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Program director interview

What is studying at this school all about?

We combine the critical academic atmosphere with real-world issues that arise from the current process of rapid urbanisation. In contrast to much of contemporary architecture education, which is either highly formal or highly abstract, our students deal with real issues, real projects and real interventions.

How has the school changed since its founding?

Like the rest of Tsinghua University, the school of architecture’s ideology has evolved throughout its years alongside the changes in Beijing and the wider Chinese society that it is embedded in. As such, we continue to evolve today, taking into account the needs of contemporary society and the advancement in media and technology, contributing to the critical, positive progress of urbanisation. Secondly, since its inception, the school has also seen a considerable change in facilities, a growth in size of the overall student body and an increase in the amount of international students over the past 5-10 years, as the Chinese Government has been promoting the further development of Tsinghua University into a world leading academic institute.

What is your teaching agenda?

Ideologically, the school is concerned with contributing to the processes that integrally shape our living environment. We nest architecture into the wider development of cities and their respective regions. Through the opening of our international M. Arch. track in 2008, we intended to enlarge the reach of these ideals and to further engage in the international dialogue.

In this line, I set up the framework for this international program based on my theories of ‘Reflexive Regionalism’; integrating a critical understanding of regional conditions with a global, multi-disciplinary network environment.This international program then works as a bridge between cultures within which various styles can coexist.

Why should students choose this particular school? What is the strength of this school?

Our school is strengthening its identity as a pioneer of innovation, advanced research and design excellence. And the international program is fully embedded within the local community, in which top visiting scholars and practitioners are teaching side by side with their Chinese equivalents. In addition, our public lecture series provides a great opportunity for first-hand exchange and interaction with the world’s top practitioners.

Though our international program is relatively new, we can build upon the strength of the school, ranking first in China, to create a unique, stimulating study environment, through its location in the midst of China’s political power base and rapidly changing urban environment.

What is expected from the students? Are there any particular challenges?

We expect our students to be critical-thinking individuals that want to contribute, to match our pro-active group of students and faculty, whom take into account the needs of contemporary society and set a standard for others to build upon.

The biggest challenge lies in the overwhelming scale of the task at hand in the Asian context and the following pressure and expectations from society that need us to address and improve their situation.

What is the most important thing for students to learn during this course?

As a master’s program, we expect the students to already have a basic architectural skill set. Therefore, the most important aspect we want to teach our students is to be critical, and think reflective. Thus, analysing the situation, assessing the complexity, considering the context and acting from there, then applying this new set of skills to embed a real architectural intervention.

Secondly, we encourage people to learn to create from a specific cultural context. In our program we have a group of selected students from all five continents, thus forming a unique bridge between the world and China for both students and faculty. In this way we educate critical designers that think global, act local and really make an impact.

What is the most important skill to master when one wants to become an architect?

To be visionary.

Initially, as a student, one should learn to be critical, and reflective. The second step, over time, as you become skilled as an architect, is to be visionary. Thus, from your critical attitude reflect on the contribution one can make as an architect.

Where or in what kind of jobs do your former architect students mostly end up?

Most of our alumni end up actively contributing to the shaping of our living environments, either as designers, planners, developers or administrators. They are well prepared for the real demands, in China and abroad, starting through internships or as part of a particular project team during the graduation year. On top of that, the school has a strong reputation and valuable network, and we see that our architecture students all find suitable jobs easily.

Prof. Li Xiaodong

Director of English Program Master of Architecture

Tsinghua University


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