Zhu Bin was the first Chinese student to be accepted into the University of Pennsylvania’s architecture school when he was enrolled in 1918. Twenty-two more students from China would travel to Penn to study architecture over the next two decades, forming a group known as the “first generation” of architects, who would create China’s first modern architectural businesses and educational institutions.
The “Building in China: A Century of Dialogues on Modern Architecture” exhibition, which celebrates the interchange between Penn and China, emphasizes the work of the first generation of Chinese architects and how they impacted modern architecture in China. From now until April 22, the two-part show will be on display in the reading room of the Fisher Fine Arts Library, and from May 16 to June 16, it will be on display at the Architectural Archives.
The Beginnings Of A Discourse That Has Lasted 100 Years
When Zhongjie Lin, an associate professor of City and Regional Planning at Penn State University and one of the exhibition’s organizers, received a grant from Penn Global’s China Research and Engagement Fund more than two years ago, she started planning for the show. Even though Lin’s previous work included a variety of research on modern architecture and urbanism in East Asia and that he was involved in several events on China through the Penn Wharton China Center, Lin wished to host an exhibition on Penn’s campus that would demonstrate the University’s history of engaging with and educating Chinese students.
“Building in China,” according to Lin, has as one of its objectives the framing of the relationship between Penn and China as a 100-year conversation. According to Lin, “we are interested in seeing what the current generation of Chinese architects acquire from the past generations: where there is continuity and where there has been transformation” across several generations of Chinese architects.
According to Lin, in this first generation of Chinese students at Penn, the university that trained the most significant number of architectural students from China in the early twentieth century served as a jumping-off point for the whole endeavor. The professor describes the graduates as “really smart” since they “created the first architectural institutions and programs in China, dedicated to preserving cultural heritage, and formed some of China’s first independent design businesses.”
As explained by Nancy Steinhardt, a professor of East Asian art at the University of Michigan, previous to the twentieth century, building-related choices in China were decided at the state level by local or national government agencies, and the concept of architectural design “didn’t exist” at the time. In response to the Boxer Rebellion, the United States established the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship, insisting that a part of wartime reparations be used to modernize the nation rather than for wartime reparations itself.
Additionally, in addition to establishing an English language preparatory school and a college in Beijing known as Tsinghua, the scholarship program opened up admissions to American colleges for Chinese students in various fields, including architectural studies.