Gabriel TangBA (Hons) Architecture
Gabriel Tang is senior lecturer on our RIBA accredited BSc (Hons) Architecture course. Gabriel′s practice has included working for Norman Foster on the Stirling Prize nominated McLaren Group headquarters in Woking, gaining an MBA, specialising in reinvigorating post-industrial architecture, and developing sustainable new cities for the middle of the desert. He′s a busy man.
Where did your interest in architecture come from?
Well, I′m not from the UK. I was brought up in Singapore, which is very built up, very high density, lots of flats and buildings. So I was very impressed with the different approaches to architecture when I arrived in Sheffield.
At the same time, we didn′t live in those flats. We lived in a very intereseting, simple house, with a roof that you could pull across when it rained. It was nothing fancy just a rope to pull on, and the roof came across. And I thought, if architecture can be simple and interesting but environmental at the same time, then maybe I can contribute something to it.
How did you end up in Sheffield? What was that like coming from Singapore?
It′s a long story! I cam to the UK for my education, for university essentially. It was all very interesting to me, because I′d never been to a temperate country before, so the first time I got off the aeroplane and touched the handrail at the airport, I was shocked, because the handrail was cold!
I studied first of all in Sheffield, then went to the Bartlett at UCL, in London. The external examiner on my course was actually a director at Norman Foster′s office, and I suppose he was impressed with my work, because he offered me a job starting there the next day! There I worked on some very interesting projects, including the McLaren Formula 1 team′s headquarters, all with a team of colleagues from around the world. It was a very interesting experience.
So from Foster′s, how did you get to teaching?
From Foster′s, I then went on to study for an MBA, because I saw how crucial a business view was to architecture. In all my time at university, we were always thinking about very big, heroic ideas, but you forget about how you bring food to the table, the practical conditions that make buildings possible. I think it′s important to know how you can actually make architecture happen.
Anyway we got lucky and met someone there who was creating an animation but didn′t have the time to pull everything together. We volunteered to do it for nothing. It took three months and we almost killed ourselves. But we had done it.
After my MBA, I didn′t want to go back to London, I missed life in Sheffield. I got some work here with BDP Architects, and a colleague was working as a tutor here at the University. She asked me if I was interested in doing some teaching, which turned into a full-time position. It was all very unplanned, but it fitted very nicely. It was like a journey!
You′ve talked a bit about the practicalities of architecture. Is there a tension between what you teach and the real world?
I think that′s what makes the course at SIA special. One of the things we get a lot of employers saying to us is how grounded our students are, how practical and imaginative, how caring. Caring might seem a strange word to use, but our course here is not just about architecture and how it looks, but how it functions, how it affects people’s lives, and how it can be environmentally sustainable. Our students have a really responsible way of looking at architectural design.
Sheffield as a city has had quite a tempestuous relationship with architecture, often ripping it up and starting again. Do you think that the history of architecture in Sheffield helps when you′re teaching students?
Yes, I think Sheffield is a very rich resource for teaching about architecture. You can see Brutalist buildings like Park Hill which cause a lot of discussion: it was nominated for the Stirling Prize. Now, architecture students might have a different view about that than other residents of Sheffield. It′s these views that make architecture so interesting: I remember a few years ago, the same building winning both ‘best-loved’ and ‘most-hated’ awards in the same year! Where else could you get opinions like that?
At the same time, you′ve got the rich industrial history of Sheffield, the industrial graveyards, which are wonderful places for tapping into the imagination of a resourceful architect, and you′ve got the future too. We′re working with a project along the River Don at the moment that′s trying to reintroduce salmon to this river, which was once so polluted and dead, but which is now becoming healthy again. For our students, the environment of this city is very intriguing.
What else are your students working on?
Previously we have taken students on a field trip to Lisbon, where we studied the different arrangements of the neighbourhoods, from the old streets before the 1755 earthquake, to the new gridded arrangements. We were looking at the fabric of the city, how different pieces are stitched together, and how you can see that in the Georgian, Modernist and Victorian areas of Sheffield, too.
Final question: what is the real world like at the moment? Is there work when your students come out the other end? And is it in Sheffield, or all in London?
I′m very proud to say that our students are always very employable. Some get jobs before they finish their degree, and in fact some of my contacts in London have just taken on four of our students. They took two on at first, then after that they wanted two more! Our students are very well–equipped. Of course it might not be possible to stay in Sheffield, but it can be healthy to venture to other cities, to expand your horizons. Lots of people seem to go away, then find an opportunity to come back at some point. It′s quite a tidal thing!
Find out more about Gabriel Tang here