Our PhD students

Our PhD students

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Abeeha Awan


Architecture Assembly: Mobilizing a Community through Gamification

Architectural employment from 2019 to 2029 is projected to grow a mere 1 percent, significantly below average compared to other occupations. A higher professional barrier of entry, generally poor work/life balance, and greater educational commitments have reduced interest in an increasingly necessary field. Furthermore, the resources available to architects are generally highly specialized for specific tasks performed on the professional level such as drafting and modeling. Many come with their own user interface and sometimes even programming languages to master and learn in order to operate them at full capacity. AR programs and applications in the professional sphere are similarly limited in scope and generally encompass basic background integration. Due to the long development time and relatively new nature of the technology, AR games for the most part exemplify their augmented nature with limited functionality, projecting basic interactive images on real world objects. Finally, very few educational resources exist as encouraging gateways for curious new learners, and the few that are remain focused more on theory rather than entertainment. In summation, these exciting new technologies and tools have a high barrier of entry and compounded with the steep learning curve of the architectural process gatekeeps individuals from entering the profession. Despite these conditions, there is a significant potential for architecture to contribute to a greater understanding of childhood development as well as inspiring an in-demand future labor supply. The field of Children’s Architecture Education, though relatively young and lacking much in terms of research, shows a promising solution to architecture’s work force issues by inspiring and incentivizing a younger generation of architects and designers.
In this light, the goal of this thesis is to build an architectural game utilizing augmented reality, virtual reality, and gamification with the primary goal of increasing interest in the field of architecture. Tertiary goals and applications of the project also include but are not limited to interactive art installations, immersive augmented reality/virtual reality events, and as a professional and educational tool. The project hopes to develop an architectural AR toolbox: a kit designed to inspire the next generations of architects through gamified principles and game design. The challenge the thesis hopes to meet and to overcome is the perception of architecture as inaccessible and out of reach instead of everyday and extraordinary. In the process of meeting this challenge, the thesis aspires to create a way of enjoying and inspiring architecture into the masses, building communities and creations.
The project hopes to explore these ideas: of getting lost and finding yourself, of breaking free from the routine and meeting new people you wouldn’t have met before, as well as imprinting a love of history and architecture in the average person and teaching people about the city they live in through the secrets hiding in plain sight. In doing so, the discoveries and innovations made during development may serve the greater good by advancing greater applications of newly emerging technologies, providing a new, accessible, invaluable tool for architects, and creating a means for both layperson and professional alike to engage in interactive, educational experiences that encourage socialization and exploration.


Chen Xiaohan

Mapping Architectural Criticism in China

Architectural criticism in the early stage of the People’s Republic of China: Based on the documents from People’s Daily and Architectural Journal in 1950s

At the early stage when the People’s Republic of China was found, the Chinese architecture field has reached a peak moment in which the discussion of “National style,” “Socialist new style” and a radical ideological transformation happened. Besides, the subject of “Architectural criticism” is an area that has not been fully developed or given particular attention in China. For the moment, historical research on Chinese architectural criticism is still limited to some pioneering studies, and also the number of Chinese architecture scholars whose topic is relevant to Chinese architectural criticism is minimal. In this case, this research focuses on the architectural history and criticism in the first decade after the founding of new China, that aims to undertake a first step toward the construction of a historical overview of architectural criticism in the period between 1949-1966. (From the founding of new China to the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.)
After a preliminary analysis of general questions about the history of architectural criticism as well as the pilot research and selection of architectural and social publications. The research was decided to conduct mainly based on the analysis of architecture debates/articles/discourses and keywords that appeared in Architectural Journal —- the authority professional architectural publication in the 1950s and People’s Daily — the mainstream social media in 1950s. Through the identification of the key themes that were considered in parallel by the two publications, this resulted in outlets to construct the knowledge framework of Chinese architectural criticism in the 1950s.


