Chinese-born Zhenbai Li trained as an architect at Shenzen University and completed his studies at The Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow. He has worked for Ballymore since 2014 as a design co-ordinator.
Why work for a developer when you could have been an architect?
While I was a student In China I worked for Vanke (China’s largest house builder). I was a trainee and it was a very intense time. But it made me realise it’s the developer who has the real responsibility for the built environment and making sure it works for people and this is what interests me.
Describe your role at Ballymore
I manage the design process and act as the co-ordinator between Ballymore and the architects. This means looking after the documents and drawings. I’m also responsible for the images and giving them a final polish. Architects express their ideas through drawings and 3-D models while Ballymore work with the best CGI studios in the world in order to communicate its ideas and vision.
What attracted you to the UK?
The RIBA had just started to open up post-graduate courses to overseas students and after finishing my architectural training in China I’d always intended to go abroad to study. I chose the Mac because it attaches great importance to drawing, handmade models and craftsmanship.
What do you like most about London?
I love its cultural diversity. You can make your own statement. There’s no right or wrong.
How long do you plan to stay here?
It’s a globalised world but at the moment the opportunities are here and I feel a responsibility to see through three projects I have been involved with since the start, which are Embassy Gardens, Wardian and London City Island.
How do you relax?
I promote Shen Yun (a Chinese classical dance and music company) to British audiences. Although I am a volunteer I get to travel all over the UK in my spare time and meet people who want to know about Chinese culture. This also gives me a chance to see other developments that are happening outside London, like shopping centres and students accommodation in British mid-towns. The Chinese are investing heavily in towns like Warwick and it’s a trend we can’t ignore.
What’s your favourite part of London?
I like the area around Notting Hill Gate and Kensington. The architecture is so different to what I’m used to growing up in Shenzhen where it’s mainly high-rise. I like the fact it’s spacious and there are gardens.
What about a favourite building?
The new British Museum wing by Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners because it shows respect for the existing buildings and it’s beautifully detailed. Norman Foster is one of my favourite architects and I like Victoria House (Grade 11 listed building with an interior by Will Alsop) which is near where I live in Holborn
What have you learnt working with Ballymore?
The importance of loyalty and responsibility