Courtyard House Plugin, photograph by PAO
Creative endeavors can start locally to change the world. That’s one of the messages students can take with them from James Shen, Otis College’s 2018 Donghia Designer-in-Residence. Shen was born and raised in Los Angeles, but his vision for culturally-connective design has taken him to Beijing, China, where he runs People’s Architecture Office.

“James’ firm, People’s Architecture Office, has been working in Beijing for the last ten years, repurposing traditional buildings and courtyards in the city’s hutongs with contemporary renovations and ‘plug-ins,’” said Linda Pollari, Department Chair for the Architecture/Landscape/Interiors program at Otis College. These PAO-designed structures serve as low-cost urban regenerators that preserve cultural and historic buildings while also upgrading them to modern living and energy standards, all without displacing current residents.

On March 14, 2018, Shen will present the 10th annual Donghia Designer-in-Residence lecture at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Open seating for the free event begins at 7pm. From March 15 through 21, Shen will also direct a Master Class at Otis College for Architecture/Landscape/Interiors students and alumni. Students and alumni will learn about Shen’s work combining architecture and design with social impact, while also getting the chance to study under an international designer at the top of his field.

During this year’s Donghia Master Class, James Shen will challenge students to design a project sited in Beijing, China. Past Donghia Master Class projects have also focused on international, but local, communities including proposals for “responsible urban regeneration” for the Xochimilco neighborhood of Mexico City (with Tatiana Bilbao) and interventions into remaining edifices of the Tripoli (Lebanon) International Fair (with Bernard Khoury).

The Angelo Donghia Foundation’s enduring sponsorship of Otis’ Donghia Designer-in-Residency supports its mission of advancing interior design education and has become a rich experience of (virtual) cultural immersion for Otis students as well.

“The Donghia Master Class is an intensive experience (7 days/45 hours) during which students are immersed in another culture, city, and country, through the instructor’s direction, vision, and design process,” Pollari said.

From PAO:
Originally from Los Angeles, James Shen received his Master of Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a Bachelor of Science in Product Design from California State University, Long Beach. James currently is a Visiting Lecturer at MIT and a Harvard Loeb Fellow. In 2010, James co-founded Beijing-based People's Architecture Office (PAO), a multi-disciplinary studio focused on social impact through design. People’s Architecture Office is the first architecture practice in Asia certified as a B-Corporation and serves as a model for social entrepreneurship.

The office of PAO is located in a traditional courtyard house in Beijing’s historic core, a setting characterized by urban informality, and one that inspires the studio’s work. PAO engages in urban issues through designs that straddle architecture and product design. The Courtyard House Plugin is a prefab system for urban regeneration that quickly and efficiently upgrades dilapidated homes without demolition or relocating inhabitants. The recently completed People’s Station is a cultural center that incorporates mobile parts that expand and detach in order to bring cultural activities to surrounding communities.

The studio’s award-winning works have been exhibited at the Venice Architecture Biennale, Harvard Graduate School of Design, and the London Design Museum.”

The Donghia-in-Residence program was made possible by a generous grant from the Angelo Donghia Foundation, which provides support for the advancement of education in the field of interior design, and for the investigation and treatment of AIDS and its related diseases. The Residency is organized by the Architecture/Landscape/Interiors Department at Otis College of Art and Design, which offers a synthetic curriculum of the spatial design fields.

Image: Courtyard House Plugin, courtesy of PAO.