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    Wang Center Architect Tells All

    Since its opening in 2002, the Charles B. Wang Center has become one of the University’s main landmarks. A tour of Stony Brook just isn’t complete without a visit to the zodiac heads or a meal at the J-Club. The mere presence of the Wang Center is a sign of the progress our campus has made over the past decade, since the days when mud-ins were a regular occurrence around central administration.

    P.H. Tuan, the architect who designed and oversaw construction of the Wang Center, provides some insight into the process of putting together our building. Today, many people can marvel at the product of many years of effort. However, for Tuan, ‘the process was much more interesting.’

    Tuan continued, ‘With any building, three things are involved: money, people, and lots of drama. The building becomes more than a building, and things are compromised.’ In the case of the Wang Center, Tuan did say, ‘Charles Wang was a good client. He just wanted a good building, and the University gave its full support. There was no fighting.’

    However, as Tuan alluded, the process involved, as with any major project, some kind of drama. According to Tuan, the Wang Center was originally slated to be 25,000 square feet. Currently, the building is much larger and is still evolving internally. The land for the Wang Center was leased by Wang from the state as private land. This effectively bypassing the state and speeding up the entire designing and construction process.

    According to Tuan, ‘[Wang] wanted the job to be finished quickly, in a matter of three to four years.’ The former CEO of Computer Associates (CA), according to Tuan, ‘was an impatient man.’

    One of the main benefits of having the land separated from the University for a period of time was having a small committee. Tuan commented, ‘It was me, Charles, and Dr. Kenny,’ which made the entire process ‘simpler.’

    In the process of designing, both Tuan and Wang knew that once the Wang Center was officially given back to the University, the building would slowly evolve. For example, there was no place delegated for dining in the original building. Tuan replied, ‘The Wang Center was made so that the basic structure could not be changed.’ He also cited the use of solid materials, concrete and steel, in the process of building.

    More important than the actual structure of the building was the aesthetic appeal and artistic quality of the building. Tuan emphasized, ‘We want people to react when entering a building.’ We want people to react differently.’

    Tuan was asked about his opinion of SBUMC. Unlike the Wang Center, many people on campus are generally not so positive about the cylindrical structure of the hospital.’ Many have commented on the initial difficulties with navigating through the towering complex.

    Although he would not comment on SBUMC in particular, Tuan comment, from his own experience, ‘Hospitals are too inhuman, too rigid. [Patients] are shipped back and forth like paper boxes.

    ‘Many people – architects – don’t think. They just follow some generic blueprint. Other times, there are money constraints, time constraints. We try to reinvent things that we touch, but sometimes it’s not possible.’

    Regarding Charles Wang, Tuan mentioned, concerning himself and his team, ‘Charles paid us by the time we spent.’ Thus, implementing a design with a full emphasis on creativity wasn’t a problem.

    Regarding the tower on top of the Wang Center, Tuan said, ‘The building needed a vertical element, some type of focal point to view from a distance, and something to unify the building from top to bottom.’

    More than anything else, Tuan recalls positive reactions to the building. He said ‘the University has kept it nice,’ adding, ‘I did this for the students. College life is very important.’

    He mentioned that in the SUNY system, 50-60 campuses evolved very quickly, thereby preventing any real human element to be put into the campus. Tuan attested to the social value of the Wang Center to the campus as he himself was invited to a wedding held at the Wang Center chapel.

    Currently, several years after the completion of the Wang Center, the building serves as a place for a variety of on-campus events and occasions.

    Dr. Sunita Mukhi is the Director of Programs at the Wang Center. While she is heavily involved with the functioning of the Wang Center today, she came to the University soon after it was finished.’ Mukhi belongs to another part of Wang Center history, one that is still in progress.

    As Director of Programs, Mukhi reported that she has taken the responsibility of making the Wang Center, ‘a hub where Asian, Asian-American, and Asian diasporic culture, social, political issues are discussed and celebrated.” Mukhi, believes that students have the opportunity to ‘discuss and discover issues with ‘Asian-ness’ at the Center.’

    Mukhi mentioned the term she herself coined, ‘Asian-ness,” for a reason.’ She said, ‘Asia is contributing greatly to the Western Hemisphere, in terms of the economy, culture.’ People can come to the Wang Center to learn about global issues in relation to Asia. They can come here to engage in forum, discussion, and debate.’

    Moreover, Mukhi explained, ‘Other ethnic clubs on campus are primarily involved with programming for themselves, for their own people. Here, everybody should come – white, black, blue people.’ Charles Wang wanted a center to be used to bring people together. We need the people to come together beyond simply socializing.’

    And while the Wang Center aims to rise to the highest level possible in terms programming and serving its surrounding community, it needs the support of the community to expand intellectually beyond its large concrete and steel frame.

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