Q & A with Kulapat Yantrasast
Architect Kulapat Yantrasast is the founder and creative director of wHY, an interdisciplinary design firm based in Los Angeles that foster design ideas and solutions through research, craft, experimentation, and collaboration. Before founding wHY, Kulapat worked closely with Tadao Ando on various museums and art galleries including the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Fort Worth, Texas and others internationally in Paris and Milan. Kulapat has since continued to work on major museum commissions and larger scale planning projects that help develop art and culture for the community.
It is the firm’s attention to detail and ability to think across all scales that brings Kulapat to this year’s AIA TN conference on architecture where he will be discussing the role of the architect as co-thought leader and co-creator with communities to define environmental solutions, not just mere designer of firms.
Q: This year’s conference theme is “In Scale,” recognizing the various scales of projects and design thinking – not just from its physical size but its context from the city level to international level. How do you tackle that spectrum? Are there examples in your work where a project required you to zoom out to a city/national/ international level in order to better detail, say something as small as a door handle.
A. Scale is always and should be relative, as Saarinen said, when you design a chair, you should think about the room, the room then about the house, the house the city etc etc, I never think about any building I do as isolated from the city or the world it is located in, even a private house or a gallery design.
One project that might help to illustrate this could be the Casa Wakasa, an early project built in Osaka.
It is a house that each room is designed with its own courtyard garden, so a room is a room + outdoor space, at every scale, from bedrooms to living room. It is like a Mondrian-type of composition where you have small units fit within similar-looking larger unit, the parts are the whole, in a way.
For that project, it is very important when walls meet, or when ceilings meet, to define which wall belongs to what parti or scale of the house in order for it to be read with clarity. It is like when you construct wood boxes and put them within one another like Russian Matryoshka dolls. So, the tectonic narrative of each part needs to be rendered in order for the overall to be understood.
Q. How do you assess the dynamics and identity of a place and its effect on your design approach? Would you touch on how important it is to you that architects take on that role of co-leader in the community?
A. I think it is important to think of a sense of place as living, just like an ecosystem or a river. In that sense, your job is to enhance that life and extend that longevity through program and design solutions. For that note, I think architects could take a personal approach to interpret and create architecture that he/she thinks enhances the sense of place. But he/she should only do that after listening, looking and analyzing the thoughts and identities of that place as seen through as many voices in the community. Design could be subjective by its author who should then be generous, curious and collaborative.
I myself am interested in the co-creation process with communities to define the project scope, goals and programs, before the design.
Q. How do you cultivate innovation in your firm?
A. I think we learn a lot from our goals and our mistakes, and from both we aim to innovate. Our goals will guide us where to look next, what to think differently about and who to engage with to bring new ideas or different methods. Our mistakes or unsuccessful moves, whether design competitions or real projects, require us to step out of status quo of comfort zone and examine cause and effect of our action. For me innovation is a necessity for creativity, and if you stand on the same spot, approach a new project the same way, the chance to think differently or create freshly will be very difficult.
Q. Do you have other interests outside of design that contribute to your work?
A. Yes, I love people the most, then food and travel. They all contribute to my understanding of my life then my work.
Q. Significant moments in your career – Often, we earn awards and accolades that are significant from a professional level but do you have other moments or achievements that you personally find significant and more valuable?
A. Painful as they are, the significant moments in life are always the crises and the failures. I guess the rewards are the lessons you learn from them and the changes they brought in your thinking. I don’t think a perfect tree grown in a perfect greenhouse is as meaningful and interesting as a hardy tree grows with the ever-changing weather and the climate of the world.
Q. Advice for young architects – any lessons learned you would find useful for the new design minds out there?
A. I think it is very important for new design minds to set their goals of what they want to be. It is so easy to get lost in this age, perhaps more than ever, and I think it is crucial that we all define where we want to go. This can change as often as it needs, but the act of goal defining should be seen as necessary creative practice.
Written by Sophorn Kuoy, AIA
Learn more about wHY in the links below.
Watch this video of Kulapat as he talks in depth about his approach to design:
Kulapat will be the opening speaker at the Conference on Monday, July 23!