Lecture Series: Dr Paolo Scrivano

A vintage airline ticker with a chinese temple and stylised jet plane on the cover, next to it is a red book containing the teachings of Chairman Mao.

Un regard qui louche: The People’s Republic of China in the eyes of European architects, 1949-1975

Wednesday 1st May 2024, 1pm Reilly Room

This is a Hybrid lecture which can be watched live on Zoom if you cannot join in person, click here to register

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Please note, this talk will be recorded

In the quarter century following the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, China became an object of interest for numerous European architects. Some of them had the opportunity to personally visit the country, others were only able to get to know it from afar: everyone, however, was fascinated by China’s because the latter appeared to them as the material result of an unprecedented revolutionary change. But what could these architects really understand of what they saw or were told about? What was, in their eyes, the degree of “intelligibility” of Chinese architectural culture and Chinese culture in general?

This lecture considers how architecture and architectural discourses developed in China under Mao’s rule were seen by European architects and planners, particularly those based in France, Germany, and Italy. Through the examination of documents as diverse as travel diaries, photographic and cinematographic reportages, publications, or teaching materials, it aims at exploring the relationship established from the 1950s to 1970s between Chinese architecture and a fraction of European architects. Its objective is to discuss questions related to cultural transfer and the construction of narratives, as well as issues of translatability and partial or total misunderstandings between different cultural realms – topics that have acquired relevance in the globalized world in which we live today.


Paolo Scrivano is Associate Professor at the Politecnico di Milano. After receiving a Ph.D. from the Politecnico di Torino, he has taught at the University of Toronto, at Boston University, and at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University. He has been Visiting Scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and Ailsa Mellon Bruce Visiting Senior Fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study in the Visual Arts of the National Gallery of Art. He is scientific coordinator of the international network Mapping Architectural Criticism, based at the Université Rennes 2.

Image Two items from Franco Raggi’s 1974 visit to China, from the architect’s archive