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As a design researcher, Cyan’s wide-ranging research and practice are driven by an urge to unsettle the domination of all those constituted as others.

Cyan holds a PhD by Design and an M.Phil Projective Cities from the Architectural Association (AA) in London. Cyan’s doctoral work on Chinese rurality received a commendation by the President’s Awards for Research from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA 2018). Her postdoctoral research centres around the idea of the collective, the construct of collective subjectivities , and the socio-spatial design of community.

Another line of Cyan’s work, through studio teaching and exhibition practice, looks into the atmosphere as a transformative terrestrial subject that reshapes global and local politics, as well as struggles and conflicts in the climate crisis.

Key details

School, Centre or Area

Expertise

Research projects

Gallery

  • Sky River: Politics of the Atmosphere – Short film for Critical Zones: Observatories for Earthly Politics (2020-21)

    Sky River: Politics of the Atmosphere – Short film for Critical Zones: Observatories for Earthly Politics (2020-21)

    Jingru (Cyan) Cheng [with Elise Hunchuck and Marco Ferrari]

  • Structured Ambiguity: Scroll Drawing as a Synthesis of Research – Permanent exhibit at the Architectural Association (since 2019)

    Structured Ambiguity: Scroll Drawing as a Synthesis of Research – Permanent exhibit at the Architectural Association (since 2019)

    Jingru (Cyan) Cheng

  • Structured Ambiguity: Scroll Drawing as a Synthesis of Research – Permanent exhibit at the Architectural Association (since 2019)

    Structured Ambiguity: Scroll Drawing as a Synthesis of Research – Permanent exhibit at the Architectural Association (since 2019)

    Jingru (Cyan) Cheng

  • Collective Forms in China – Exhibit at Venice Architecture Biennale (2018)

    Collective Forms in China – Exhibit at Venice Architecture Biennale (2018)

    Jingru (Cyan) Cheng [with Sam Jacoby]

  • The Socio-spatial Design of Community and Governance (Springer/Tongji University Press, 2020)

    The Socio-spatial Design of Community and Governance (Springer/Tongji University Press, 2020)

    Jingru (Cyan) Cheng [Co-edited with Sam Jacoby]

  • Collective Forms in China: A Contemporary Review - Special issue of New Architecture 180 (2018)

    Collective Forms in China: A Contemporary Review - Special issue of New Architecture 180 (2018)

    Jingru (Cyan) Cheng [Co-edited with Sam Jacoby and Gangyi Tan]

  • ‘乡/Xiang (Chinese Rurality)’, AA Files 76 (2019)

    ‘乡/Xiang (Chinese Rurality)’, AA Files 76 (2019)

    Jingru (Cyan) Cheng

  • Territory, Settlement, Household: A Project of Rural China - PhD by Design thesis

    Territory, Settlement, Household: A Project of Rural China - PhD by Design thesis

    Jingru (Cyan) Cheng

  • ‘Care and Resistance: The Dissolved Household in Contemporary Rural China’ - RIBA President’s Awards for Research commendation (2018)

    ‘Care and Resistance: The Dissolved Household in Contemporary Rural China’ - RIBA President’s Awards for Research commendation (2018)

    Jingru (Cyan) Cheng

  • HUST Model Workshop, Wuhan, China (2014)

    HUST Model Workshop, Wuhan, China (2014)

    Jingru (Cyan) Cheng [With Can Yang, Hui Liu, Baofeng Li]

More information

Operating at the intersections between architecture and anthropology, Cyan’s wide-ranging research and practice are driven by an urge to unsettle the domination of all those constituted as others, i.e. diverse ways of cultural knowing and being, non-canonical histories and socio-spatial models, and alternative cartographic imaginaries.

The ultimate questions Cyan seeks to explore are: To whom are we responsible and accountable? And what might be the constitutive role of architecture in the production of knowledge, imaginations and practices concerning these responsibilities and accountabilities?

Cyan’s work has been exhibited at Critical Zones: Observatories for Earthly Politics (2020-21), Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism (2019), Venice Architecture Biennale (2018) and Beijing Design Week (2016), as well as the Architectural Association as a permanent exhibit.

Her research has been presented at the Architectural Association, University College London, University of Westminster, University of Edinburgh, Columbia University, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Tsinghua University and National Historical Museum of Sweden, among others.

