CAA-DI Internship 2018

In December 2017, the Hammons School of Architecture sent two of its students, Christian Holzer and Hunter Brauer, to Hangzhou, China to participate in a 4-week internship with a local architecture firm. The firm, China Academy of Art Design Institute (CAA-DI), is associated with the China Academy of Art (CAA), one of the country’s most prestigious art and design schools. HSA’s visiting practitioner in residence and assistant professor Yong Huang accompanied the students. Together they worked on designs for the central business district and a lakeside park for Jinhua, a city located about 115 miles south of Hangzhou.

Because of CAA-DI’s institutional character, the students were at liberty to approach these projects from an academic perspective. They were given the opportunity to research and explore ideas and designs through a variety of lenses, taking advantage of their liberal arts education. Huang recalls the team reminding the local architects how beautiful their natural and cultural environment is. “[W]e paid more attention to the public spaces and the way people live…we showed them something new about their daily life.” This independent thinking provided meaningful designs and impressed the Chinese hosts, including Jinhua’s mayor and city officials.

Prof. Huang and the students, as both researchers and visitors, traveled on their days off to cities and villages near Hangzhou. Wuzhen, a historic town that sits along the Jinghang Canal and a UNESCO World Heritage site, was a highlight for both students. Holzer remembers, “[W]hen we were there it was not crowded at all. It was a nice contrast to the very large city that Hangzhou is.” “We rode on an ancient rowboat…and explored the historic and well-preserved city,” Brauer recalls, remembering this as one of their more culturally significant experiences.

Photo by: Christian Holzer

Another memorable visit was a tour of the CAA itself, especially the parts of the campus designed by Wang Shu, dean of CAA’s architecture department and 2012 recipient of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize. The tour was particularly meaningful for Brauer. “…I now have a much greater understanding of critical regionalism and the importance of place in design. …[I]t is clear what [Wang Shu’s] intentions were in relation to the history and context of his projects in contemporary China, something that is completely neglected throughout the radically industrialized megacities that we have visited.” 

The time spent in China expanded the Drury team’s understanding of architecture’s importance and its embedding in local and regional communities and cultures. It further caused them to reconsider and challenge conventional understandings of architecture’s place and role in the American context. Holzer’s final takeaways? “I knew going into this experience that China would give me a big culture shock, but I don’t think there was any way that I could have fully prepared myself. The people are gracious and hospitable, the culture is beautiful, and the city was gorgeous. Altogether, it was such an interesting experience with many memories that I will never forget!”