CHINA : Program Summary

After three decades of rapid development, the Chinese urbanization seems to have entered into a new phase, which is characterized by cosmopolitanism. While earlier examples of world cities in Asia such as Hong Kong and Singapore are illuminating, Chinese cities engage with this profound transformation from social and cultural conditions not formulated by colonialism. The 2018 China Program investigates this new stage of Chinese urbanization, particularly in the context of increasing infrastructural integration of the world ambitiously planned by China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The UVA Architecture’s China Program will focus on influential factors of urban change: the flows of labor, goods, and innovation which resulted in Chinese cities adapting its spaces for new realities. We will examine the instruments and institutions of the world system, and study the spatial modifications in the Chinese city that anticipate a new era of urbanization not marked by quantitative increase but by cultural change. These goals will be accomplished by documentation of urban change, analyses of architectural developments, and understanding of cultural encounters in the context of global economic change.

Participating students will have opportunities to work with students and professors in China, visit established design firms and smaller innovative practices as well as their building sites.


Shiqiao Li (

Esther Lorenz (


SARC 5555 Research Methods (1 credit, to be taken in spring 2018)

ARH 5606 Chinese Architecture and Culture (3 credits)

ARCH 5608 Urban Research Workshop (3 credits) 


May 31 to June 30, 2018

“The China summer program is an invaluable experience for students interested in the future of cities and the role of the architect in their possible transformations. The program provides both the support and independence required to practice a research methodology in an unfamiliar location by continually testing assumptions and feeding curiosities. Traveling through nine very different cities, we aspired to better understand the forces shaping urbanization in China today, identifying and analyzing emergent typologies, and effectively approaching the cities and cultures familiar to us in the west with fresh eyes and a more open mind. The range of different sites visited, people met, and experiences gained testifies to how complex and multifaceted the region is. Shiqiao Li and Esther Lorenz’s capacity to build knowledge through overlapping lenses of history, culture, politics, economics, architecture, and urbanism was foundational to my understanding of what it means to enter the architectural profession in an increasingly connected and urbanized world.” Karilyn Johanesen (graduate student, Architecture)

“The China Program cultivated a unique academic and personal experience. I would highly recommend the China Program to those interested in a fulfilling and challenging experience regardless of one’s professional goals. I became a better designer because of the experience and would like to thank Esther and Shiqiao for their countless hours of efforts to make the trip a special experience for everyone involved.” Scott Getz (graduate student, Landscape)

“This program goes beyond looking at buildings - and there are some truly amazing buildings - and introduces you to new ways of seeing and thinking. Even as someone who knew very little about China let alone its architecture, I realized that I could offer a critical perspective that those who had grown up in China couldn't see on their own. Along with learning how to conduct design fieldwork, this has helped me in my own research to see past what's familiar and better recognize the evidence of our global society.” Shannon Ruhl (graduate student, Architecture) 

“The China program was the pinnacle moment in my graduate experience. It balanced self-development and exploration with collaborative group exercises producing interesting work rooted in a strong methodology. What makes the curriculum so rich is the array of urban typologies you encounter during your travels that allow your insights to be informed by a comprehensive picture of what China is today. Truly nothing matches actually being in a place and learning about it. I saw the rapid physical transformation of the country as we moved south along the Yangtze and Pearl Deltas, but through the six weeks I equally understood the development of the cultural landscape in response to globalization. I learned invaluable fieldwork methodology that I continue to apply to my research and future projects. This course was truly a highlight of my time at UVA.” Meredith Blake (graduate student, Architecture)

“My time spent with UVA's China program last summer gave me an eagerness to learn about a place I knew little about before the program.  As a Virginia Tech landscape architecture student, I did not fit into the category of architecture or UVA, but I was so welcomed into the group of UVA students and found a place as a student in the program under the guidance of Esther and Shiqiao.  The China program not only caused my interest in China and the typology of the Chinese city to grow exponentially, but also gave me excitement to learn more about cities and their planning and development.  I felt challenged to ask more questions than ever before about design and architecture and the built environment's relationship to the individual at every scale.” Becca Good (undergraduate student, Landscape, Virginia Tech)

“The Summer China Program was a great experience that provided me with the opportunity to develop an understanding of urbanity in the twenty-first century. Intensive, on-the-ground research accompanied by traveling through some of China’s most notable treasures made for as rich an experience as I could have wanted. Shiqiao Li and Esther Lorenz both serve as eager hosts and knowledgeable advisors ready to answer any and all questions that will undoubtedly arise. Any student who is serious about the future of architecture would be wise to take advantage of this program.” Seth Salcedo (graduate student, Architecture)

