Thesis topic… a work in progress

I am an artist going back to school to get my master’s in Architecture. As if that wasn’t a big enough leap, I am doing so in China (Nanjing University), in Chinese, while working full time as a landscape designer. I’m thinking ahead to the THESIS that will rear its ugly head in the coming months and despite my worries about writing a thesis in a foreign language, I am slowly but surely growing rather excited about the whole idea.

As an American in China, I want my thesis to bring to light aspects of the Chinese culture that most westerners haven’t seen or thought about. With this in mind I am working to build a topic around Chinese Minority Architecture: Vernacular Wooden Construction. I also plan on publishing my thesis in both English and Chinese, simply to ensure that westerners get the chance to read some solid research on Minority Architecture but at the same time I want Chinese people to be inspired by a foreigner that has a deep interest in the cultural heritage of their own society.


I already have a book list going (in both languages), with Ronald G. Knapp at the top of the English list. I also have several academic contacts in Mainland China, Taiwan and the US that are willing to help point me in the right direction. What I am lacking, is some insight from the professional world about what this research might bring to the current architectural drawing board. If I was to go into an architecture firm and say “My master’s thesis deals with Chinese Minority Architecture” I am sure that the person interviewing me would be thinking “and how exactly with that be helpful on our current multi-billion dollar project?” and that would be a really good questions; one that I myself need to be able to answer. It’s exciting and frustrating at the same time.


To get myself in the mindset and even more so to get the ball rolling (hoping for a snowball like effect), I have talked one of my professors into letting me use the Dong Minority Drum Tower as the topic for a research project in her class. I will be focusing on “material construction” but the fact that these are timber structures, milled by hand and carved by carpenters…. It’s going to be great!


My hope is that, not only will this allow me to get some of my research done before I even present my thesis proposal but it will also help me transition into the “academic writer” mentality that I will need to be immersed in, in order to pull off my graduate thesis. I’m sure I will be immersed in just as much coffee… or maybe I should switch to tea.



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