PhD in Architecture

A Pictoral Vision of Space: Looking at Modern Architecture in China through Landscape Painting

Linfan Liu

Linfan Liu completed her PhD in Architecture History and Theory at the University of Pennsylvania.

This dissertation furthers the long-standing tradition of interactions between pictorial and building arts throughout historical development and explores the relationship within two specified scopes – traditional Chinese landscape painting and architectural practices in modern China. Focusing on the notion of depth represented in painting and constructed by architecture, the study considers the mutuality of spatial thinking in the two arts and the relevance of this historical pictorial production in contemporary design. The dissertation investigates three representative architectural practices – Ieoh Ming Pei, Feng Jizhong, and Wang Shu – because of the articulated pictorial inspirations of their built works in modern China. The study is structured thematically into four major chapters. The beginning chapter identifies key concepts developed from the notion of depth in landscape painting tradition and proposes three major themes – visual depth, experiential depth, and metaphysical depth – in architectural reflections. The subsequent three chapters further elaborate on the established themes through the three architects’ distinct approaches. By identifying, examining, and contesting the uses of landscape paintings throughout their individual design processes, the analyses show how the pictorial space is constructed, experienced, and comprehended in modern architecture. The underlying narratives of cultural history imbedded the chosen materials of the study, however, does not predict the main focus of this dissertation. While recognizing its imprints in the contexts and design motives, the study aims to frame a disciplinary concern and search for an instructive roll of a historical painting type in modern architectural design. In this sense, this dissertation demonstrates the theoretical continuum of painting concepts and techniques in architectural practice, furthermore, it proposes a new perspective of looking, understanding, and imagining space through this particular pictorial lens. In this pictorial vision, the perception and conception of depth become an active agent that guides the creation of space, an attentiveness in building experience, and fresh interpretations of physical surroundings. In this way, this pictorial vision acts as a reminder that painting and architecture share the field of human relationship, that is, an instrumental role in the formation of everyday life.