Chitraj Bissoonauth


The Distinction between Epistemic and Pragmatic Actions in Digital Design Toolmaking

Language use, tool use and tool making are often-cited capabilities that set us humans apart from other animals. Accordingly, the activities of tool use in design and tool making for design are inextricably related to how we see ourselves. This PhD project investigates these activities by testing related theory. In particular, it tests a previously established distinction between pragmatic and epistemic kinds of action.
In a seminal 1994 article entitled On Distinguishing Epistemic from Pragmatic Action, David Kirsh and Paul Maglio reject linear models of planning and execution in favour of a non-linear theory that recognises the purpose of some actions as epistemic (as opposed to pragmatic) and, in this way, as a part of planning rather than execution. Kirsh and Maglio derive their findings empirically in the context of closed-ended problem-solving.
This study tests Kirsh and Maglio’s distinction between epistemic and pragmatic action in the context of open-ended problems, i.e. designing. A small sample of designers will be observed individually while completing a design task in the area of architectural geometry rationalisation. The study employs concurrent video protocol analysis to test if epistemic and pragmatic actions occur separately in the open-ended context of digital design toolmaking. Findings generated from this investigation are expected to inform academic research into digital design toolmaking as well as in architectural design practice, both informing and offering insights into an emerging industrial specialism.


Daniela Pico Perez


Landscape Architecture between Identity, Place and Memory: Design Strategies for Recovering Obsolete Productive Spaces in Shanghai, China.

The research focuses on urban regeneration strategies for recycling and reuse of obsolete productive spaces identified as “residuals”. The accelerated transformation of contemporary cities, especially in China, is producing changes in physical and cultural landscapes, generating complex relations between architecture and habitat. Residuals represent traces of social activities, although they are in a fragile and unfinished state. They offer opportunities for innovative design solutions that enable new sustainable forms of living. The research aims to analyse relevant academic discourse and case studies generated in the milieu of residuals regeneration with a landscape approach. Finally, aiming to bridge the gap between the theoretical discourse and the design practice by developing a set of possible actions and design strategies as a support tool in the design of future interventions in the context of China.


Deyan Quan


A Parametric Form Language for Fibre Reinforced Concrete Prefabricated Façade Elements Using 3D Printed Formwork

Recent advances in digital design tools and fabrication technology increasingly allow digital design practice and construction to outgrow small scale experimental prototype modelling. New possibilities in the manufacturing of full-scale architectural elements in turn require new approaches to digitally supported design that take into account material research. While previous studies have been focusing on specific fabrication techniques to expand the design space to include more geometric flexibility, additional considerations such as structural and environmental performance as well as cost efficiency have only recently gained importance within academic research. The proposed study focuses on the development of a parametric form language for prefabricated façade elements employing fibre reinforced concrete and 3D printing construction technologies. The form language will respond to construction requirements, environmental impact considerations and structural performance. Anticipated outcomes of the study include a parametric form language, physical prototypes, a system for assembling components and a structural performance database of digitally designed prefabricated elements. With its focus on cross-disciplinary research including sustainable construction, prefabrication and 3D printing, it also parallels the Chinese Government’s emphasis and encouragement of research related to digital tools use in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry.


Farkhondeh Vahdati


Holographic Construction in Circular Design

This project investigates holographic construction support for a structural digital model made from timber. Potential outcomes include a holographic construction framework tailored for circular design principles and a specific Augmented Reality (AR, henceforth) interface introducing Design for Disassembly (DfD) during the early design process. The project’s objective is to explore ways to construct by augmenting the physical world and digital data, with the main agenda of how these construction techniques can be incorporated into early design stages in Circular Design. With this in mind, this Ph.D. project serves as a point of departure to insert adaptation of CE in architecture design to the preliminary stage of the design phase.

Keywords: Holographic Construction, Augmented Reality, Circular Design, Digital Design Cognition, Design for Disassembly


Fatemeh Taherysayah


Strategies for integrating empirical approaches to embodied cognition into architectural design processes

Embedded in a cross-disciplinary research project, involving researchers from architecture, computer science and psychology, the PhD research aims at developing strategies for the integration of empirical approaches to embodied cognition into architectural design processes. The research seeks to advance the discourse on embodied cognition in architectural environments from within design research. It will contribute to a human-centered approach to architectural design and the related discourse on embodied cognition that has been initiated by architectural phenomenology but so far has been primarily a dialogue between theorists and scientists. The methodology will involve quantitative and qualitative methods to test and evaluate the suitability of recent technology, i.e., biosensors, eye tracking devices, and body-worn cameras, to measure human responses to architectural contexts, comparing built environments with virtual environments and physical models as typically employed in architectural design processes.

