Completed Theses

Jingru Cyan Cheng – Territory, Settlement, Household: A Project of Rural China

First Supervisor: Dr. Pier Vittorio Aureli
Second Supervisor: Dr. Sam Jacoby 

Jingru Cyan Cheng is a postdoctoral research associate in the School of Architecture at the Royal College of Art, currently working on the research project Collective Forms in China supported by the British Academy. Cheng obtained both PhD by Design and M.Phil Projective Cities at the Architectural Association (AA) and was the co-director of AA Wuhan Visiting School 2016-17. Employing the design research method, her thesis focuses on rurality as a spatial question at levels of territory, settlement and household. Cheng has given presentations internationally, including the research on China’s people’s commune in Columbia University, the United State, research on Chinese rural family house, in Stockholm, Sweden, the design project of a new rural collective in Edinburg, UK and Letterfrack, Ireland, and etc. She has established research and teaching collaborations between the UK and China through organising joint funding projects, visiting school programmes and academic symposia, working with stakeholders and participants from academia, industry, government and the public. In addition, Cheng is the co-founder of ACROSS Architecture, an independent academic association for Chinese alumni from the AA.


The thesis recognises the countryside as a specific social, cultural and political construct rather than as ancillary to the city. It challenges current strategies of rural regeneration in China, which heavily rely on models of urbanisation,as well as the prevailing mentality thatviews the countryside as not just economically but also culturally and intellectually under-developed. The key research question is thus: what does being rural mean socio-spatially?

Structured by three main studies of the rural-urban relationship, the cross-scalar framework and research by design, the thesis explores ‘rurality’ as a spatial question at the levels of territory, settlement and household. In the studies, the case study method, fieldwork and drawing play essential roles.

Based on the understanding of rurality as an elastic form of association in both social and spatial terms and across scales, the thesis advocates a shift in design thinking for the rural and proposes the integrationof planning, urban design and architecture, in order tocreate one synthetic design discipline capable offacilitating an alternative multi-scalar rural regeneration model. The aimof this discipline is to create opportunities of change in the recognised and established field of power and is in this sense political. Furthermore, the thesis calls for integrating the spatial, social and cultural history and the transformations of rural China into a larger economic and political debate in order to transcend the conceptual limitations ofthe current rural discourse and to rethink rural development as a socio-cultural process.

Given that a self-organised support system underpinned by associational relationshipsin rural society embodies a rooted cultural unity in China, the thesis argues thatrurality, or an elastic form of association, transcends the simple divide betweenurban and rural development by providing a distinct form of living arrangement and social organisation. In this sense, rurality is ultimately about how people organise themselves and associate with others.


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Photo by Tim Franco

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