Home  Contact Us
  Follow Us On:
 
Search:
Advertising Advertising Free Newsletter Free E-Newsletter
Magazine
  
      2017       2016       2015       2014       2013       2012       2011       2010       2009       2008

DIALOGUE: Global Designs Together: An Interview with Clay Vogel
Share to
altClay Vogel is co-president of Kaziali a design firm founded in 2008 with other co-president Li Chunguang. Clay is a celebrated architect, and received Building, Design & Construction magazine's "40 Under 40 Superstars" Award in 2008. He has studied in America and Europe, but currently works in Tianjin. Today Clay talks to Business Tianjin about start-ups, the property market and problems facing foreign companies in China. 
 
What got you interested in architecture?
When I was four or five years old my parents gave me a curfew, I couldn’t leave the house before nine o’clock in the morning. I would wake up at six and spend my time playing with LEGO. My parents saw this and said that I was going to be an architect.  
 
My attitude to architecture really matured when I went to Poland. I started thinking more about what architecture was. Before, when I designed buildings it was all about how many toilets, this many rooms etc. But in Europe I started thinking about life and how people interacted with these ancient buildings. I eventually realised that I was creating space for life and experiences to happen. 
 
Could you tell us about the Baoli Hangu Xinkai Nanlu project, and working in Tianjin?
This was a residential project built in a classical style, which is very popular in Tianjin. The main designer was Ryan Moss, our classical architecture principal. The Tianjin government likes to use classical design, perhaps because of Tianjin’s experience with the concessions. So if you go down to the Hai River, there are all these new retail projects that have a classical feel. Ryan however, would disagree as they don’t adhere to many pure rules of classical design. 
 
I think the term classical design is used incorrectly in China. When I say classical design for China this really means many different kinds of European architecture. True classical architecture is a very specific type of design, either Roman or Greek. But Baoli is more French style architecture. 
 
You started your company Kazia in 2006. What prompted you to do this?
I met Li while working at SmithGroup, which was the company that brought me to China. Eventually SmithGroup decided to leave China, but I had already spent so much time and effort here, I wanted to stay on. I picked up SmithGroup’s contacts, and started Kazia at age 31. Being in China also gave me the opportunity to do a lot more exciting designs that I wouldn’t be able to do in America. In 2008 Li was in Tianjin, and had started an office with another company, which closed when the recession hit. We decided to combine our forces, and formed Kaziali.
 
altWould you recommend people try and start a business in China?
Yes, if you have a vision and a dream and you’re willing to do what it takes to get there. I never imagined I would open a business, but once I got the opportunity I realised I did have this dream and I pursued it. However I had to learn a lot of things about doing business in China. It’s very easy for Chinese people to start businesses over here, but for foreigners it’s very difficult, especially by yourself. You need a Chinese partner, and you have to be very careful about who you choose.
 
What do you think of Beijing’s measures to lower property prices, and encourage fewer luxury properties?
I think developers will try to get round these rules. You can’t build golf courses in China, they are now called sports complexes or sports areas. If you can’t build luxury villas why not just call them senior living communities? These are just really luxury villas with some facilities for senior living. As the government adds more restrictions developers will become more creative to get around those rules. 
 
Everyone talks about the residential market cooling off. But as more people come into the urban environment, they need to be serviced with hospitals and schools etc. For me this is not a problem as we are so diverse. Location is important too, we recently built a luxury housing complex in Inner Mongolia, so maybe the Tianjin or Beijing market might see a slowdown, but there are a lot of other places.
 
What would you say to people who predict a property bubble is about to burst in China?  
I think it is just starting to be created. My partner Li doesn’t think there is a bubble. There aren’t many places for Chinese people to invest easily, and one of the few easy ones is real estate. Now you can’t get a loan for a second house, but if you have cash or a relative you can pass it to them. Does it escalate prices? Yes, and if prices come go down, Chinese people will sit on them until prices come back up. 
 
For example, there is a restaurant near where I work. Somebody is leasing it, and they have done all the interior design. The rent is going to the owner, but the renter, because he made that investment in the interior design, is sitting on it until someone pays him for it. So it’s not being used, he is paying CNY 200,000 per month waiting for someone to come in so he can get his money back.
 
This shows how culturally the bubble is very different; it’s not a western bubble.
 
What green measures do you implement when you design buildings? 
In China when you talk about green design everyone is interested. But they often don’t follow through. If they are really committed to do it they will, but if they haven’t thought about it before then they won’t. So it’s up to us to educate, especially about money. You don’t have to spend any money to implement these features. There is also a huge difference in what you can do if the developer is going to sell the property or rent it. If he rents you have more opportunities to implement green design as it saves money in the long run. But if they’re just flipping it, they don’t care. 
 
Having said that, there are more green things happening in China than America, but they might not be properly installed. The regulations are there, but they aren’t strictly enforced. I went to one huge wind farm, and bear in mind China has the largest capacity in the world for wind power, but the plant wasn’t hooked up to the grid. 
 
altDid you have a chance to see the Tianjin Eco-city?
I went to the Eco-city; I wasn’t impressed at what I saw. They talked a lot about all the green energy they have, but I saw a meter on one of their buildings that showed the amount of green energy used by the grid, it read zero for all green energy sources. 
 
How have you dealt with problems like finding and maintaining quality staff, as well as competition with Chinese companies?
For the people we want to invest in we end up paying them an American rate, even though they have less experience. We also try to create more of a family atmosphere; by eating together, going to a bar or KTV. 
 
Right now I don’t think anyone actually competes with Kaziali. I think we compete with foreign and Chinese firms in different spheres. We are really integrated, we have western designers here. Some Chinese companies take translators off the street to tell their clients they have foreigners. But we really have this capability, so we get a lot more respect. 
 
Chinese companies have a lot of requirements for the people they work with; they want big firms with lots of experience, maybe we can’t compete with that. But Western companies are coming over here saying they can do the work, but most of the work is being done in the West, so they aren’t as accessible as us. We won a patents project because we are here. A Chinese company wanted to contact us every day. We can provide other services as well like sending money overseas. Chinese companies have problems with this, but we do it all the time. So we have the advantage of location and know-how that other companies can’t provide.
 

 By Matthew Baum
 
    Subscription    |     Advertising    |     Contact Us    |
Address: Magnetic Plaza, Building A4, 6th Floor, Binshui Xi Dao.
Nankai District. 300381 TIANJIN. PR CHINA
Tel: +86 22 23917700
E-mail: webmaster@businesstianjin.com
Copyright 2017 BusinessTianjin.com. All rights reserved.