring new ideas to the table with a careful approach. The client wants to start the construction in May.


Who are your biggest inspirations?

My number one inspiration is Rem Koolhaas. He’s the person to go to. Then of course there is Wes Jones and Neil Denari. Wes was actually the reason I moved back to LA.


What is it about LA that you like?

LA is a very interesting place architecturally. You have a lot of boutique firms doing a lot of different kinds of work. It’s very rich and architectural. Each of the people who inspire me has a strong academic interest but they’re also trying to use their experience to make an impact in the real world. The way they use materials, their forms, and their aesthetics are also important parts of what I like about LA.


In closing, what advice do you have for students?

Be careful of trends. Within ten years, you will see many trends emerge and disappear. When you enter grad school, you may notice dominant trends. These will fade by the time you graduate. So be careful of trends and learn more rigorous ways of thinking, like through geometry. Everyone will have a long career, but education is an important part of setting the tone for what comes next. ■