FU-TUNG CHENG ISN’T in a hurry. The mainstay contributor to the East Bay design world, whose storefront office on San Pablo Avenue has been a hub of studies in concrete and a variety of design modes, is happy to talk about the musician David
Byrne, the CIA’s penchant for recruiting at UC Berkeley when
he was graduating in 1971, and his recent discovery of the work
of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. It’s a languid approach to
an interview that, 20 minutes in, has yet to address his most
recent project, a house in Tiburon that trips down a hillside
and works as a study in reflective planes and multiple forms of
concrete, and it gets at least one writer fascinated about what,
exactly, this designer is expressing with his work.
This wasn’t the first encounter for architect and client.
Cheng worked with the client, a builder/developer, 15 years ago,
in another lifetime for both of them. That time, personal and
professional issues affected the relationship, leading to a long
hiatus during which Cheng continued to explore his architectural
relationship to concrete, and the client went about his life. Cheng
didn’t think he was likely to find himself in the same river twice.
That was until three or four years ago, when the phone rang.
The client had mellowed and was interested in having Cheng
work on some interiors for his own home. Why only interiors?
“I don’t trust your architecture,” the client said. (He might not
have mellowed that much.) So Cheng made him an offer: he
would work on retainer, design a house, and if the client didn’t
like it, fine — they’d walk away peacefully.