Rehabilitating Built Heritage at Tongji Summer School

During the second half of 2018 the Tongji University College of Architecture and Urban Planning ran an international design summer school focusing on Architectural History and Conservation, specifically rehabilitating built heritage in the water town of Nanxun. The Melbourne School of Design sponsored Master of Urban and Cultural Heritage students Gloryrose Dy and Paula Yanez Espinosa to attend.

Nanxun water town - canals

What attracted you to the Tongji Summer School?

Paula Yanez Espinosa: Tongji was an opportunity to learn by doing. Built heritage is becoming a cultural asset to promote sustainable development based on the conservation of local identity. The summer school was an opportunity to develop ideas stemming from a deep understanding of context and culture. I knew working on site to rehabilitate a heritage area alongside both Chinese and international professors and students would be a really valuable experience.

Gloryrose Dy: As I read the summer school brief, I realised how exciting it would be to implement the knowledge I’ve acquired in a hands-on experience context. It was also a chance for me to get to know heritage architecture practitioners and students in China and other parts of the world.

Paula Yanez Espinosa (L) & Gloryrose Dy (R)

What were your highlights from the trip?

GD: The best part of the trip was meeting new people and experiencing a new culture. I’ve never been to China but I’m aware that the Philippines has a lot of Chinese influence given our geographical location. That is why I was so excited to go on this trip in the first place.

PYE: We spent most of our time on site observing the environment, assessing built heritage, talking with locals and understanding context. It was fundamental to understand the needs of the locals according to their lifestyle and culture. These intangible components were integral in proposing a suitable program involving the adaptive reuse of the built heritage.

Can you elaborate on the competition component?

PYE: I worked with two Chinese Master students on a site called Family Zhang's Courtyard - ‘One Hundred Rooms’ that included around 20 different historic buildings. The design results of the summer school were submitted in the 'Taihu Cultural Heritage Competition' run by the local government of Nanxun. My team got the second prize. Our proposal was a Calligraphy hub.

GD: To create a good submission, we had to revise our designs from the summer school away from each other, me in Melbourne and my team mates in Shanghai. This experience taught me that I could collaborate more and that it’s not hard to collaborate with other designers from around the world. My team won third place in the competition.


Do you have any advice for students who may be considering an opportunity like this?

GD: Have an eagerness in every possible way to take opportunities that the school offers. And have fun!  There is so much to learn from living outside your comfort zone and meeting and collaborating with new people.

PYE: Encourage yourself to take opportunities like this. Universities are excellent platforms to participate in experiences that could define your professional profile. In my previous academic years, I participated in several international workshops in Chile, Brazil, Italy and Switzerland and I would say that those experiences were fundamental in clarifying my interests and reinforcing my vocation.

Baijianlou surrounding waterscapes

What sparked your interest in studying urban and cultural heritage?

PYE: During my short professional career, I’ve realised that culture is a key factor in understanding what heritage means. I realise how important and complex it is to understand heritage environs, which can involve a comprehension of values related to the past, current uses and needs as well as sustainable projections. In this context, I’m understanding that new architecture in heritage contexts involves not only restoration and preservation of historic monuments and site but also ranges of significance, including architectural, social, historic and technological values of a place. This value-based approach involves intangible aspects of the buildings’ context such as traditions, practices, techniques and processes, as key aspects of the rehabilitation of changing urban environments. In my opinion, urban and cultural heritage is the approach required to face architectural projects in a heritage context.

GD: I have always been very passionate about advocating cultural heritage, specifically the indigenous architecture of my country, the Philippines. The architecture of the Philippines has always come from different colonial influences but the country has never championed its own indigenous culture. That is why I founded my own firm, Swito Design, an interior and architecture design company specialising in Filipino indigenous architecture. However, I needed an academic backbone to further my practice as an architect championing cultural heritage. The Philippines is very diverse; the heritage cannot be encapsulated in one building or one zone. Rather, it is a cultural landscape. That is why, apart from the specificity of cultural heritage to buildings, I was also interested in the larger picture of heritage in the urban space. The Masters in Urban and Cultural Heritage was the only masters on heritage that had these two focuses, micro and macro.

Bainjanlou - surrounding waterscapes #3

What has been your favourite subject/ aspect of the course?

GD: My favorite class would be Conservation of East Asia with Professor Qinghua Guo because it was looking at something close to my heart. Even if the class was focused on East Asia, a lot of examples resonate to South East Asia as well. It also strengthened my critical analysis in a very fun way.

PYE: The multicultural and global approach of the whole program. I shared classes with other architects from different backgrounds, historians, landscape architects, urban planners and cultural managers so the possibility to work interdisciplinary during the master has been my favourite aspect since this experience was very close to the real-life work environment.

(Images courtesy of Paula Yanez Espinosa)

Tongji Lecture

The Melbourne School of Design’s continues its strong relationship with Tongji University’s College of Architecture and Urban Planning with Professor Julie Willis, Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning visiting in March 2019. Dean Willis lectured on the ‘International Development of the Modern Hospital’, a topic of particular interest to her, having co-authored ‘Architecture and the Modern Hospital’. The Dean met with her counterpart, spoke with students and is looking forward to returning in the near future.

Interested in studying the Master of Urban and Cultural Heritage?
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