College of Architecture's China Program opens door to important global market

College of Architecture's China Program opens door to important global market

By Kathe Andersen

June 24, 2015

China Study Abroad Program

Professor of Architecture Mark Hoistad sees working in China as a necessity for the College of Architecture.

"My interest in going there is that in the larger scheme of our global concern, China is the front line for dealing with global climate change and global warming. It is the greatest contributor to carbon emissions into the atmosphere these days," he said. "Architecture, as a profession, is one of the fields that has the greatest opportunity to make the biggest impact on that."

Hoistad has been traveling regularly to China and runs the College of Architecture's Killinger China Program, which has sent students over for full semesters and shorter three-week terms.

The program is supported by Alumnus Scott Killinger, a principal architect at Kuang Xing International in Beijing, China, and Flourtown, Pennsylvania.

"He had started a firm in China with a Chinese partner and indicated an interest in helping to support us going to China, so he opened the door for us," Hoistad said.

Hoistad has built a network of people with three Chinese universities— Xi'An Jiaotong University in Xi'An, Chongqing University in Chongqing and Tianjin University in Tianjin and has done work with professional firms in Shanghai, Beijing and Xi'An.

"In going there, it's been an exercise in talking about and exploring the possibilities of developing urbanism there, which is rapidly occurring there, in ways that are more sustainable than the models that have been used in the past," Hoistad said.

One of the first projects students in the Killinger China Program participated in was to look at ways to get people who lived in rural areas to want to stay put instead of migrating to the cities. Hoistad said the first concern was making sure the people could earn a fair, living wage.

"Agricultural economies in China are very dispersed," he said. "They still operate in small plot farming. In many cases, they're still using animals to plow the fields. That diversified economy makes it difficult to raise the standard of living."

The strategy they employed was to examine the food delivery system.

"There's growing food. There's processing food. And there is the shipping of the food to the table," Hoistad said. "So we speculated that what if we were to move the processing of food from the city to the rural area, so it was closer to where it was actually grown."

Another project looked at the concern about the loss of heritage and architecture within Chinese cities.

"They were going about a process of kind of erasing and replacing the urban landscape," Hoistad said. "So wholesale sections of the city were being destroyed and then replaced with new architecture."

Students looked at plans in which several listed buildings would be integrated with new construction.

"We wanted to see how we could explore, instead of a complete erasure process, a more selective process of removal and insertion of development so that these could have a greater legacy within the context of what was left," he said.

Another project looked at social circumstance. More recently, the government has desired a significant migration into the cities to build the middle class.

"They understand they have pretty much saturated the global market with what they can export," he said. "And so the only way to continue to grow is to build the middle class. This means growing a consumer-based society, which is not necessarily the best idea, but it is the one they are pursuing."

Hoistad said the government has a plan that has more people than the entire population of the U.S. migrating to the cities over the next 15 years.

"So you can imagine that's a pretty dramatic migration," he said. "You have to figure out where these people are going to live."

In addition, they have an aging population.

"They instituted the one-child policy. What starts to happen, you have a couple getting married, and they have two parents or four grandparents, so you have this inverted tree of a lot of elderly people with the weight of the world being placed on one child's shoulders," he said. "This has created a strange circumstance culturally for the extended house model of historic China to one now where children are more mobile in looking for employment opportunities and not necessarily staying put in the area they were from."

Students looked at mixed housing ideas that would consider how elderly housing and affordable housing could be integrated into a community. And they also had to consider the growing of food.

"The strategy that is now beginning to be considered globally is to integrate urban agriculture within the context of cities, so we did a project in which students were required to grow enough vegetables to support the needs of the population within that area," Hoistad said.

In addition Hoistad has completed his own research projects in conjunction with firms in China and with faculty at the universities. Some of his own projects have included transforming drainage canals into something no longer channelized that also adds to the aesthetic quality of the environment and creating a constructive wetlands area in a mountain village west of Xi'An that includes walking trails, exercise stations and community gathering.

"We're concerned about the environment. We're concerned about preserving culture. We're concerned about public health," Hoistad said.

For students, it's a life-changing experience, Hoistad said.

"It is a dramatically different cultural experience," he said. "They take a couple of days just to get their feet on the ground as part of that experience. Since we're associated with universities, they are always working with Chinese students and faculty. They're not just over there as tourists; they're over there as students."

It's an important global market for architecture, and UNL's program in China is unique.

"For the students, probably 50 percent of all the work in the globe is going to happen in Asia over the next several decades," Hoistad said. "As practices have become more and more global, it is likely they will work in firms that are going to do work in China. Having this experience behind them positions them well to be able to secure employment within that. We're the only university that I know of that has a semester-long, study-abroad program in China.

For Hoistad, this is important work for the field of architecture.

"For me personally, I'm deeply concerned about global warming. Knowing where the carbon is generated is there and knowing that architects can have a direct and immediate impact on curtailing that through their efforts and the work they design. You go where the battle is being fought," he said. "Everyone on the planet has done their bit to add carbon to the atmosphere. There's a difficult balance always between facilitating economic growth to allow people to have a better standard of living and the consumption of energy and the industrialized process. There are different ways you can go about settling it that don't create endless commuting, that don't create polluting environments, that look at alternatives to reduce or replace those things that cause the environment to be in the state that it's in at the moment. So lending, pitching in, educating the up and coming professionals in China, makes me feel more confident that the problem can be addressed."