IDSS @ Tongji University

This past week, many of us PSU MURP students had the chance to participate in the International Design Summer School hosted by the College of Architecture and Urban Planning (CAUP) at Tongji University in Shanghai. This 10-day workshop-style event brought together students from all over the world, with the challenge to work as teams in creating a waterfront revitalization design proposal at the intersection of the Hongpu and Yangtze Rivers.

Architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning students from universities in Austria, Germany, Australia, South Korea, Canada, China, the UK and the US hit the ground running to quickly learn the existing conditions of the site and then develop a design for the 7.66 sq. km area. Each of the six student teams were to create a design that incorporated components of wetland restoration, culturally relevant design, and a connection with the nearby cruise terminal infrastructure. The expected deliverables of “summer school” provided students with a simulation of the actual Shanghai Urban Design Challenge that will be accepting proposals this fall. The specific deliverables were to present a concept design mid-week and a final presentation of our master plan at the end of the summer school.


I will spare you the play-by-play details of all the challenges and breakthroughs many of us experienced- but needless to say, it was a rigorously rewarding experience that we all learned something from. I had the pleasure of working in a group of amazingly talented landscape architects and urban planners from China, Austria, and the US. Accompanied by the counsel of Tongji University associate professor, Nannan Dong, we serendipitously came together around a playful and experimental working group style that generated intriguing products and many fond memories.

Here are just a handful of takeaways from my experience at Tongji last week. I recognize that these takeaways are all over the place (from introspective to superficial) so just bear with me:

  1. Prioritizing good team chemistry before project deliverables is a sure bet to cultivating a more trusting, respectful, and comfortable working environment.
  2. Being creative means taking chances. It also takes time to feel confident in expressing and sharing your creativity with others.
  3. Eat a big lunch because the dinner canteen offering will always be slightly underwhelming.
  4. I really like working on teams. #teamworkmakesthedreamwork
  5. Sometimes–when you have an talented cast of puppeteers, tactful narration, and an amazing soundtrack–shadow puppets are the perfect way to avoid giving a boring ol PPT presentation.

Now back to observations & adventures in Shenzhen!

PS – Here is a photographic comparison of lunch offerings vs. dinner. I’ll let you be the judge:

I <3 Chinese Food

As I was perusing the streets near my hotel and catching fleeting whiffs of durian fruit, it finally occurred to me that traditional Chinese cuisine seems to have a wider diversity (at least in terms of different types of foods found in single dishes) than western cuisines. I began to develop my own — admittedly incomplete — theories on the diversity of (what I’d imagine) traditional food options as compared Europe and North America. I figured these personal theories might be worth sharing.

Could the diversity of consumption options (fancy way of saying “food”) be by virtue of simply being a more biodiverse region, and they’re therefor exposed to more and diverse things to eat? Could it be because China is an ancient civilization, to which Chinese culture has simply had more time to develop a variety of dishes and cuisines? Maybe it’s due to more recent events, such as the massive famine that corresponded with Mao’s rule. Chinese people are maybe more willing to eat differing, “exotic” or what westerners would perceive as unpalatable, simply as a survival trait in response to trying times. As a result,  this seeming acceptance for a such a diversity of foods appears to be deeply ingrained in Chinese society and culture. 

This all makes me wonder: how is it that we find certain foods (from a western perspective) to be “gross”? Is this simply taught or conditioned from our culture? If so, why are there certain foods that we generally judge as gross or untouchable in the West, while others – such as milk and eggs – really are pretty strange when considering the source. I would imagine it likely boils down to (no pun intended) what we are familiar with in our cultures, or in other words, what we are regularly exposed to and inevitably grow accustomed to. I’m sure there are various foods that we regularly eat in the West that most Chinese would find strange or repulsive. 

All that being said, I have loved the food here thus far (aside from the lack of cheese, a pillar of my diet). I should also acknowledge that none of this is really based on empirical evidence, but simply my initial reflections (and western biases) from my surface level experience in this part of the world. I invite any and all who might actually have legitimate answers to these questions, or if you also have interesting ideas/theories. Nonetheless, I’m excited to continue indulging in new foods that my various senses have never encountered!

P.s. This would ideally be an opportune blog post to share pictures of food, however I unfortunately do not have any. Once again, it would be best to consult Ayo, as she has been doing a remarkable job of documenting many of our meals. I promise to share photos on my next post. Until then, if anyone is dying to see pictures of other things from my trip, I’d be happy to share my google photos album with you. Although I must warn you, my photography skills are very poor, hence my reluctance to share pictures on various social media platforms.  Apologies for the extensive “p.s.”.

Becoming one with nature


Known both regionally and internationally as an economic experimental city, Shenzhen is a busy mix of sleek, modern development contrasted to the seemingly chaotic urban villages- the epitome of mixed-use space- full of multi-unit dwellings hovering over a plethora of commercial fronts: green grocers, bike repair shops, meat markets, electronics stores, restaurants…the list goes on. Regardless of the type of development, Shenzhen’s economic experiment has quickly put the city at odds in finding developable space and it is probably the last place where you might think to find a space for nature.

A father and daughter fishing in the park.

Western culture typically views nature as a coveted resource that must be protected and preserved. Think of any US National Park or Forest. Despite the Western reverence for these natural environments, there remains a tension with this perspective and the equally valued desire for recreational access to our national treasures. In contrast, the Chinese perspective of the relationship between humans and nature is one of harmony among all things, both organic and inorganic. This Confucian and Taoist outlook has informed the high degree of “urbanization” in many natural spaces. From paving concrete paths to building hotels and restaurants, all have been done in an effort to create accessibility and accommodation for more people to enjoy the beauty in nature. The 11th Century Chinese literary tradition, shan shui, says that humans can play a role to enhance nature in a way that acknowledges the sacredness of what is natural if the development is consistent with a valued heritage.

Massive skyscrapers and modern buildings envelop the park.

Badminton matches surrounding a park temple.

This perspective of nature has become much more visible to me after spending the last couple weeks here in Shenzhen. I have taken to early morning runs through a nearby park (as it is one of the only times during a Shenzhen summer day that is semi-tolerable for being physically active). Each morning, I am amazed by the number and array of people who fill the park, occupying the planned sections to cultivate their own sense of connection with nature.

Enjoying a peaceful moment before a demanding workday.

One of many groups in the park practicing meditative movement.

I shuffle alongside many other runners/walkers/yoggers as we move around the path, circling the perimeter. It’s hard to not get lured in by all of the other side paths and outlets of activity I see as I pass by: people playing badminton around a temple; a group of color coordinated women practicing dance; and many clusters of people practicing meditative movement.

Team of ladies practicing their choreography.

One of many groups in the park practicing meditative movement.

Despite my first (Western-oriented) impression of this park being a manicured and superimposed reality of nature, I now realize and observe people finding authentic connections to this form of nature and the people they share the space with.

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