Henry Lester Trust Grant, 2017

Architectural Association (AA) PhD Bursary, 2015-17

National Scholarship of P. R. China, 2008

Commendation, Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) President’s Awards for Research, 2018

Chinese Student Award, Great Britain-China Educational Trust, 2017

Shortlist, RIBAJ’s Eye Line, 2017

Architectural Association (AA) PhD Travel and Research Awards, five times during 2015-17

Architectural Association (AA) Director’s Selection (M.Phil Thesis), 2014

Bachelor Thesis Award of Hubei Province, P. R. China, 2012

Sky River: Politics of the Atmosphere (2019 - on-going)

Co-Principal Investigators with Elise Hunchuck and Marco Ferrari

Supported by the Royal College of Art, the ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe and the Shanghai Biennale

As the domain where different vectors of the current climate crisis meet and interact, and where conflicts around its regulation are emerging, the atmosphere also produces multiple localities where these transformations can be observed and understood—and sites of mediation can be imagined. Far from being understood in all of its complexity, the atmosphere continues to elude our ability to model its dynamics or to compute future scenarios.

The ongoing research examines how established and emerging plans—including large-scale weather modification proposals such as China’s Tian He (​Sky River​) project aimed at addressing the ongoing and increasingly severe water shortage in North China—to govern waters is leading to the rise of a new planetary imaginary, extending well-known concepts of land sovereignty into the domain of the atmosphere.

In an attempt to question and drift from the current understanding of planetary-scale ecosystems, ​Sky River,​ using transdisciplinary methods including recombinations of field research, interviews, documentation, representation and workshops already utilised in architecture, landscape architecture and geography, aims to uncover, document, and assemble the many histories of the atmosphere. In so doing, produce alternative cartographies and models for architectural and landscape-based mediations.


Structured Ambiguity: Scroll Drawing as a Synthesis of Research
(2014 – on-going)

Principal Investigator

The project explores how a scroll drawing can be developed as a synthesis of research and a means of argumentation in architecture, the approach of which may be termed as ‘structured ambiguity’. Derived from traditional Chinese painting, the working hypothesis consists of three principal ideas and methods: juxtaposition, movement and time, and architecture as frame. This approach has been tested out both in my PhD study on rural China and in the research on Collective Forms in China. Outcomes have been exhibited at Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism (2019), Venice Architecture Biennale (2018) and Beijing Design Week (2016), as well as the Architectural Association (AA) as a permanent exhibit.


Spatial Design and Well-being
(2020)

Postdoctoral researcher and project coordinator (PI: Sam Jacoby)

Funded by the RCA Research and Knowledge Exchange Development Fund

How can we measure and evaluate spatial quality and design through objective indicators and subjective experiences of wellbeing at both community and individual levels? In response to this question, we will develop culturally sensitive and contextual wellbeing measurements in relation to the build environment in China. We will test these in two pilot sites in Shanghai. This will enable us to clarify and verify our research methods for following phases of the research dealing with problems of community planning in China.


Collective Forms: Neighbourhood Transformation, Spatialised Governmentality and New Communities in China
(2018-19)

Postdoctoral researcher and project coordinator (PI: Sam Jacoby)

Funded by the British Academy

This research examines how social projects, spaces, and realities shape three contexts critical to understanding urban design and planning in China: modes of governmentality; the history of collective spatial development models in relation to current community development; and socio-spatial changes in urban and rural developments. A comparative analysis of community developments in China and a programme of knowledge exchange will study how a national collectivisation in the 1950s created rural people’s commune and urban work unit systems that laid the foundations to today’s urban problems. Their socio-spatial design, despite extensive policy reforms since 1978, continue to control access to public infrastructures and services, but also created resilient governance and community-building models. The effects of spatial transformations of governmentality are little researched by urban designers and require a new interdisciplinary approach that offers alternatives to Western-centric theory and practice. This is of global relevance, including the UK and its new community-led developments.


Territory, Settlement, Household: A Project of Rural China
(2014-18)

Doctoral research (Supervisors: Pier Vittorio Aureli and Sam Jacoby)

The thesis recognises the countryside as a specific social, cultural and political construct rather than as ancillary to the city. It challenges current strategies of rural regeneration in China, which heavily rely on models of urbanisation, as well as the prevailing mentality that views the countryside as not just economically but also culturally and intellectually under-developed. The key research question is thus: what does being rural mean socio-spatially?