Keywords: Architecture, Design Research, Architectural Psychology, Environmental Psychology, Phenomenology, HCI


Guillermo Sánchez Sotés


Architectural Devices as Catalysts for Urban Transformation

This project examines the adoptions of natural-scientific terminology in architectural theory. Examples of such adoptions include catalysis, growth, development, evolution, metabolism, symbiosis, and autopoiesis. With a focus on the adoption of the term autopoiesis, this examination is contextualised in, and illustrated with urban Chinese processes (specifically in Suzhou Industrial Park).
Even though the connections between science and architectural fields are known sources of knowledge and insights within the design domain, we observed that the different ways of appropriating natural-scientific theories show glimpses of uncertainty. How are natural-scientific theories relevant and productive in describing/understanding the city? How shall architectural/design researchers – especially those who are aiming for clarity and precision – discern between adoptions of natural-scientific terminology that are rigorous, those that are informal, those made in ignorance of the difference, and those aiming to muddy the water between them (trying, for example, to give designedly musings an air of natural-scientific rigour and authority)?
To this end, the analysis of discourses developed on this study considers several “literary devices” by which concepts can be adopted and re-applied. The use of the term autopoiesis is tested against each of these literary devices by way of: a) inference to the best explanation based on close reading and, b) urban observation.


Manju Bala


Role of Public Spaces in Sustainable Tourism – A Study of Public Spaces in Dubai

The travel and tourism industry across several countries has emerged as a growth engine with far reaching implications for diverse sectors of the economy. This trend has resulted in an ongoing debate on sustainability in the tourism industry. The bedrock for tourism in general and sustainable tourism, is to plan and utilize high quality public places. The research setting is Dubai as the UAE authorities have factored international tourism to be one of key drivers of the economy. The Government has increased spending on infrastructure and marketing, factors that warrant the present study. Despite the thrust and growth in tourism, UAE currently does not offer a full time PhD program for architects. The present research attempts to examine the sustainable policy initiatives on tourism. It will examine the urban policies on interior and exterior public spaces, the institutional mechanisms responsible for execution, sustainable tourism practices, user engagement, perceptions and satisfaction. The study is exploratory in nature and would adopt the mixed methods approach – qualitative, quantitative and place making methods.


Mengfan Jin


Large-Scale and Rapid Energy Modelling of Buildings

Energy modelling of existing buildings has a number of applications, which include energy efficiency and sustainability diagnosis, assessment and certification, retrofit design, development and configuration of advanced control systems, smart city and smart grid applications, building stock simulation to inform policy making. This project aims at the investigation of large-scale rapid energy modelling, and at the development of innovative methodologies to combine the potential of drones, 3D photo-modelling, thermal imaging and GIS (geographic information system). Due to its multidisciplinary nature, the research will be carried out in collaboration between the departments of Architecture and Urban Planning and Design.


Qian Lin


The Living Conditions of the Elderly: A Comparative Study of Suzhou Old City and Suzhou Industrial Park

With a growing number of the elderly, ageing is becoming a critical social issue in China. The “One Child Policy” that had been pursued in the 1980s restricts the number of newborns, resulting in a 4-2-1 family structure (4 grandparents, 2 parents and 1 child). Due to rapid socio-economic development, the younger generation born in the 1980s (Millennials) tends to have a lifestyle different from their predecessors. Regardless of a choice of late marriage or Dink (Double Incomes No Kids) families, the new lifestyle leads to an increasing proportion of elderly people within the population. However, existing research works have not adequately addressed this issue to the extent that coping strategies have been systematically set out to deal with problems confronting the elderly living in any specific geographical areas. As largely Chinese elderly people prefer to age at home, the research studies the elderly living in the local communities of Suzhou by looking at their daily life and living environments. In view of the economic boom and urban development in contemporary China, the research studies the elderly living in both the old city and a newly developed area of Suzhou, with intent to identify the commonalities and differences therein. The fruit of the research is a set of design guidelines on improvement in the elderly’s life and living environments.




Actualizing Chinese Conceptions of Space: Theories and Strategies for the Design of Resonant Architecture

Art, architecture, and aesthetics developed in China largely detached from Western influence and with an emphasis on the interrelation of culture and nature, and life within, until Western science and related ideas entered China at the end of the 16th century. Since then, local traditions and theories have been gradually abandoned. However, it has recently become clear that importing western practices and conceptions is problematic. Traditional art and architecture is concerned with dynamic poetic experience as perception mode. Several Chinese architects have stressed the importance of the local traditions and design culture for the development of an architecture that responds to the necessities and desires of the people. Current Chinese architecture, however, seems to lack both a suitable theory and a suitable language to initiate dynamic poetic experiences that are intimately connected with contemporary society and local culture.
To be able to re-conceive practices for the design of an architecture that is resonant with what could be called the Chinese spirit, a better understanding of how practices relate to traditional conceptions of space in China and strategies for the design process are needed. Based on a review of traditional practices in making art in relation to Chinese conceptions of space, the PhD research will develop theories and strategies for the design of an architecture that is contemporary while resonating Chinese traditions in conceiving space.


