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:

– 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.”

– 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 six- or eight-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 proactive intervention in the chain of supply of building materials.

– 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 analyzing 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 enrollment is limited to thirty. Ten spots will be prioritized for Landscape Architecture students and ten spots will be prioritized for Architecture students who are taking this course to meet their BTC requirement. All prioritized students must select the course first in the lottery.

Note on schedule: The class will meet synchronously on Tuesdays from 10:30 to 11:45 am. Every week there will be 60-90 minutes of asynchronous materials (lectures or seminar presentations). During weeks 4-12, the course will invite a range of designers and scholars from several countries as speakers or discussants. Please note that in 2-3 weeks of the semester, the class will meet with the guest speakers from 8 to 9 am ET (instead of the usual 10:30-11:45 am slot) due to time zone constraints. The online pre-recorded format allows for a much more international range of speakers and discussants, and the 60-90 min lectures on case studies will allow us to get a much more detailed understanding of projects than can be obtained from 6-8 page articles.

Due to the Labor Day holiday, this course will meet for the first time at its standard time on Wednesday, August 31st.