WSU Student, Faculty Designers Tibet/China-Bound

SPOKANE, Wash. – A team of Washington State University architecture, landscape architecture and interior design faculty and students are bound for China and Tibet this May to get a rare look at how people there design, furnish and occupy their homes.

Led by Professor Nancy Blossom, director of the Interdisciplinary Design Institute at WSU Spokane, and architecture Professor David Wang, the team of faculty, graduate students and undergraduates will spend three weeks working with their counterparts from Xian University in China and Tibet. The goal of the trip is to promote research that crosses academic disciplines as well as national boundaries. The group will focus on understanding how the local population uses local materials and customs in its architecture, landscaping and home interiors to respond to the natural environment.

“There is great potential for new research in this field,” Blossom said. ”There has been very little research in terms of materials used within the home, kinds and use of furniture, basically on how Tibetans are using their homes. Our first job is to document exactly what the actual model of ‘Tibetan living’ is.”

WSU has partnered with Xian University for the past decade. Since 1997, the design institute and the Honors College have nurtured a collegial relationship with the Xian University of Architecture and Technology and its Green Architecture Research Center (GARC).

Most recently, Professor Liu Jiaping of Xian University was invited to participate in the design institute’s third annual Design Research Focus Week in Spokane. That presentation featured Liu’s work in China on sustainable architecture and the use of local materials. Specifically, he studied the “yaodong,” a regionally specific type of home that has evolved from cave dwellings. While in Spokane, Liu invited the WSU team to partner with him to record and develop designs for sustainable, vernacular housing in the Tibetan countryside.

Blossom said they will bring a unique perspective to the project. “We bring an interdisciplinary perspective,” she said. “Our strength is a qualitative understanding of the vernacular in addition to the iterative scientific method.”

For example, in current design and research at the GARC, environmentally responsive, vernacular building focuses primarily on steps that increase solar heat collection and circulation. Blossom said the Chinese would measure the impact of a family switching to solar heat strictly in terms of fuel consumption and interior temperature of the home. “We would look at the qualitative changes as well – the impact on daylight in the home or use of different rooms as a result.”

As China stands at the precipice of increasing prominence politically and economically in the 21st century, the architectural response to this prominence has both positive and negative potential, Blossom said, and the increasing “westernization” in the region is troubling.

“We hope another part of our work will focus on the design profession in the region and the influence of westernization,” she said. Blossom noted that much of China’s history and culture was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. “But there is a lot more to be lost,” she said. “We’ll be looking at the negative byproducts of globalization – strip malls, a McDonald’s on every corner – and evaluate how best to intervene.”

The students participating are:

  • Warren Cent, a fourth-year architecture student from Seattle
  • Aaron Pasquale, a fourth-year architecture student from Tacoma
  • Stacy DeKoekkoek, an undergraduate in interior design from Bothell
  • Lynne Gearheart, a graduate student in landscape architecture from Palouse
  • Susan Hall, a graduate student in interior design from Nashville, Tenn.
  • Ami Keiffer, a graduate student in interior design from Keizer, Ore.
  • Jacklin Kingen, a fourth-year architecture student from Yuma, Ariz.
  • Andrea Read, a fourth-year architecture student from Chino Hills, Calif.

A number of WSU departments are contributing to cover the cost of the trip, but Blossom said she also is working to raise private dollars to minimize or eliminate the cost to students.

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