University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Dijia Chen

PhD Candidate, School of Architecture


The Sino-German Exhibitionary Complex: Constructing Contemporary Chinese Architecture in Transnational Communication

My dissertation aims to interrogate the widely accepted notion of “contemporary Chinese architecture (dangdai zhongguo jianzhu)” by tracing the origins of its discursive construct through a set of early-twenty-first-century Germany-based architectural exhibitions that effectively instigated the recognition of the previously marginalized independent Chinese architects both at home and abroad. The discursive demarcation indicated by “contemporary Chinese architecture”, as is prevalently exemplified in present architectural criticism, “qualifies” the practices of a fixed group of around ten to twenty independent architects while excluding the vast and diverse practices happening in China. My dissertation seeks to deconstruct this widely acknowledged notion by returning to its formative processes triggered and implemented by a set of key Chinese architectural exhibitions in Germany between 2000 and 2010, for they united and established the geographically-scattered, loosely-connected independent Chinese architects as a cohesive group, in place of the state-owned design institutes, to embody contemporary China on the world arena.

Through a close study of the Germany-based exhibitions, I hope to explicate three core tensions of contemporary Chinese architecture that are either neutralized, concealed or distorted by the discursive construct of transnational exhibitions: the vibrant struggle between state-sponsored architectural profession and the emerging individualized architectural practices, the identity formation of Chinese architects across East/West cultural borders, as well as the gap between visually-oriented imagery representations and physical buildings. Towards this end, I propose the following overarching question of this dissertation:

How and through what institutional intentions and curatorial narratives were contemporary Chinese architecture selected, marshalled and presented in this transnational realm of cultural exchange, and what do these processes inform us of the status of architectural production in China during the early twenty-first century, both as idea and practice?


Dijia is a fourth-year doctoral student in the Constructed Environment program at the UVA School of Architecture. Her research work lands at the intersection of curatorial studies, transcultural communication studies, and contemporary Chinese architecture, and critically examines Third-World architectural production as a mediated cultural phenomenon in global knowledge exchange under asymmetrical power dynamics.