It is the end of May 2016, Alejandro Aravena’s “Reporting from the Front” Biennale is about to kick off the next day and I just landed at Venice airport. Vaporetto waterbuses are no longer running at this late hour, so I am heading for a water taxi, thinking that it will cost me a bundle to get to the city. But maybe not! I see a lonely figure, “Are you going to Venice? Would you like to share a taxi?” A young Chinese woman agrees without hesitation. As soon as the boat leaves I keep pressing my luck, “Are you an architect, by any chance?” Yes! The next hour flew unnoticed, as we discussed our discipline and common friends. Two years passed, and I am back to Venice Biennale. At the opening of the Chinese Pavilion, I am hopping from conversation to conversation until I am introduced to Xu Tiantian, “China’s most promising female architect.” We looked at each other and said in unison, “The taxi girl/guy!” We finally exchanged contacts and on my next trip to Beijing we met at Xu’s DnA Design and Architecture studio. What follows, after a brief introduction, is an excerpt from that conversation.
Xu Tiantian: The Latest Architecture and News
In the 12 months since 2018 International Women’s Day, we have seen many female architects come to fore of the design discourse. From Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell’s curation of the 2018 Venice Biennale to Frida Escobedo's celebrated design for the Serpentine Pavilion, the architectural newsfeeds from the past twelve months have played host to many signs of change in a traditionally male-dominated profession.
ArchDaily has also been busy over the past year, publishing stories such as twelve prominent women in architectural photography, seven influential women of the Bauhaus, and the women redefining success in architecture. Beyond news and editorials, the honorary lists and award ceremonies of prominent architectural institutions from around the world have also paid tribute to some of the world’s leading and emerging female architects.
For this year's Women in Architecture Awards, The Architectural Review and the Architects’ Journal have selected Sheila O’Donnell as Architect of the Year and Xu Tiantian to win the Moira Gemill Prize for Emerging Architecture in the 2019 Women in Architecture awards. The Architect of the Year award recognizes excellence in design specifically in the context of a recently completed project and the Moira Gemmill Prize for Emerging Architecture is awarded to women designers under the age of 45 who show design excellence indicative of a bright future.
Travel seven hours by car in a Southwest direction from Shanghai and you will arrive in Songyang County. The name is unfamiliar to many Chinese people, and even more foreign to those living abroad. The county consists of about 400 villages, from Shicang to Damushan.
Here, undulating lush green terraces hug the sides of Songyin river valley, itself the one serpentine movement uniting the lands. Follow the river and you will see: here, a Brown Sugar Factory; there, a Bamboo Theatre; and on the other side, a stone Hakka Museum built recently but laid by methods so old, even the town masons had to learn these ways for the first time, as if they were modern methods, as if they were revolutionary.
And maybe they are. Songyang County, otherwise known as the “Last Hidden Land in Jiangnan,” may look like a traditional Chinese painting with craggy rock faces, rice fields and tea plantations, but it has also become a model example of rural renaissance. Beijing architect Xu Tiantian, of the firm DnA_Design and Architecture, has spent years surveying the villages of Songyang, talking to local County officials and residents, and coming up with what she calls “architectural acupunctures.”