Yang Yang


Part-time PhD in the Department of Architecture

Optimisation of Steel-Frame House Design in Rural China From the Perspective of Life Cycle and ModularisationPrefabricated housing has become a priority task in the building to reduce energy consumption and carbon emission in rural China. Modularization will assist to promote the implementation of prefabricated houses. The arising need for modular design that is influenced by life-cycle energy consumption and carbon emission in rural China is neglected. However, the modular design for rural houses has not been comprehensively optimized. This study fills in this research gap.

Yaqin Zuo


Promenade and yi bu yi jing: movement, discovery and scenery in Le Corbusier’s villa and the traditional Chinese literati garden

The forces of rapid urbanization and globalization have made homogenous, low-cost, mass-produced housing the norm in contemporary China and beyond. Architects provide the design when commissioned and base their theories and strategies on a rational logic often alien to local traditions. As such, modern high-rise housing typologies have become the norm in Asia despite originating from elsewhere, and the dwelling experience in this part of the world has been greatly affected by the development. One protagonist of experimentation with new housing formats is Le Corbusier who advocated Functionalism in the 20th century.
The aim of the research is to explore what the rational logic of modern, Western architects might have suppressed in regards to the dwelling experience associated with a given space. It is especially the possibility of aesthetic experience as part of the dwelling experience that calls for attention since particularly this aspect would appear to fall short of the scientific method underpinning Functionalism and related orientations. The yi bu yi jing in the traditional Chinese literati garden and the promenade in Le Corbusier’s villas are chosen as case studies for a parallel study of aesthetic experience as part of the dwelling experience. Questions are raised about by which architectural means aesthetic experience based on movement and change might facilitate an extended contemporary dwelling beyond the confines of the everyday. The thesis aims to explore the possibility of a contemporary concept of dwelling in China and beyond that incorporates aesthetic experience as an integral part. It further intends to broaden the discourse on dwelling as an increasingly globalised practice and intellectual challenge.


Ye Nan


Individual practice in the context of collectivism — a historical review of private architectural offices in China 1949 onwards

From its establishment to the 1950s, the People’s Republic of China gradually completed a process of Socialist transformation. All private sectors were either dismissed or reformed to fit the public-owned economic system. The practice form of private architectural design offices encountered a temporary termination. It took decades for the architectural profession to reclaim the freedom of private practice, and this happened in the 1980s after the government implemented reform and opening policies. From then on, the small-scale private practice began to flourish and multiply in number.
This research reviews the decline and revival of private architectural practices in the 1950s and the 1990s in China and reinterprets the role of architects in the design process in the context of collectivism. It examines, in Mao’s era when individualism was criticised, how the independence claimed by architects survive in the collective design system. Meanwhile, this research further reflects the so-called “independent practice” after the 1990s when China’s market economy brought back the freedom of private practice. Based on case studies on the architects and their built works, it explores the hidden restrictions to individual practice in an “open era”. Furthermore, the ideological contradiction between private and public, and between individualism and collectivism behind this scene is revealed.


Yifei Li

Part-time PhD in the Department of Architecture

Yifei Li work as an assistant researcher and lecturer in the Department of Arts, Shenzhen University after a few years architectural practice experience in Shanghai. She was awarded as the national “Guanghua Longteng Award: Top Ten Outstanding Youth in Interior Design Industry” and a visiting fellow in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium.
Contextualizing Industrial Heritage Regeneration in Shenzhen: A Relational Perspective on Cultural and Spatial Production
The research explores the context of ‘cultural regeneration’ to the adaptive reuse of industrial heritage in China. It focuses on the creative redesign of the ‘industrial heritage of general level’ and the local identity. It investigates the pioneering regeneration of industrial heritage in Shenzhen driven by the grand cultural events and its dynamic constructing effect on local identity as well as industrial heritage making. The theoretical underpinning depends on the concepts of distinction and cultural production Pierre Bourdieu to interrogate the pertinent spatial practice, examining the dialectical relationship between the industrial structure transformation and urban cultural regeneration in the local context. By questioning the deindustrialization process and the cultural logic behind, the rationale of cultural production and consumption, globalization and urban regeneration would unfold.