The University of Virginia has been taking architecture students to China for 20 years.
The program was founded by Yunsheng Huang, an associate professor of architectural history, and has evolved from a cultural immersion trip to a deep study of China’s rapidly growing cities.
Shiqiao Li, Weedon Professor in Asian Architecture and co-leader of the class, said for the last three decades China has used urbanization as a key economic and social-development strategy and now the world has arrived at a historic moment in time.
“We have reached the point where the number of people who live in cities are now equal to the number of people who live in the countryside, and that’s a critical tipping point and it’s made our world an urbanized world, rather than a rural world,” he said.
China’s approach has generally worked well, but it also “produced massive problems,” Li said. “As we know, China’s problems, be they financial or pollution, are world problems. We are, so to speak, on the same boat. So without an understanding of China’s current promises and problems, it is disadvantageous for UVA students to take positive action in the future world.”
This summer, the program adds a new stop in Guangzhou, China’s third-largest city. Also known as Canton, it is home to some of the country’s so-called “Ghost Cities,” vast communities built in a frenzy of economic development, but largely uninhabited today.