2019 Tsinghua-MIT Joint Urban Design Studio Review Successfully Completed

On May 2, 2019, the second stage of the Tsinghua-MIT Joint Urban Design Studio reached a successful conclusion at MIT. Launched in 1985, more than 30 years ago, the joint teaching program is a prime example of the successful cooperation between the two universities.


Teachers and students of the two schools

The aim of the studio themed "Tangshan in Transition: East Douhe District” was to explore challenges in the transformation of industrial cities and develop new planning ideas from an international perspective. Nineteen masters and PhD students in architecture and planning from both universities participated in the studio under the guidance of the Tsinghua University School of Architecture professors Liu Jian and Tang Yan and the MIT School of Architecture and Planning professors Brent Donovan Ryan and Lorena Bello Gomez. During the studio review held on May 2, USA local time, the Tsinghua students teamed up in four groups themed landscape ecology (Green+X), community organization (DANWEI 2.0), education and training (Colleges in City), and infrastructure development (Development Triggered by Infrastructure). Each team presented concepts to stimulate urban renewal and industrial transformation of the entire 11 site of Tangshan East Douhe River, tackling the problem as a whole from different angles.

The MIT students formed three teams that each focused on a specific site measuring less than 1, namely Tangshan Thermal Power Plant, Tangshan Iron and Steel Factory, and the demolished urban village in the north of the area. Each team presented detailed ideas regarding region cognition, function planning, form shaping, and industrial heritage protection and utilization. 

The studio review committee consisted of sixteen top experts from academia and industry including the two former program directors—the MIT professor emeritus and former dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Design Gary Hack, as well as the director of MIT Center for Real Estate, head of MIT Design X, and former director of the City Design and Development program Dennis Frenchman—together with the head of MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning Eran Ben Joseph, the Harvard University Raymond Garbe professor Peter Rowe, the Harvard University Martin Bucksbaum professor Joan Busquets, and the Principal of Sasaki Associates Dennis Piertz. The guest reviewers highly praised the work of the students for the quality of presentation and innovativeness of content, providing a variety of fresh ideas for the industrial transformation of Tangshan.


Tsinghua student report


MIT student report


Reviewers commenting on student design

During their stay in the United States, the Tsinghua students completed the planning and design task together with their MIT colleagues. They also attended talks given by Kairos Shen, visiting scholar at MIT Center for Real Estate, Gilad Rosenzweig, executive director of MIT Design X, Snoweria Zhang from MIT Senseable City Lab, and MIT lecturer Viktorija Abolina about urban redevelopment, cross-cutting design research, urban data application and urban renewal participation. Additionally, the students visited the cities of Lawrence and Lowell, two industrial towns undergoing transformation outside of Boston, and discussed the challenges for multi-path urban renewal practice with local planning departments, community organizations and enterprises.


Tsinghua teachers and students attending a talk on urban redevelopment of Boston


Tsinghua teachers and students meeting with local business representatives in Lawrence

The first phase of the Tsinghua-MIT Joint Urban Design Studio began in late January 2019. Teachers and students from both universities attended lectures on shrinking Chinese cities, Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei coordinated development, and Tangshan urban and rural growth. They also visited the Shougang Area and conducted basic field research in Tangshan. 

While at Tangshan, the symposium entitled “Urban Transition: International Experience and Local Practice” was held, co-organized by Tsinghua University, MIT, Tangshan Natural Resources and Planning Bureau, and Tangshan Yubang Foundation. Experts, scholars, designers, managers, and real estate practitioners from China (Beijing, Shanghai, Tangshan) and the United States discussed the industrial transformation and urban renewal of the region from different perspectives with the goal to present ideas on the future development of Tangshan, which benefitted both the participating university students as well as the local people of Tangshan. After returning to Beijing, the 19 students formed groups to collect data and analyze the site based on the content presented at the end of the first studio phase. Their work was praised by Tsinghua University School of Architecture professors Zhu Wenyi and  Mao Qizhi and professor Zhang Lufeng of the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences School of Architecture.


Teachers and students visiting the Shougang Area


Teachers and students with domestic and international reviewers during the first stage of the studio review

The second phase of the Tsinghua-MIT Joint Urban Design Studio was launched at the beginning of the spring semester 2019. Tsinghua and MIT students carried out design and research separately, while maintaining student-so-student communication using modern communication technologies for online discussion and instructional guidance. After the joint studio review in May, the students will further revise and improve their design concepts according to the comments of the guest reviewers and the final results will be displayed at Tsinghua University in June.


Online review in the spring semester 2019

(2019 Tsinghua-MIT Joint Urban Design Studio was supported by Tangshan Natural Resources and Planning Bureau and Tangshan Yubang Foundation)

Text: Liu Jian, Tang Yan, Zhu He

Photos: Zhu He

English translation: Alexandra Harrer

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