Prof. Emeritus Larry Loh (interview 2010)
Teaching a variety of design studios commands a constant reassessment of new knowledge. How did you keep up with those changes beyond been passionate about architecture and the education of an architect?
The ways I teach and guide students are as follows:
- Read as many architecture, landscape architecture and urban design books as possible, one would be able to formulate a body of working knowledge of theory of vocabulary.
- Develop a habit and/or an attitude of critical inquiry to collect and analyze architectural form, and systematically find the relationship between the architectural form within the context of culture and environmental factors.
- Acquire and improve analytical investigation skills to do the followings: a, To reveal conceptual and experimental order of architecture. b, To identify space sequences, structural system, plane, volume, sequence of views, and relations of space and structure.
- Constantly searching for ones own unique capability and excel.
You designed and built your own house near campus. What were the challenges at that time in making such an important statement?
As a trained architect under a rigid architecture education, I have designed a few buildings in Canada. However, after joining Cal Poly, I was inspired and stimulated by its education slogan – learn by doing, I would demonstrate to my students that designing my own residence is not a small project. The challenges that I imposed on myself were as follows:
- To develop an architecture grid that could be implemented both horizontally and vertically. I was using Le Corbusier’s modular as a workable tool.
- To incorporate the ideal composite overlays: site, sequence, plan, section; as well as spatial layering with transparency, solid and void, form and space as manifestation of the essence of my design ideation.
Students and colleague faculty members were watching and participating all of my struggles and successes during the whole construction process. When one designs his/her own home, it is an entirely different challenge. But, at the end, it is a rewarding experience.
You are deeply rooted in modernism and its spatial ideals. How did you share your convictions as generations of students came with a new set of preoccupations?
Without Corbu, Wright, and Aalto, the architecture language of modern movement would not be less satisfying but substantially incomplete. To reintroduce their writings and projects in the design studio, students learn the ways that those master architects created and manipulated the spaces with good proportion, scale, and pleasant environments for human enjoyments.
Your wife Alice is an educator and a landscape architect. How did a complicity between architecture and landscape architecture inform both of your careers?
Architecture and landscape architecture do complement each other; they are in-separable! I found the followings particularly important.
- Land form and the land’s intrinsic characteristics give clues on what is the best use of the piece of land; where & what is allowed to be built; and where should not to be built. Designers should respect the land and only put appropriate man-made objects there; then, the structure and the environment will give peace, harmony and tranquility for human to enjoy.
- Natural and man-made form in landscape is the ultimate visual expression of many forces that shape and influence the design. A total picture of structure(s) and natural elements within a landscape should be read as a paradise on earth.
- Garden is considered to be a model of orderly paradise; it transcends to be a most desirable place where one forgets all earthly worries but holds spiritual divine. It becomes a place of a special meaning.
You have an interest in architectural competitions. Tell us what fascinates you with this type investigative process?
In general, architecture students would learn many more facets of architecture knowledge through doing competition project(s).
- To investigate and search for a contextual response that is best for a particular functional use as well as for the environment.
- To demonstrate an effective search for a fitting architecture on a specific location - where and how.
- To fulfill one’s highest hope in wining recognition in the architecture field.
The challenges of competition: Without first-hand site visit/inspection, one learns to read visual images of photos and maps, find clues to understand the landscape, and identify the contextual elements on/adjacent to the site. The learning experience includes the followings:
- Best response to the program of requirements and to the opportunities of the site.
- Best capture the spirit, dynamic quality of the building.
- Exceptionally completed and detailed technical aspects related to cost.
- The design proposal engages the program and the site in a powerful way, expression of an integrated solutions, the coherence of the entire design concept, including landscape design.
- Clear and complete set of graphic documents, sketches, and process diagrams.
Your curiosity seems to be second nature. How have your travels informed your life as an architect and educator?
A: “Experience gained through traveling is by far better than reading thousands of text book”. – a Chinese proverb.
Seeing with first-hand experience in architecture sites are most memorable events. Through observation, we learn from our own insights. The arrival sequence, form and space, scale and proportion, structural system, color and texture, plane and volume and its context would always remained in ones mind. Open one’s eyes and widen one’s mind and perspective, one could be self taught.