Texas A&M College of Architecture establishing
ties with top five Chinese architecture schools


Last summer, the Texas A&M University College of Architecture expanded its global reach to the Far East, negotiating memoranda of agreement with each of the top five architecture schools in China.

The agreements will place the college at the hub of a research and educational network that will eventually expand to include as many as 15 Chinese architecture schools, explained Guillermo Vasquez de Velasco, who helped negotiate the deals as the college's executive associate dean.

The MOAs, with Tsinghua University in Beijing, Tongji University in Shanghai, Tianjin University in Tianjin, Southeast University in Nanjing, and the University of Hong Kong, promote research and educational collaboration between participating institutions, provide for the exchange of faculty between institutions, and set up future study abroad venues for Texas A&M students.

"By this time next year," he said, "the College of Architecture will be the centerpiece of a digital virtual network linking Chinese university classrooms and studios with those in College Station."

The goal, he said, is to establish a network with China that is similar to the Las Americas Digital Research Network, which Vasquez de Velasco pioneered in 1998 at Texas A&M. The Las Americas network facilitates communication between the College of Architecture and many of the top design schools in Latin America, allowing students, faculty and industry professionals to collaborate across cultural barriers on a wide variety of academic projects.

Chang-Shan Huang, associate professor of landscape architecture and urban planning, and a graduate of Tsinghua University in Beijing, will spearhead the College of Architecture's Chinese initiatives. He will be living in China while on sabbatical during the 2007-08 academic year, as the college's first faculty exchange with Tongji and Tianjin universities. In turn, the college expects to host a professor from Tainjin University this spring.

Other Texas A&M faculty advancing the college's Chinese initiative include Wei Yan, an assistant professor of architecture who graduated from Tianjin University, and Weiling He, an assistant professor of architecture who graduated from Southeast University. This summer, both Yan and He accompanied Vasquez de Velasco on his visit to set up MOAs with the five Chinese universities.
Though the agreements vary from university to university, graduate student recruitment will be the initial primary advantage for the Texas A&M College of Architecture, Vasquez de Velasco said.

"Like the Las Americas Digital Research Network," he noted, "a sustained relationship with these Chinese universities promises to draw top Chinese students into the college's nine graduate programs."

The primary advantage of the relationship for the Chinese universities, he said, will come in the prestige and political influence they gain from an established, working relationship with a flagship research institution in the United States. We can help them negotiate funding for special projects from the Chinese government by writing letters of support and demonstrating how similar projects and initiatives have benefited our college.

"This way," Vasquez de Velasco continued, "we can help them build video conferencing networks, continuing education components, and research initiatives."

Eventually, the college will examine the advantage of pursuing joint degree offerings with these universities, or at least develop criteria to provide for a more fluid transfer of academic credit between institutions, he said. "This, for instance, could allow Chinese students to finish their second year of graduate school here at Texas A&M.

Research components in the agreements promise to benefit every discipline taught at the College of Architecture, including architecture, landscape architecture, land development, urban planning, and construction and visualization sciences.

"One initiative that is already very obvious will be our assisting with the documentation of China's architectural heritage," explained Vasquez de Velasco. "This will be similar to the kind of research we have done with Mexican universities through the Las Americas Digital Research Network. We've collaborated with them in the development of survey methods and documentation techniques for their very large stock of Maya and Aztec archeological sites."

The College of Architecture is also planning to establish a study abroad venue for its students at Southeast University in Nanjing.

"Nanjing is a very green, very pretty and safe city that is two hours away from Shanghai," said Vasquez de Velasco, who left Texas A&M last fall to serve as dean of the College of Architecture and Planning at Ball State University. "It is a perfect place for undergraduates."

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A Southeast University architecture building.

Dr. He, from Texas A&M, and Dr. Zhang, from Southeast University.

Guillermo Vasquez de Velasco, Weiling He, and Wei Yan

Tianjin University Architecture building

Please click on images for slideshow

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