05/05/21 Generation NEXT Alumni Spotlight: Yuze Liu, Yuan Yao & Ziwei Song


Alumni Yuze Liu (M.AAS ‘17), Ziwei Song (B.Arch ‘15), and Yuan Yao (B.Arch ‘15) are currently based in Shanghai, China. In fall 2020, they co-founded (with Fei Zheng) ZZYY studio, a practice focused on projects of different scales including restaurants, libraries, museums, and more. Below, the three share more about their career paths and offer advice for current students. 

What have you been up to since you graduated? What are you currently working on? 

YL: After graduation from USC, I went back to China to work in UNStudio Shanghai. Currently, ZZYY Studio is working on projects with different scales such as restaurants, stores, guest houses, libraries, museums, and so on.

ZS: I went to work for Atelier Jean Nouvel and Kengo Kuma Associates in Paris, Tokyo, and Beijing the year after graduation. Later, I went to Harvard GSD for graduate study. I worked at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill as an architect for two years, and in 2020, I moved back to Shanghai, where I met Yuan and Yuze again after USC graduation. Currently, I am working on cultivating the architecture firm of ZZYY studio and the art practice of Naonao Studio, pursuing a special merge between architecture and art.

YY:  After graduation from USC, I went to Architecture Association in London and got my master’s degree in AADRL (Design Research Lab). I went back to China in 2017 and worked in UNStudio Shanghai for three years.

What is a project you have completed recently that you are proud of?

YL: The first interior design I did, Grace Generation Fine Jewelry, is located at CR Times Square, in the center area of XiaoLuJiaZui in Pudong. The whole site area is only 30㎡ in a rectangular plan. I used the characteristics of long lines of the site, put the twists and turns of the "street" in the plan layout, and minimized the weakness of the space. Different functional areas are arranged in a staggered way to provide space for viewing, wearing, and resting to the greatest extent. 

ZS: I am proud of an experiment I recently did to convey an architecture concept on 2-dimensional art products. For me, it provokes a distinctive way to promote architecture to the public. The project is a collaboration with Hermès Group in which I transform one of my architectural designs into a large-scale silk drawing. Reflecting back, this experiment sprouted in my USC thesis work, where I started to convey 3-dimensional architecture with unique and non-conforming 2-dimensional drawing techniques.  

YY: Since we started our practice, one project we are proud of is the Qingyun Street Bar, an interior design that we have finished and built. It’s important not only because it is the first built project of our office, but also because it helps us see the uneasy process of realizing a design from sketches, drawings, and digital models to real built projects.

How did your time at USC Architecture influence your career path?

ZS: USC Architecture gave us much freedom to explore the boundary of architecture and how this boundary interferes with other disciplines. It also pushed me to seek innovative ways to design buildings, which often pushes us to think beyond what is currently built and achieved. This thinking method really impacted my career choice to seek a creative, unique, and innovative design approach. It influenced me to do things that fundamentally challenge myself and present new methods of design to the world.

YY: The time learning architecture at USC taught me how important it is to think critically and independently while still being open-minded. USC Architecture exposed us to a variety of topics, and the instructors I met can still respect each student’s taste and preference. This open atmosphere encouraged me to pursue my own design methodology and helped me make up my mind to start the practice.

What inspires or motivates you?

ZS: The complexity of cultures and the overlapping of the past, present, and future really intrigue me. I am personally interested in how different cultures evolve to present similar or even universal types of space, where details or decoration may differ. This dialogue between the past and the future sometimes provokes my creations. The transitions between architecture to other mediums of culture also motivate me. I would like to explore the back and forth between architecture and artistic mediums, transforming the perception to different scales and media.

YY: Generally, I believe that design is everything. Design can make a difference and inspire people. From small scale to large scale, from ordinary things to special things, design is the key to revealing interesting moments of the world and building better relationships among people, society, and nature. Personally, I am interested in the adaptive and evolving nature of things and curious about how the universe generates the perfectness of the world with very fundamental rules. 

What advice do you have for current students studying architecture or hoping to enter a similar field to you upon graduation?

YL: Actively participate in internships, experience different working environments, meet different people, communicate more with older and more experienced people, and communicate more with people in different growth environments.

ZS: My advice is to keep exploring and learning new things, especially during your time at school. Thinking back, the time at school is very valuable and should be cherished. Besides the regular academic course time, the summer and wintertime should be utilized to explore personal and professional interests, choosing a design firm you like or any career that could inspire you and bring you a positively different perspective to the world.

YY: Spend more time in studio. Be willing to help others and you can learn a lot in the process. Try to think differently from others, not only to make your project different but also to use a new perspective to understand the design topic or questions. For entering the practice, especially with your own firm, I feel it is important to find people or friends that share the goals and values that will give the team more creativity, motivation, and opportunities.

Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length. To hear more about Ziwei Song, Yuze Liu, and Yuan Yao’s career journeys, check out this year’s USC Architecture Generation NEXT program on YouTube.


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