BY LYNN MORGAN
Environmental designer Alie Chang is a Santa Monica-based business woman with a global vision. She was born in China and educated at UCLA with a Master of Arts degree in environmental design. She began her career in the office of acclaimed modernist architect William L. Pereira, before launching her own firm in the early 1980s. Today, she is the CEO and Chief Designer of Alie Design, Inc.
Alie Chang and her firm have worked on a wide array of projects, ranging from private residences for select clientele to luxurious hospitality projects around the world. These include the clubhouse and 96 condo units at the La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, CA; 165 resort units and spa at Enchantment, Sedona, AZ; and other resort properties in the US, Europe and Asia.
Her private clients have included such dynamic and creative personalities as music legends Lou Adler and Rod Stewart, and the Bel Air home of former president Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy. “It was an honor to work with the Reagans,” Alie Chang recalls. “They were the most gracious people. When the project was done, they gave us a gift: a case of California wine: Grgich Hills Chardonnay. It was a really memorable experience for me and the people in our company who worked on this special project.”
Alie Chang’s technical and engineering background is enhanced by her aesthetic sense. She is an accomplished fine artist; her multi-media paintings have been showcased in solo exhibits at the University of California Berkeley, the University of Chicago, and in galleries in Honolulu, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles.
Art is central to her work. “Designing a home is like creating a three-dimensional sculpture,” she says. “You have negative and positive spaces. In a house, the positive spaces are solid objects such as the walls and furnishings, the finishes, and the negative spaces are the open volumes where you live. I am very fortunate that I have talent as a visual artist. I feel my design work is like painting in three dimensions and is like sculpture.”
Her work is green and organic. She draws influences from various eras and areas, with European and Asian influences, sometimes with touches of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, but avoids period reconstructions. “It is more important to understand the needs of the owners of the building than to create a preordained vision of the project.”
Alie Chang believes that “elegance is a matter of choice. Creativity and style are not measured by cost. Good design is achieved through layout, color, texture and balance.”
Many of her clients are very accomplished individuals and some are also artists themselves—actors, musicians—who respond to her creativity and her ability to balance psychological and spiritual values with aesthetic ones. She feels inspired and challenged by their creativity in turn. “Sometimes creative people, especially visually creative people, do not always express themselves verbally. You have to observe and intuit what they need because they are into their own modes of expression and I have to understand their non-verbal communication.”
Alie Chang is well-versed in feng shui, and dedicated to principles of green building. “I have a Chinese educational background, and I we believe in living close to nature, appreciating it and respecting the world around you. This is the basis of a sustainable lifestyle.”
In 2006, Alie Chang took her design philosophy to the airwaves with a television show called The Art of Living for Time-Warner cable. It was later seen on China Central Television (CCTV). It was hugely successful and widely seen in China and some other Asian countries. Alie Chang was given the Women’s World Excellence Gold Award for her work and is now considered one of the most influential Chinese women in the world.
In June, she was invited to attend the 2011 Shanghai International Interior Design Festival as a keynote speaker. She shared her design philosophy and sustainable methodologies with hundreds of aspiring designers from every corner of China and the representatives of well established interior designers and architects from countries around the globe.
During this trip, Alie Chang had a chance to visit City of Chengdu. Chengdu. with a 4,000 year history, is an important economic center with transportation and communication hubs to Western China. It was recently named China’s 4th most livable city by China Daily and was recognized as one of the top Chinese cities to invest in. Alie Chang’s reputation preceded her arrival. The Renewable Energies and Building Technologies Bureau of Sichuan province honored her with the position of “Top Foreign Expert Advisor.” She was also offered to master plan a model satellite city development project. The goal of this project is to build a totally sustainable mixed-use residential community that will be a net-zero-energy project and totally off the grid. This futuristic project would be a case study, a noted example of applying the latest building technologies combined with local traditional building methods to create a community that would be energy efficient, safe, comfortable, and nourishing to diverse lifestyles.
During each of Alie Chang’s business trips she manages to do something unusual and fun. On this hot and humid Chinese summer, she was able to do something cool. She visited the famous Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding Center. She spent the day in a shaded bamboo forest. When she held a 40 Kilo (88 pounds) baby panda on her lap, she forgot her responsibilities of designing a whole new community. She felt like a child of that enchanted forest and enjoyed each and every moment.
Alie Chang is looking forward to working with some of China’s up and coming young talent. “I wouldlike to share my experience and insights with some young designers in China. I hope I can create some very special projects there that will be timeless.”
Like China, Alie Chang is focused on the future. She is currently working on a large resort development in Carmel, California and on her next television project, The Art of Living – Green.