Structured by three main studies of the rural-urban relationship, the cross-scalar framework and research by design, the thesis explores ‘rurality’ as a spatial question at the levels of territory, settlement and household. In the studies, the case study method, fieldwork and drawing play essential roles.

Based on the understanding of rurality as an elastic form of association in both social and spatial terms and across scales, the thesis advocates a shift in design thinking for the rural and proposes the integration of planning, urban design and architecture, in order to create one synthetic design discipline capable of facilitating an alternative multi-scalar rural regeneration model. The aim of this discipline is to create opportunities of change in the recognised and established field of power and is in this sense political.

JOURNAL ARTICLES AND CONFERENCE PAPERS (selected):

Cheng, J (Cyan). (2020) ‘Associational Relationship, Collective Space and Community Design: The Everyday Infrastructure of Urban Communities in China’. In Jacoby, S. and Cheng, J. eds. The Socio-Spatial Design of Community and Governance: Interdisciplinary Urban Design in China. Springer / Tongji University Press.

Jacoby, S. and Cheng, J (Cyan). (2020) ‘Collective Forms in China: An Architectural Analysis of the People’s Commune, Danwei, and Xiaoqu’. In Jacoby, S. and Cheng, J. eds. The Socio-Spatial Design of Community and Governance: Interdisciplinary Urban Design in China. Springer / Tongji University Press.

Cheng, J (Cyan). ‘Care and Resistance: The dissolved household and the ripple effect of domesticity in contemporary rural China’. The Journal of Architecture. [under review]

Cheng, J (Cyan). ‘Jian: A Socio-spatial Framework of Chinese Rural Habitation’. The Journal of Architecture. [under review]

Cheng, J (Cyan). (2019) ‘乡/Xiang (Chinese Rurality)’. AA Files 76, pp. 184-188.

Cheng, J (Cyan). (2018) ‘Spatial Design as Political Manifesto: The Design Proposals of China’s People’s Commune 1958-1960’. New Architecture 180, pp. 29-33.

Jacoby, S. and Cheng, J (Cyan). (2018) ‘Collective Forms in China: People’s Commune and Danwei’. New Architecture 180, pp. 5-11.

Cheng, J. (Cyan) (2018) ‘Observations on Agritourism’. Log 43, pp. 59.

Cheng, J (Cyan). and Jacoby, S. (2017) ‘Design Research and Architectural Urbanism: Cross-Disciplinary Knowledge Production and Practice’. New Architecture 174, pp. 141-143.

Cheng, J (Cyan). and Zhan, C. (2017) ‘The Political Dimension of Architecture and Architectural Education: On Ideology and Methodology of the AA’. New Architecture 172, pp. 98-102.

Cheng, J (Cyan). (2017) ‘Rural Home for China’s Floating Population: The Family House for A Split Household Arrangement’, paper presented at the Buildings in Society International III conference, Stockholm, Sweden, May 2017.

Cheng, J (Cyan). (2017) ‘A Territorial Project: “Building A New Socialist Countryside” in China’, paper presented at the 14th Annual Architectural Humanities Research Association Conference, University of Edinburg, United Kingdom, April 2017.

Cheng, J (Cyan), Carlin, B. and Gonzalez, M. (2016) ‘Materialisation of Subjectivity and the Agency of Architecture: From Domestic Spaces to the Urban Realm’. New Architecture 168, pp. 121-128.

Cheng, J (Cyan), Carlin, B. and Gonzalez, M. (2016) ‘An Experimental Investigation in Family, House, Home: Fiction as Methodology’. New Architecture 166, pp. 118-123.

Cheng, J (Cyan). (2016) ‘Territory, Settlement and Family: A Project for Post-Hukou Rural China’, paper presented at the Alter-Rurality 3 conference (held by ARENA: Architectural Research Network), Ireland, June 2016.

Cheng, J (Cyan). (2016) ‘Radical Settlement: The Architecture of the People’s Commune in Rural China’, paper presented at the Assembling Values: Architecture and Political Economy conference, Columbia University, New York, May 2016.

