Selected Topics on Contemporary Chinese Architecture and Urban Planning

For more than three decades and still today, China has embraced rapid social, economic, and cultural transformation. Discussion of contemporary Chinese architecture typically involves complaints about limits and restrictions and much of the construction activity in China is described negatively as shortsighted operations impelled by expedient value judgments. In contrast, positive expositions identify individual Chinese architects whose works stand as manifestos of resistance to the existing attitudes of the society and also of mainstream professional architects, both Chinese and international. A gap becomes apparent between the good taste and neat architectural articulation of the buildings selected and exhibited worldwide, and the mass construction that permeates all of China. Could Chinese contemporary Architecture and Urbanism be understood comprehensively in the context of social, political transformation and system of spatial production as a unique social-urban paradigm that the West has never experienced?

This course tries to build bridges between China’s built forms and its social reality. Topics range from key concepts in contemporary Chinese architecture and urbanism, China’s urban policy and its embodiment in built urban forms, commodification and thematization of urban spaces, reinterpretation of Chinese tradition in gardens, buildings and cities, to avant-gardism in art and architecture. We will look at operational frameworks, theoretical references and practical strategies of Chinese architects through the works of architects like Yungho Chang, Wang Shu, Ma Yansong(MAD), Urbanus, Deshaus, and works of international architects in China will also be covered. Invited Chinese architects and scholars to this course will include Ma Yansong, Zhu Pei, among others.

Course requirements include attendance at lectures, responses to readings, a final research paper, and possible participation in the preparation of a documentary exhibition at GSD on contemporary Chinese architecture.

This course may provide an opportunity for up to ten students to travel to Shanghai, China during spring break week. Students enrolled in this course will be considered for this opportunity once funding has been finalized, and will be selected through a separate lottery process. Students enrolled in other traveling studios or courses will not be eligible to participate in the lottery. Students selected to participate will be required to submit a paper upon their return, will be term-billed $300, and will be responsible for the costs of meals and incidentals. Students are responsible for obtaining the necessary visas. One set itinerary is made for the trip with no modifications. If students wish to modify the itinerary, it may be possible for them to do so in direct contact with the travel agent, and the student is responsible for any change fees incurred. Students will need to sign a travel waiver in the Department of Architecture and register their trip with Harvard Travel Assist.