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East meets West in urban design workshop led by Rudy Barton, emeritus professor
Author: Rhonda Barton
Posted: August 12, 2019

How can a university spur creativity and innovation outside its campus? That’s a tricky question in Wuhan, China, where the 60,000-student Wuhan University is walled off from the city and comprises a village unto itself.

Breaking down barriers to become an urban catalyst is the focus of a workshop that took place July 14-23 in this Central China city on the Yangtze River, west of Shanghai. Organized by Portland State University Architecture alumnus Matthew Bunza, Wuhan faculty member Sun Xiaonuan, and Assistant Dean Cheng Shidan, the gathering was a collaboration of eight international universities, including PSU, and between the city and academia.

Professor Emeritus Rudy Barton of PSU’s School of Architecture led a team of 10 students, who hail from Wuhan, Taipei, Hong Kong, Tainan, and Portland. Under Barton’s guidance, the students examined the interface between the university and the lake that forms a 1.5-mile border skirting its edge.

“I’m trying to introduce large-scale design strategies to students who primarily study how to create a single, large building,” said Barton. “I hope they come away from this experience with a better understanding of the importance of designing interstitial spaces among buildings that encourage civic exchange.”

As part of the team, PSU graphic design student Melanie von Trapp has gained a window into how Chinese students approach design.

“I have loved getting to work with students who have various cultural backgrounds,” she said. “We all bring different perspectives to the project. Learning to discuss ideas and organize information even with a language barrier has been very surprising, enlightening, and fun!”

Bunza, who has an architectural practice in China and Portland, sees a potentially long-lasting benefit in fostering communication between the campus and city, and between people with different viewpoints.

“These are students from top universities who will need to solve tomorrow’s complex problems,” he observed. “If we can plant the seeds here in the classroom, it sets them up to do bigger things together out in the world.” 

Pictured above: Professor Emeritus Rudy Barton works with his team on strategies to link the lakefront and Wuhan University. View additional images here.