elevation of museum addition supported by three pillars

Future100 Dongqi Chen’s Architecture Thrives in Context

In dealing with the messiness of the built environment as it currently exists, Chen imagines a practical and optimistic future for architecture. 

“Architecture lives on the connections to the preexisting contexts,” writes Dongqi Chen, a master of architecture student at the University of Pennsylvania. At a time when the state of new construction is dubious—relying on the demolition of existing buildings or the clearing of huge swaths of land, and presenting renderings that end up having little to do with built reality—Chen’s work imagines a way for buildings to engage their physical surroundings almost in real time.

An innovative reuse proposal for the Sunshine Cinema on Manhattan’s Lower East Side gives the building a second skin thick enough to house additional programming (a climbing wall, for example), but also creates new views deeper into the building and out into the neighborhood. In an entirely different setting—a bucolic clearing in the middle of Mill River Park in Stamford, Connecticut—Chen has developed a design for a childcare center. Its blocky volumes reveal a purposeful responsiveness, finding possibilities for engagement in the places where two forms touch or appear to just miss each other. For the University of Pennsylvania campus, 

Chen’s design for the Penn Museum Archives Extension lifts the program off the ground, creating a jagged form perched above adjacent rooftops as if on stilts. Chen’s work is simultaneously imaginative and deeply grounded in reality. Each design is accompanied by meticulously drafted wall sections, details, and plans chock-full of information about the building and its surroundings. These technical drawings reveal the wisdom in Chen’s work: In order for architecture to engage its context, architects have to properly understand that context first. 

overview of curvilinear volume in grid spaces
On a site in the Callowhill neighborhood of Philadelphia, Chen reimagines a former market as a combination public garden, animal crematorium, and biological research center. Called the Ark of Relief, it’s an interrogation of human– animal relationships. Curved ramps and pathways connect sunken gardens throughout the site, contrasting with the orthogonal layout of the existing neighborhood.
Top: In a proposed extension to the Penn Museum Archives, Dongqi Chen displays a geometric ingenuity and sensitivity to existing conditions. Structurally supported by three main traffic cores—two sets of stairs and an elevator—the extension adds a new horizon to the museum’s roof while exposing its historic facade. COURTESY DONGQI CHEN