China a ‘laboratory of architectural ideas’

Rachel Thompson

China is an architectural powerhouse with new projects constantly underway, said Qingyun Ma, dean of architecture at the University of Southern California.

Ma presented a multitude of projects currently in progress or recently completed in three major Chinese cities: Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai, as part of a four-lecture series hosted by UT’s School of Architecture on Monday.

“So much is going on in China — it’s become a laboratory of architectural ideas,” said School of Architecture dean Frederick Steiner. “Some of the most interesting ideas in the world are there.”

Ma approached the topic of China’s rapid growth with humor and noted the rapidity of the projects currently in progress.

“In China, if you have an idea, it will be done,” he said, laughing. “So you’d better be responsible with your idea because they might build it.”

Ma discussed larger projects, those he said resolve urban issues and bring different programs together to form projects. One of these projects was titled the “Shopping Zoo,” which used the principles of a zoo’s closely connected buildings to draw shoppers into spending an entire day at the center, he said.

Ma also discussed the importance of small-scale projects within Chinese architecture by showing pictures of the building processes. Some of these images included local workers constructing the buildings brick by brick. He said these small projects took place in both China and the United States, and included a hotel, an addition to a bridge and even a house Ma designed for his family in Los Angeles.

Despite the large amount of architectural development, many projects have halted because of loss of funding, Ma said. These dead projects included the addition to a new natural history museum in Shanghai, a mountain-cut memorial and an art museum in Pasadena.

Ma said he is hopeful the projects have potential to resume construction in the future.

“We have a very good attitude to the notion of dead projects,” he said. “Some will get built because it’s the right fit.”

Graduate architecture student Nate Schneider said he found the lecture to be enlightening about some of the most current examples of Chinese architecture.

“It’s kind of amazing — the scale that they’re designing and building in China,” Schneider said. “I thought the speaker had a fresh approach to architecture.”

Ma said he hoped to convey architecture as something with a broader goal than the construction of new projects.

“My hope is that we realize that architecture is global,” he said. “[And] that our goals are interconnected.”

Printed on Tuesday, October 25th, 2011: China a hotbed for innovation, according to architecture dean