Cheng, J (Cyan). (2015) ‘Notes on Education and Research on the Hukou Reform in China’. Urban Flux 45, pp. 94-97.


BOOKS AND SPECIAL JOURNAL ISSUES:

Jacoby, S. and Cheng, J (Cyan). eds. (2020) The Socio-Spatial Design of Community and Governance: Interdisciplinary Urban Design in China. Springer / Tongji University Press.

Jacoby, S., Cheng, J (Cyan). and Tan, G., eds. (2018) ‘Collective Forms in China: A Contemporary Review’, special issue of New Architecture 180.

Cheng, J (Cyan). (2018) Territory, Settlement, Household: A Project of Rural China. (PhD by Design Dissertation, Architectural Association)

Cheng, J (Cyan). and Qiao, J. ed. (2015) ‘XL in S’, Remarks section of Urban Flux 41&42.

Cheng, J (Cyan). and Qiao, J. eds. (2014) ‘iArchitect’, Remarks section of Urban Flux 40.

Cheng, J (Cyan). (2014) Hukou Reform as Urban Reform: Cellular and Network Developments. (M.Phil Dissertation, Architectural Association)


RECENT NONSERIAL EXHIBITIONS & SYMPOSIA
(selected since 2018):

Collective work with Elise Hunchuck and Marco Ferrari, Sky River: Politics of the Atmosphere I @ Critical Zones: Observatories for Earthly Politics [exhibit]. At ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe, Germany, May 2020 - Feb. 2021.

Solo Work, Structured Ambiguity: Scroll Drawing as a Synthesis of Research [permanent exhibit]. At Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, U. K., since Jun. 2019.

Panel Chair, Intelligent Neighbourhood and Community @ Designing Intelligence into our Cities [symposium]. At Royal College of Art, London, U. K., 19&24 Jun. 2020.

Convenor & Co-organiser, Jury in Translation: Mandarin @ AA Architecture in Translation [roundtables]. At Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, U. K., 24 Jan. 2020.

Convenor & Co-Organiser, Domestic Frontiers [symposium]. At Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, U. K., 30 Nov. 2018.

Solo Work, The Architecture of China’s People’s Commune @ Home, Sweet Home [exhibit]. At Shanghai Power Station of Art, Shanghai, China, Nov. 2017 - Mar. 2018.


'COLLECTIVE FORMS IN CHINA' SERIES
(co-convenor & co-organiser):

Collective Forms in China [exhibit]. At Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, Korea, Sept.-Nov. 2019.

Spatialised Governmentality: China and the Global Context [symposium + roundtables]. At Royal College of Art, London, U. K., 6-7 Dec. 2018.

Collective Forms: The Chinese Neighbourhood Unit [symposium + workshop]. A Joint Event by Royal College of Art, Tsinghua University, The Global School and MAT Office. At Tsinghua University and Leping Foundation, Beijing, China, 8-10 Sept. 2018.

Collective Forms in China: New Communities [symposium + workshop]. A Joint Event by Royal College of Art, Huazhong University of Science and Technology and New Architecture. At Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China, 3-4 Jul. 2018.

Collective Forms in China [exhibit]. At Venice Architecture Biennale, Venice, Italy, May - Nov. 2018.

Architectural Urbanism: Interdisciplinary Urban Design Challenges [roundtables]. A Joint Event by Architectural Association, Royal College of Art, and Hongmei Home Commonweal Service Centre and Chuang Xin Hui. At Huaxin Conference Centre, Shanghai, China, 10 Dec. 2017.

Socio-Spatial Design and the Transformation of Urban-Rural China [symposium]. A Joint Event by Architectural Association, Royal College of Art and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. At Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China, 9 Dec. 2017.

Collectives and Housing in China II [symposium]. A Joint Event by Architectural Association and Huazhong University of Science and Technology. At Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China, 27 Aug. 2017.

Collective Forms in China [exhibit]. At Beijing International Design Week, Beijing, China, Sept.-Oct. 2016.

Collectives and Housing in China I [symposium]. A Joint Event by Architectural Association and Huazhong University of Science and Technology. At Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China, 14 Aug. 2016.


'ACROSS' SERIES
(co-convenor & co-organiser):

1000 Forms of Dumplings: Food as a Universal Language [crowdfunded public event]. At Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, U. K., Jan. 2020.

