Dissenters Unfettered: "TUMU" and the Making of Contemporary Chinese Architecture in the Exhibitionary Contact Zone

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0002-1507-6206
Chen, Dijia, Constructed Environment - School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Li, Shiqiao, AR-Architecture, University of Virginia
Crane, Sheila, AR-Architectural History, University of Virginia
Last, Nana, AR-Architecture, University of Virginia
Ali, Christopher, Communication, The Pennsylvania State University

This dissertation contests the default discourse on contemporary Chinese architecture by tracing its exhibitionary “origins” from the late 1990s and the early 2000s. Framing architectural culture through the lens of media, my analysis revolves around the Berlin-based exhibition “TUMU: Young Architecture of China”, the overseas debut of the emerging independent Chinese architects. The exhibition not only marked a pivotal moment in the surfacing of the previously marginalized experimental Chinese architects, both domestically and internationally, but was also entangled with a series of fundamental transformations in China’s architecture community which ultimately shaped the image and reality of the accepted perception on contemporary Chinese architecture till today. This dissertation explores how the concepts of "contemporary" and "Chinese" were constructed within transcultural narratives. It investigates the evolution of a once marginal and loosely connected group of architectural dissents who eventually emerged as the new orthodoxies.
Towards this end, this dissertation mobilizes the contact zone theory to study temporary exhibitions as sites of transcultural contestation and negotiation within a fixed time and space, locating “TUMU” in a constellation of related events, processes, and changes. Looking into the transnational exchange of information centered around exhibitions, the misinterpretation and decontextualization of architecture through imageries, and the varied intentions of the real estate markets, cultural institutions, and academia, this dissertation proposes the concept of the “TUMU era” of contemporary Chinese architecture. It highlights an epoch characterized by the intricate interplay of transnational, mediated exchanges, misinterpretations, with undefined purposes and rooted in a web of contingencies and evolving cultural dynamics. Illuminating a case of Third-world modernity where foreign invasion, rather than direct colonization, profoundly influences collective cultural consciousness regarding notions of self and other, this dissertation also presents a methodology rooted in media theories that examines the intricacies of contemporary identities amidst misrepresentations.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Contemporary Chinese Architecture, Contact Zone, Identity Politics, Architectural Exhibitions, Cultural Exchange
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