James Cheng left Hong Kong for architectural studies at Seattle's University of Washington, followed by a Master's degree under Richard Meier at Harvard. After an extended apprenticeship in Arthur Erickson's office, he established his own practice, which since 1978 has focused on large scale condominium towers for real estate developers. His architectural and urban design ideas are at the centre of 'Vancouverism's' trademark thin-tower-on-townhouse housing typology, advanced through a string of carefully proportioned high density residential complexes all over the city's downtown peninsula. One of Canada's most respected and in-demand commercial architects, Cheng is currently applying Vancouverism to sites elsewhere in Canada, the United States, and Asia.

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