Architecture Program


Date of this Version

May 2008


China is a nation growing at an alarming rate economically, socially, and structurally. It is expanding so rapidly that cities literally emerge overnight. However, Chinese architecture is caught in a very evident struggle between the past and the future. The past presents them with a long tradition of Imperial architecture in which spaces were emphasized rather than buildings. Construction consisted mainly of wood, and buildings were presented in a horizontal layout. This contrasts deeply with the steel “western” skyscrapers being constructed at a furious rate today. So, how can a culture with such a rich history of traditional building reject the principles that they have lived by for centuries?

There are very few architects who have managed to successfully merge traditional Chinese strategies into a modern architectural piece. This is a challenging task because Beijing, like most Chinese cities, is still searching for its own contemporary identity. A contemporary Chinese architecture does not truly exist, and much of this is due to globalization.

Evidence of this dilemma can be seen everywhere throughout China. In Beijing, the remains of an old Taoist temple now stand in a parking lot of a new mall more than twice the size of the Mall of America. Pictured is a large high rise commercial building with an awkward traditional Chinese roof placed on top.

This problem is perhaps most evident in housing, which is the starting point of my thesis research. The once prominent Hutong neighborhoods that have been in families for generations are being torn down to build cheap high rise housing developments. These developments change the way people live, work and interact with others. Most of these developments take no consideration for aspects of traditional Chinese living.

My intent is to analyze the traditional Chinese courtyard house and the strategies used in the building process and space design. I will then research modern architecture being constructed in China to see how it responds to these strategies. Through my research, as well as the expertise of my mentor, Wayne Drummond, I will determine what I believe to be the defining elements of traditional Chinese residential architecture. I will then pursue an answer for my initial question: what is contemporary Chinese architecture?

My goal is to design a housing complex that will meet the demands of their society today while retaining the elements that defined their culture in the past.

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