Fire, Smoke, Roasted Beast [crowdfunded public event]. At Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, U. K., Feb. 2019.

Home [symposium]. In collaboration with London Confucius Institute. At School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, London, U. K., Feb. 2016.

To Our Dear Countryside - Dialogues and Dreams [symposium]. In collaboration with Formosa Salon. At University College London, London, U. K., Jun. 2015.

iArchitect [roundtables]. At China Design Centre, London, U. K., Oct. 2014.


INVITED TALKS & SEMINARS
(selected):

The ‘Ripple Effect’ of Domesticity: The Dissolved Household in Contemporary Rural China. Invited presentation at Incremental Urbanism [symposium + workshop], School of Architecture, South China University of Technology, Guangzhou, China, May 2019; Invited presentation at Adapting Villages [symposium + workshop], School of Architecture, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China. May 2019.

Structured Ambiguity: Scroll Drawing as a Synthesis of Research. Invited presentation at Representations/Investigations: Media in Architecture, the Territory and the Urban [symposium], Architectural Association, London, U.K, Apr. 2019.

Home: A Project of Rural China. Guest lecture, Department of Architecture, University of Westminster, London, U.K., Mar. 2019; Projective Cities guest seminar, Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, U.K., Feb. 2019. History & Theory guest seminar, School of Architecture, Royal College of Art, London, U.K., Feb. 2019.

Full Circle: Changing Communities in China. Invited presentation at Spatialised Governmentality: The Global Context [roundtables], School of Architecture, Royal College of Art, London, United Kingdom, Dec. 2018.

Care and Rebellion: The Dissolved Household in Contemporary Rural China. Invited presentation at Domestic Frontiers [symposium], Architectural Association, London, United Kingdom, Nov. 2018.

China’s People’s Commune and the Everyday Practice. Invited presentation at Collective Forms: The Chinese Neighbourhood Unit [symposium], Tsinghua University, Beijing, P. R. China, Sept 2018.

The Social-Spatial Design of Rurality. Guest seminar at Projective Cities Programme, Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, United Kingdom, Feb. 2018.

Contemporary Rural Home for China’s Floating Population. Invited presentation at Debate: Building, Dwelling, Thinking @ Green-Door - A Festival of Rural Architecture and Design [symposium], Co Leitrim, Ireland, Sept. 2017.

Transformation of Chinese Family and Housing Typologies. Guest seminar at Architectural Association Tropicality Visiting School, Vietnam, Aug. 2016.

Deterritorialization and Reterritorialization of Chinese Rural Society. Invited presentation at Urban-Rural Regeneration @ Beijing Design Week [symposium], Beijing, P. R. China, Oct. 2015.

Hukou Reform as Urban Reform. Invited Presentation at Architecture and City @ China Design Centre [symposium], London, United Kingdom, Jul. 2014.

Cyan has co-initiated and co-organised knowledge exchange activities and research collaborations between the UK and China, working with multi-disciplinary scholars, architects, planners, artists, activists and policy-makers. Collaborators include:


Universities:

Tsinghua University (School of Architecture), Beijing, China

Shanghai University (School of Sociology and Political Science), Shanghai, China

Huazhong University of Science and Technology (School of Architecture and Urban Planning), Wuhan, China

Wuhan University (School of Sociology), Wuhan, China

Shanghai Jiao Tong University (School of Design), Shanghai, China

Environmental Art Research Centre of the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts, Wuhan, China

London Confucius Institute, SOAS University of London, London, UK


Governments:

Wuhan City of Design (UNESCO title), China

Hongmei Sub-District Government, Shanghai, China


Public Platforms/NGOs/Media:

China Design Centre, London

Project Little Dream, Hong Kong

Formosa Salon, London/Taiwan

The Global School, Beijing

New Architecture, Wuhan

Urban Flux, Tianjin


Founding Director, ACROSS Architecture

In addition to academic collaborations, Cyan has co-founded and directed since 2014 ACROSS Architecture, a platform dedicated to fostering a collective voice and network among the Architectural Association (AA) alumni and members from Chinese-speaking contexts. Through publishing their works and stories, and organising knowledge exchange activities, cultural events and exhibitions, ACROSS explores diverse ways of cultural knowing and being, as well as imaginations.