A new collaboration between Tongji University and the Master’s Programme of Urban Studies and Planning (USP) kick-started in March 2018 with a study excursion to Nanjing, China, as part of the Urban Challenge Studio II course. A total of 21 students and 8 teachers from Aalto University and the University of Helsinki participated. The aim of the excursion was to learn to understand rapidly growing Chinese cities and to address the complex challenges these cities are facing. What solutions can the Finnish urban context offer and what can we learn from China?
Traveling to the field provided a possibility for genuine experimental learning. Students worked in four groups each focusing on a different study theme:
These study topics were co-created by students and teachers and introduced to the Chinese partners before the excursion. Students also conducted preliminary research about the study site and built a theoretical framework for their topics to be fully prepared for the trip.
The excursion began with a conference arranged by Shanghai’s Tongji University. Attendees included representatives from a public planning department, construction company and participants from three universities: Tongji University, Aalto University and the University of Helsinki. The hosts introduced local planning strategies and gave details about a specific development area in Nanjing, on which USP students would focus in their field studies.
Field days started with a briefing session where each group would present their daily plan and receive guiding from teachers. During the day, USP students and teachers had either pre-organized activities by the hosts, such as a bus tour around the development area, or they oriented to the site on their own. All groups had a local Chinese student to help them get around. Tutoring teachers were available to the students at all times and students had the possibility to use a conference room for working. A local café also became a popular study spot among USPers.
On the field, students used all senses while observing the site: looking, listening, smelling, tasting. Methodologically transect walking, photographing and written documenting proved to be valuable tools. Some groups conducted interviews.
After the long working days, students and teachers would get together, enjoy the local food culture around a round table (traditional in China) and wrap-up the day. A lot to go through each day! Students also held a mid-critique to the teachers half way in the excursion.
Towards the Final Seminar
The goal for the week was to come up with a concept plan that each team would present in a final seminar held by Tongji University. Although the pressure was causing some excitement, students remained focused: “The week was intensive and full of work, but we accomplished a lot. Students and teachers put all their efforts in the project and kept their enthusiasm till the end.”
Tongji University had invited representatives from the local Jianjing Planning Board, Shangfang Construction Company and Tongji University to receive the students’ study outputs. Each group presented their concept plan with visuals, followed by Q&A. All group works were well accepted by the hosts and led to a succesful ending for the excursion. Students felt proud for their valued work and expressed their gratitute for this unique opportunity. Teachers were amazed by the hard work and capability of students to create such concept plans in a short time in a foreign urban context.
Based on the excursion's succesfull outcome, this was only the beginning for cooperation with Tongji University. USP has opened new doors and excitingly looking forward to the future!