“The China Program is an excellent opportunity to have insightful understanding about Chinese urban typologies across all scales. Through formulating research and visualization methodologies, I was able to gain a deeper perspective about distinct urban conditions in China.” Steve Wang (undergraduate student, Architecture)

“In addition to having the opportunity to study novel urban formations and travel throughout China, the program is valuable because it isn't a studio. Absent the pressure to produce a design project, students are free to conduct urban and architectural research of a depth not often afforded during the standard academic term. Regardless of students' personal enthusiasm for the study of culture, history, and architecture, the program exposes them to research and fieldwork methodologies for investigating these areas of interest not available in Charlottesville. Ultimately, the program's study of emerging development strategies in the Chinese city gives students the opportunity to research the financial development, form, and political milieu of emerging modes of practice.” Dillon Wilson (graduate student, Architecture)

 “During four weeks, we immersed ourselves fully in the culture and language of the South-Eastern part of China. In the Western society we often hear about the rapid growth and urbanization of China, but it can be hard to imagine what that is truly like. However, we were able to experience and witness how much of that was taking place. The methodology of design-to-built is unlike anything in the world and through analysis and documentation we attempted to understand the emerging typologies of Chinese cities. The travelling included cities as well as more rural places, each very unique, beautiful, and quite special. The China Study Abroad Program has been one of the most memorable moments in my undergrad career at UVa as well as one of the most eye-opening.” Stephanie Granados (undergraduate student, Architecture)

“The China summer program is multi-faceted, providing insight from various perspectives into the role of architecture in the growth of the Chinese city. Through the exploration of diverse major cities, visits to iconic historic and contemporary architectural landmarks, hands-on research of unique emerging architectural typologies, and opportunities to learn directly from experts and collaborate with local students, I found this trip relevant, enjoyable, and worthwhile in its contribution to both my educational and life experiences.” Michelle Stein (graduate student, Architecture)

“The China program is a time-lapse of cultural, architectural, historical, and contemporary objects and spaces in a fantastically dizzying manner as you visit the country’s contemporary cities, historical villages, economic centers, academic facilities, and institutional sites. It is an application of architectural investigation methods to both architectural and cultural studies that dissembles a people often viewed as a monolith into individual and diverse people, cultures, languages, and cuisines. It is amazing!” Tamara Dennis (graduate student, Architecture) 

“I thoroughly enjoyed the 4-week study abroad program in China this past summer and took away new insights about architecture and understandings of other cultural perspectives. Led by my professors Shiqiao Li and Esther Lorenz, we explored southern China from Shanghai to Hong Kong. From city to city we saw entire communities devoted to different industries like trend/gadget markets, oil paintings, and the film industry. The architecture varied in all places from super modern glass and steel skyscrapers, sometimes involving third-party designers like foreign architecture firms to make creations reaching higher and higher, to peaceful rock gardens following the long-honored principles of feng shui. Mixed in with cultural visits and everyday Chinese food and people, the month-long abroad session created a memorable experience for myself and others with a new perspective on China.” Sangyoon Park (undergraduate student, Architecture)

“The China summer program provides a whole new perspective for me to observe my homeland which I have lived for over twenty years. This country has been experiencing huge development in an unprecedented rapid pace and through this program I could have the opportunity to have a glimpse of the power source driving this historic event. At the same time, you can also witness the conflicts or the fusion between thousands of years of tradition and the unstoppable modern development. And don’t forget the real Chinese food!” Chen Di (graduate student, Architecture)

“In a profession that strives to remain relevant, this China research strives to identify and understand the emerging typologies within today’s global urban force at the most extreme conditions of speed, efficiency, and density within cities. As a graduate student, it was important for me to approach this study abroad opportunity as a methodology of research rather than just a summer program with a checklist of actions to accomplish towards a specific end. We derived questions, was given the independence to lead our group as experts within a chosen city, and challenge our questions with metric, theory, and historic-based facts and observations. This opportunity allowed me to nurture my curiosities and challenge the assumptions/pre-conception we bring as designers and as visitors. The variation in urban typologies was diverse and at some points of the most extreme polarity – from the popular contemporary high-rise central business districts to the traditional urban villages. You can read articles, watch YouTube videos, and follow Dezeen or Architectural Records to get a glimpse of development in China and Hong Kong but the sensory experience you get as you hit the ground is incredibly unique and absolutely necessary to confront the challenges we face in an urbanizing world.” Donna Ryu (graduate student, Architecture)