Topology and Imagination: Between Chinese Landscapes and Architecture

This course deals with landscape architecture and architecture in contemporary China.  Its purpose is twofold: to articulate new perspectives on the challenges facing designers, and to demonstrate the pertinence of issues to a broader range of international discussions.  There are three major aspects involved:

(1) an expanded vocabulary for understanding design challenges in both urban and rural settings.  We shall discuss a range of terms, taken from local Chinese discussions and from Western contexts, that can enable a more precise grasp of issues.  In particular, the understanding of Chinese gardens in terms of topology (from the work of Zhu Guangya) shows a way for going beyond the idea of static “composition.” 

(2) detailed case studies that draw on a broad range of images documenting both design process and construction process.  Our goal is to go beyond the usual presentation of design projects in 6- or 8-page magazine articles and to attend to process and contingency.  The main topics will include: redundant precision versus apparent precision in construction (from the work of Francesca Hughes), hi-fi versus lo-fi architecture (from the work of Jeremy Till) perspectival and aperspectival effects, and pro-active intervention in the chain of supply of building materials.

(3) cultural dimensions relevant for the understanding of architectural and landscape experience.  This part of our study will involve both reading texts (in English translation) and analysing extant gardens.  The main topics will include: long-term and short-term memory, the pitfalls of thinking in dualistic dichotomies, the opportunities presented by different kinds of clientele, and the limitations of various kinds of regionalism.

Course requirements include attendance at lectures, seminar presentations, responses to readings, and a final research paper.  There are no prerequisites for this course; course materials and discussions do not presume previous knowledge of Chinese topics.