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Jack of Hearts: Arch. Daniel Yu and Visionarch’s Life-Centric Architecture

The great orator and all-around political bulldog, Winston Churchill, once said that, “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” In an industry of bottom lines and cutting corners, sometimes the purpose of the end product becomes lost.

There is more to architecture than just looking for a space and building something there. A good architect will always have the end user in mind.

  • How will the inhabitants move between rooms?

  • What sights will their eyes first see?

  • Will they have everything they need within reach?

As urbanites, we live our entire lives within buildings. We arrive in a hospital. We study in schools and universities. We work in offices and agencies. We marry in churches and mosques. We have families in homes.

Buildings shape people’s lives, and the architect receives the responsibility of ensuring those structures are suited for the job.

Visionarch believes that architecture exists to add value to a project. Not just the value of a larger square footage or a statelier living space. Intrinsic value: the value of little things that make life enjoyable and exciting.

The value of walking to a park during your lunch break. The value of plopping onto a couch on a Friday night. The value of good neighbors who share their dinners when they make too much. The value of a better life.

Visionarch owes this empathy to their design philosophy: life-centric architecture. Architectural discourse has always revolved around form and function, and while those two aspects are indeed important, Visionarch and CEO Architect Daniel Terence Yu believes that “buildings have an implicit promise to people.” And that promise is, “Life will be better.”

This assignment of value gives buildings and the people who move in them a purpose. To build a building is to create an aspiration. A good architect’s job exists beyond linking form and function—he has to enrich life and identify solutions to strengthen the bonds between structures and its users.

To prove the truth behind their philosophy, Arch. Yu recounted an end-user survey they were able to conduct on one of their residential projects. They were able to talk to the unit-buyers and asked questions like, “What made you decide to purchase the unit?” The possible answers were numerous and varied, “Was it the design? The reputation of the developer? Is this solely an investment or was this a product in your price range?”

However, Visionarch discovered through that 64% of the end-users based their purchases on seeing at the unit as an improved life condition. For them, having a nicer place to live was a personal milestone—a level up in their station in life.

Essentially, it’s the promise of a better life. “People buy because they want to improve their lives,” Arch. Yu explains. Developers understand this. Just look at residential promotional posters and you can see how a “better life” is marketed: you see smiling people drinking coffee in their dining rooms, families enjoying themselves on long walks under tree shade, friends enjoying game night in the glow of living room lights.

These are shared human experiences and they all translate to improving the condition of life. Visionarch appreciates the significance of communicating this dream. Most architects try their hardest to convey the message of a better life in ways consumers can understand. Arch. Yu speculates, "Perhaps architects will speak of that message in terms of function: the design will be practical and logical. "

Or maybe through the abstractions: the building will be beautiful.” However, the industry-specific jargon doesn’t always fly straight to the point. “Function is important. Looks are important. But they aren’t everything.”

Arch. Yu gives the example of Hong Kong condominiums. HK condos purport to give you everything you need to survive in a compact space, but does it give you a complete “life experience”? Visionarch’s life-centric design principle seeks to incorporate different aspects of a person’s life so that its users won’t merely survive, but actually live.

Arch. Yu uses the example of a common smartphone to explain his point, “A cellphone is marketed for its speed and capability, and its many different functions. But if you look at your phone, what’s important to you are what it allows you to do. It contributes to your spirituality via a Bible app, it furthers your education via self-help apps, it maintains your connections with social media. This is the reason why when your phone is taken from you, a huge part of your life disappears.” Spiritual (Bible), educational (self-help).

Take away your phone and a huge part of your life disappears.” Visionarch aims to complete people’s lives through their architecture. Will my physical health be well cared for or looked? Will my family be safe and secure from harm or uncertainty? Do I have enough time to relax and pursue my hobbies and predilections? Health and wellness, family, rest and recreation, social community, good environment—these are on the minds Visionarch’s architects as they propose, design, and build their projects.

Theory is nothing without practice. And Visionarch flexes their philosophy with time-honed skill and poise. Arch. Yu gives several specific examples of their “life-centric architecture” at work. Along with tire swings and white picket fences, the simple garden is an almost permanent fixture in the vision of a dream home.

However, living in the city presents a complex challenge for aspirant gardeners.

Fact 1: gardens take up space—they need to. Roots can sometimes run deep and wide.

Fact 2: gardens are pricey. They just don’t make a lot of financial sense when you’re building a condominium, for instance. Expensive and expansive.

However, gardens also offer relaxation to both gardeners and admirers, and the added greenery can present physical and psychological benefits. Visionarch decided that the pros far outweighed the cons and formulated a clever solution: tripicalor “pocket” gardens.

Instead of individual gardens or plant boxes per unit, Visionarch designed a large central garden three floors high, nestled in the center of six adjacent units. The cost of upkeep will then be divided among the six unit owners. The end user gets a larger space to utilize, a chance to collaborate with neighbors and admire their work, and a miniature oasis s/he can help grow and beautify.

Condominiums are considered the definitive metropolitan space. More and more people have recalibrated their long term retirement plans to work towards owning a condo unit. However, most condos have a boxy, confining configuration. They have deep units—units that are nestled in a narrow configuration where the inhabitants walk through the living room, dining area, and bedroom one after the other.