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‘The Rise of Modernity’ on view at the Shanghai Contemporary Art Museum
Group graduation photo of Chinese students at Penn (Tong Jun, second on the left in the back row)
Shanghai's Nanking Theater, designed by Fan Wenzhao and built in 1930.
In Shanghai, Celebrating Architectural Giants with Philly Roots
PennDesign is widely recognized in China, not only for training the next generation of designers and preservationists, but as the alma mater of the founders of modern architecture. Now, this first wave of Chinese alumni, which included the power couple Liang Sicheng (GAr’27) and Huiyin Lin (BFA’27), is the subject of a major traveling exhibition at the Shanghai Contemporary Art Museum.
Drawing on the collections of the Architectural Archives, The Rise of Modernity: The First Generation of Chinese Architects from the University of Pennsylvania focuses on 20 individuals who studied at PennDesign between 1918 and 1937. Having been drawn to Philadelphia by charismatic faculty members like Paul Cret, they returned to China upon graduation to practice professionally, spreading out across the country. They designed office buildings, residences, schools, hospitals, theaters, and more.
The exhibition was curated by Tong Ming, a professor and director of Urban Design at the College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Tongji University.
Ming describes these early PennDesign alumni as being “instrumental in the construction of the nation.” Their contribution, he says, lay in their relentless search “for a design approach to emphasize both a new form of national identity and a modern style.”
The exhibition is accompanied by a 107-page brochure that explores architectural education at PennDesign in the early 20th century and the rise of Shanghai—the birthplace of Chinese modernism in architecture—as well as the work of the architects themselves. In addition to Liang and Lin, Fan Wenzhao, designer of the Nanking Theater (today’s Shanghai Concert Hall), Yang Tinbao, Ton Jun, and Chen Zhi are represented.
The exhibition debuted last November in Nanjing with the title Foundation; a Beijing presentation and a book are also planned. The Shanghai presentation has enjoyed strong attendance and media coverage, including Weixin (also), The Paper, and Art Express.