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Architectural Democracy in China

This year was the year of tour lectures of the research of "Architectural Democracy". This research, based at Aalto University Finland, at the department of Civil Engineering and funded by the Kone Foundation, has toured on lectures and workshops in Finland, the UK, Germany, Holland, Portugal, Palestine and just recently, China.

The purpose of these events is to gather data to validate a proposed method entitled “Architectural Democracy”, to improve the evaluation of both architecture and democracy and the understanding of our cities.

The title of the workshop in China was modified from “Architectural Democracy” to “Gamified Cohousing”, which is a spin-off company of this research. The reason for doing so was to accommodate the whole discussion in a more contextualized one in China. Democracy is a very subjective term worldwide, but one that can be simplified as civic participation on decision making.

The poster of Gamified Cohousing Lecture in China

The poster of Gamified Cohousing Lecture in China

In China the current political system is a single party one, the communist party. Democracy is not a taboo topic, people talk about it openly and even my students in China wrote about it, demanding more of it. In fact, in Shanghai, in the French concession, we see the house of Ke Ling with a commemorative plate on its front. Ke was one of the founders of the China Association for Promoting Democracy (CAPD).

China Association for Promoting Democracy house of Keng Li

China Association for Promoting Democracy house of Keng Li

Lectures in Architectural Democracy, like the ones did for example at the Glasgow School of Arts in February 2018, and others scheduled for India in 2019, last for 1 hour. In China, I was fortunate to do full workshops of 3 hours each, as we did at Aalto University.

In 3 hours one can have far more detailed data gathering and discussions. In China, I did 3 workshops, two in Shanghai, at the Tongji University, at the Shanghai International Institute of Design and Innovation, framed around the Tongji Design Week 2018, (29th and 30th October 2018) and one more in Wuhan, at the Wuhan University of Technology, at the Department of Industrial Design (1st November 2018).

Day 1 of the Shanghai workshop
Day 1 of the Shanghai workshop group work

The language barriers from Chinese to English were far less than expected and communication and discussion occurred quite fluently. The organizational team in both universities were exceptionally good. But most noticeable was the way students participate and interact in the workshop, fully immersed and as if on steroids!

Day 2 of the Shanghai workshop

Day 2 of the Shanghai workshop group work

Participants of these workshops differ from its European counterparts. Chinese respect the teacher authority far more and are present at these events with eyes and ears wide open. They require no breaks and wish to work further on these ideas even beyond the lecture.

From the 3 workshops, over 70 participants took part. The results of the workshop revealed a mature and aware group of citizens, conscious of the problems of the cities and of the world and of forms of governance. I am unable to at first sight of the gathered data, to make any detailed assertion regarding differences of the quality of the answers between Chinese and European participants. One noticeable fact was that the Chinese participants inquired more about basic definitions on, for example, free speech or participation, than the European ones.

Me lecturing, photo by Yining


Pedro Aibéo is a trained Design Architect and Civil Engineer. He is at present a Kone Säätiö Research Fellow, a Visiting Associate Professor at UNAM University, Mexico and at Wuhan University of Technology, China, and a Lecturer and Doctoral Candidate at Aalto University, Finland on "Architectural Democracy". He is the founder and Artistic Director of “Cidadania” theatre+games group, a professional Musician at Homebound, the founder and Chairman of the World Music School Helsinki, a drawing teacher at the croquis nights and at Kiasma and a Graphic Novelist.

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