Intern architect, DLR Group, Seattle
Master's Degree in Architecture, University of Washington, 2012
For his thesis, Kevin Zhang picked a site 5,417 miles from Seattle, one he knew quite well – his hometown of Tianjin, in northern China.
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Tianjin, which has long been a farming community and seaport, saw its population swell from 10 million in 2004 to more than 14 million in 2012 across its 4,500-square-miles of land– the result of the rapid industrialization and urbanization in cities across China. With that growth has come new, dense urban housing. A lot of it.
"One critical issue is that most of these new residential developments are organized as gated compounds," Zhang said. "They are separated by the urban infrastructure and lack of social connections and community services."
This means residents must drive long distances to grocery shops and schools. Whereas neighbors once tended communal gardens and elders took care of young children, residents now have limited interaction with each other.
Zhang proposed a "Neighborhood Ribbon," an architectural framework of structures and natural landscapes that would connect residential compounds "to encourage human interaction and local services," he said. Services could be placed along pathways weaving through communities, and public spaces for farmers' markets and urban farms would help neighbors connect.
"Kevin is one of our most talented recent graduates. With his thesis project he accelerated his achievements even further. His outstanding project analyzed contemporary Chinese cities, visualized their complex urban challenges and developed a sophisticated design response," said Gundula Proksch, chair of Zhang's thesis committee and assistant professor of architecture in the UW College of Built Environments.
"The work on this thesis equipped Kevin with the skills necessary to work with the best interdisciplinary teams on international design competitions."
The School of Architecture awarded Zhang a Thesis Citation for his work in 2013.
Zhang, who is fluent in Mandarin and English, left home at age 19 to earn his degree in the United Kingdom, with the dream of practicing architecture in the United States.
When considering graduate programs in architecture, Zhang was offered admission at University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, University of Southern California and the UW. He chose the UW because of the School of Architecture's intensive two-year program, as well as Seattle's culture that is very accepting of people of all backgrounds.
While his thesis concept differs from the Yang Shu Pu Power Plant project he worked on at DLR Group, "both projects were sharing the same cultural and social context," he said. "To design both projects, it was important to understand the large urban scale, and how people experience and use the space in such dense urban environment."