China's design institutes : unsung heroes in promoting transnational architecture in the Global South

Research output: Chapters, Conference Papers, Creative and Literary WorksRGC 32 - Refereed conference paper (with host publication)peer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication6th International Meeting Edinburgh College of Art
Subtitle of host publicationPROGRAMME AND ABSTRACTS
EditorsRichard Anderson
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
PublisherUniversity of Edinburgh
ISBN (Print)978-1-912669-39-4
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


Title6th International Meeting of the European Architectural History Network, EAHN2021
PlaceUnited Kingdom
Period2 - 5 June 2021


Transnational or say, cross-border, architectural design became obvious and prevailing after World War II. The transnational design and planning were practiced in the armature of design consultancy, helping reconstruction and foreign-aid. Famous examples are seen in those projects like Le Corbusier’s works in India, British architects’ ‘tropical modernism’ works in its (former) colonies. Although not white, Japanese architects’ works in the Middle East and Southeast Asia can be seen as the same category. These works effectively met the desires of modernization and nation-building in those newly independent countries. They powerfully disseminated the ideas of modern architecture and have authoritatively occupied the pages on modern architectural history.

Parallel to the ‘main stream’ dissemination of modern architecture in the world, Chinese architects imported their design to the developing countries since the late 1950s. China began its journey of foreign aid from the 1950s including constructing parliament houses, stadiums, theatres, schools, hospitals, factories and infrastructures, first in Asia, then Africa, the Oceania and Latin America. Up to now, China has delivered more than 1,000 buildings in more than 150 countries. Although motivated by diplomatic manoeuvre, they embodied China’s responsibilities in the international society, alleviated social problems and served local society. Technically, they are the extension of modern Chinese architecture during its evolution of the past 60 years. China learnt from the western experiences of modernist architecture, digested in domestic practice and promoted to the developing world with adaptive technologies. They bear the fruits of cultural and technical exchanges between donor and recipient countries. Together with other means of foreign aid, buildings and constructions in Asia and Africa in the 1960s-1970s are prelude to today’s One Belt One Road initiative.

The Chinese government and professionals have spent tremendous efforts and overcome unthinkable difficulties in constructing the aid buildings abroad. However, these buildings are largely unknown in the world and unwritten in the English literature - this pity forms huge academic gap. This paper examines the typical construction aid projects delivered by the Chinese government, design institutes and professionals to the developing countries during Mao’s era (1958-1976). The unreasonable high percentage of expenditure in construction aid might burden the life of ordinary people, however, they gave Chinese architects rare opportunities to practice modernism in overseas environment. The strength of state’s technical forces and wisdom of designers are crystallized in conference halls, factories and stadiums built in Asia and Africa. They in-turn informed the similar designs in China and abroad.

In terms of authorship, there are some prominent figures like Gong Desun, who designed buildings in Mongolia and Dai Nianchi, who designed buildings in Sri Lanka in the 1960s. They are the second generation of Chinese architects. However, their intellectual wisdom is more displayed through the socialist system of ‘design institute’, which represent the will of state and government. These Chinese architects are the unsung heroes in promoting the transnational architecture in the developing countries.

The author has investigated the cases through extensive study at home and abroad. The key designers and constructors were interviewed, archives were read and site surveyed. The paper is hoped to fill the academic gap of transnational architecture beyond Europe and North America in the Cold War, and enrich our understanding of Asian and African architecture.

Bibliographic Note

Research Unit(s) information for this publication is provided by the author(s) concerned.

Citation Format(s)

China's design institutes: unsung heroes in promoting transnational architecture in the Global South. / Xue, Charlie Qiuli.
6th International Meeting Edinburgh College of Art: PROGRAMME AND ABSTRACTS. ed. / Richard Anderson. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, 2021. p. 110-111.

Research output: Chapters, Conference Papers, Creative and Literary WorksRGC 32 - Refereed conference paper (with host publication)peer-review