Welcome, to Future Talks by RTF, we are privileged to delve into the realm of design with a true visionary, someone whose work exemplifies the convergence of artistry, sustainability, and meticulous craftsmanship.

It’s an honor to introduce Peter Liang, a luminary in the world of architecture, a trailblazer whose journey encapsulates the essence of creativity, dedication, and a profound commitment to the ethos of modern design.

Peter Liang stands as a testament to the fusion of diverse experiences and a relentless pursuit of excellence. A licensed California architect and LEED Accredited Professional, he is the visionary behind Blue Truck Studio, an embodiment of collaborative ethos and artisanal excellence in modern architectural endeavors.

His portfolio is a testament to his unwavering dedication to minimalism, the handcrafted, and sustainable design. From captivating residential projects to innovative retail spaces and groundbreaking institutional concepts, Peter Liang’s creations have earned acclaim and recognition across esteemed publications like Dwell, Design Bureau, Renovate Magazine, EDC Magazine, and California Home + Design.

But Peter’s journey to architectural mastery was not a conventional one. Graduating from Stanford with a dual major in architecture and Chinese, he embarked on a transformative path. He spent years honing his craft as a furniture-maker, a knife-maker, and even delved into the world of carpentry at a timber frame company in Montana. It was through these diverse experiences that he cultivated an unyielding passion for the artistry of creation.

Rekindling his love for architecture, Peter pursued further academic excellence, earning his Master of Architecture at UC Berkeley. His academic pursuits revolved around the fusion of collaboration in the design process and the seamless integration of architectural theory into the tactile act of creation.

Tonight, we have the privilege of unraveling the tapestry of Peter Liang’s journey—exploring the interconnectedness of design philosophy, sustainability, and the sheer craftsmanship that defines his work. Join us as we delve into the mind of this creative force, as he shares insights, anecdotes, and wisdom garnered from a lifetime dedicated to the pursuit of architectural brilliance.

RTF: Hi Peter, We are glad to have you as a guest on Future Talks by RTF. Thanks for joining us. After spending several years as a furniture-maker, knife-maker, and then a joint-cutter and carpenter at a timber frame company in Montana after graduating, how did you find your way back to architecture? 

Peter:  Thank you for having me. Interspersed with my work in the trades and my time in the Rockies, I studied design and art and some sociology at Stanford and worked a couple internships in architecture, so my path “back” to architecture was perhaps more of a meandering one through fields and work experiences that were ultimately towards architecture the whole time. Prior to getting my masters in architecture at UC Berkeley, I tested the waters at a summer program at Harvard. That affirmed my inclination and gave me an exposure to the studio environment that pulled me back into school and set me on a path towards practice.

RTF: What is the story behind Blue Truck Studio? And what is its design language? 

Peter:  After a few years working in an established architecture firm in Berkeley, I struck out on my own to pursue design-build work. My truck was a light blue Ford F-150 and it became both my identity (recognizable parked in front of jobsites) and a symbol of the uncomplicated, personable, and “made” values of my work. It also made a good name for my studio. 

The design language of the studio has evolved as the studio has grown, but it’s always been about the balance of minimalism, personality, and buildability. We know how to put things together but aren’t satisfied with “common” solutions. 

RTF: ‘Falling out of love’ with the practice and ‘obsessing’ over a project is not an uncommon phenomenon in creative fields. How does one keep a stable head to pursue design to the best of their abilities? 

Peter:  I find my best design work comes from a balance of rational, emotional stability and a sense of wonder and curiosity. Maintaining focus, and dedication to the design parti, is important for enabling the work to evolve, but inspiration comes from weird places and so I find it productive to wander and look at art and allow time for good ideas to ripen. I have my own pace of working. 

RTF: How do you approach communicating your architectural projects and ideas to a wider audience? Are there specific communication strategies you find most effective? 

Peter:  I find that we get a lot of interest in our work through social media posts and other publicity, but the most effective means of communicating the work is to have a live conversation about it. Each project has a story and those are best revealed when we can tell you about it live. 

Early on in the pandemic, we gave a tour of two of our tiny home projects online in collaboration with AIA San Francisco. These were both accessory dwelling units that families built in the backyards of their main house so that a grandparent could live close by. We were able to show the online audience design solutions for multigenerational living. What were the concerns of the grandparents that would be living there? What were the constraints of the sites? For example, in one of the tiny houses, you cannot see the main house once you’re inside. That’s intentional, to maintain a feeling of independence. The bathroom is also surprisingly large for a tiny house, with a generous shower area. When a house is small it’s important to have spaces that feel luxurious. But it’s also practical, as the shower is big enough to accommodate a chair if needed. 

RTF: Which has been the most rewarding project for you until today? And, what factors made it so? 

Peter:  Working on my own house as I was beginning my practice was an especially rewarding experience because it was a laboratory for exploring how to be reductive and yet playful at the same time. However, the most rewarding projects are those that allow us to apply our creativity to surprise and inspire our clients. Our studio puts a lot of work in nurturing relationships with our clients so that we can tell their story and bring their culture to the outcome. 

Whether it was the custom rice cooker cabinet we created for a Thai family or the screened prayer room we designed for a Muslim family, it’s about listening to their needs and understanding how culture shapes their lives. And in some ways that culture is celebrated through how spaces are programmed or curated, like generous entryways to accommodate a shoes-off household or more (or less) privacy for bedroom and bathroom spaces. I like to think that architecture has a deep relationship to the value systems of the people who inhabit it. 

RTF: As an architect based in California, what are some design challenges you face? 

Peter: This isn’t specific to California, but living in an area that is often in drought and now has a regular wildfire season, it is imperative that we think about climate change and sustainability. All architects should. Even with renovation projects, we can make choices that are more sustainable and conscious of how the environment will be even years down the road. 

For one client who was planning a home in a new development, we designed it to be net-zero and fire-resistant. We chose non-combustible materials and made sure there were defensible spaces through landscaping design. It has energy conservation measures such as harnessing geothermal energy to prime the heating and cooling systems and thermal mass for passive

cooling. The shape of the house contributes as well. It’s narrow, allowing for good ventilation. The idea is for the home to regulate its own temperature without relying on A/C. 

RTF: How does a community make ‘An Architect’? And how important is the role of parents in shaping a child, who is sensitive towards art and architecture? 

Peter:  I’ve mentored both my own kids and some of their peers as “interns” in our studio and have enjoyed the opportunity to explore how young minds may gravitate to any of the many topics in architecture. We discuss scale and materiality and problem solving and even more esoteric topics like poetic form and culture, and I’m consistently impressed with their ability to iterate with little inhibition. I don’t know if it’s parents who need to be the ones guiding young architects, but I do think the community of architects carries a responsibility to mentor and nurture those who are still learning. 

RTF: What are the other paths you stroll on when not working? 

Peter:  I surf and ski and hike and look forward to strolling any path that allows me to either get to know my kids better or have moments of exploring my own spiritual nature. 

 

Author

Rethinking The Future (RTF) is a Global Platform for Architecture and Design. RTF through more than 100 countries around the world provides an interactive platform of highest standard acknowledging the projects among creative and influential industry professionals.