A world-leading exhibition in Europe is providing the stage for students at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University to dream big and create futuristic living spaces, exploring the theme of courtyard gardens.

XJTLU was the sole educational institution chosen to include work in the China Pavilion of the prestigious Venice Architecture Biennale 2021 titled ‘How will we live together?’ and open from 22 May to 21 November this year in Venice, Italy.

“Given that our international University’s home city of Suzhou, China, has an unparalleled collection of historic ‘Yuan’er’ courtyard gardens, it is fitting that our students have been invited to share futuristic work drawing on their concept,” says Richard Hay, Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture in XJTLU’s Design School.

(Student work, Xiangli Liu)

Hay, the coordinator and curator of XJTLU’s work at the Venice Architecture Biennale, describes the event as an opportunity for architects and designers from all over the world to present and showcase their work –either built, unbuilt or theoretical – in a mixture of physical and immersive digital experiences.

“This is a unique chance for architecture, industrial design and other XJTLU students to showcase their talents and let the international community know who we are,” Hay said, “I’m really pleased with the great support and response from our students and tutors.”

“As the focus is on the future in identifying how we will live together, it is appropriate and important that the creative skills of our current students are given this opportunity to be displayed. Many of these students today will become tomorrow’s architects and designers.”

(Student work, Ruqing Lyu)

In 2018, the exhibition attracted leading architects from over 60 countries and 275,000 visitors. In 2021, 114 designers and architecture firms from around the globe are set to showcase their work.

The Venice Architecture Biennale, which was established in 1980, is organised by the Venice Biennale, which began with an international art exhibition in 1895 and now holds world-renowned international exhibitions in the areas of theatre, dance, music, and cinema along with architecture, Hay says.

“We are honoured to be part of this famous set of exhibitions and world-leading festivals held in Venice. Over the years, they have included work from such famous artists as Renoir and Picasso,” Hay says.

(Student work, Chenjia Ren)

Various countries from around the world will display projects in pavilions in Venice’s Giardini and Arsenale. Projects in the China Pavilion, including the XJTLU students’ work, will explore the “Yuan’er” theme.

Yuan’ers are China’s courtyards that date back centuries and are world-renowned both as places of beauty and reservoirs of cultural meaning, Hay says.

“The Yuan’er theme fits under the overall Venice Architecture Biennale’s theme of ‘How will we live together?’ in which architects are asked to consider how people with different viewpoints and from different economic strata can harmoniously co-exist,” he says.

Dr Yiping Dong, also of XJTLU’s Department of Architecture, explains that Yuan’er courtyards were designed in a way that represented social status and how people lived and interacted.

“Yuan’er, as a spatial prototype historically, varies from small residential units to the large-scale Forbidden City palace. It represented the social relations and the lifestyle under Confucian philosophy,” she says.

“The classical garden is a particular type of Yuan’er and is the manifestation of the Chinese literatis’ pursuit of the connection to nature in their lives.”

(Student work, Yiming Yu)

Hay adds that the concept of these courtyard gardens, around which cities were built, provides students with the opportunity to create provocative digital images of newly imagined courtyards.

“The ‘Yuan-er,’ a specific courtyard typology in China, is the generator to all traditional Chinese cities, including XJTLU’s home city of Suzhou,” Hay says.

“The sense of place through the ‘Yuan-er’ is open to interpretational imagery. It presents a great opportunity for reinterpretation and innovation in exploring its possible futures,” he says.

Students’ digital images of futuristic courtyards are displayed on iPads which move above Chinese architects’ work in the China Pavilion to form a “digital cloud” exhibition.

“This is storytelling about futuristic courtyards through a collective digital experience and a collective exhibition with multiple possibilities,” Hay says.

“Participating in this international event will be hugely beneficial to increasing students’ academic insight as well as broadening their international outlook.”

“The exhibition makes a great contribution to education. In 2018, 160 universities and 5,730 university students were involved in in showcased projects.”


By Yi Qian

Edited by Tamara Kaup

Photos provided by Department of Architecture

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