Completed Theses

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

Jingru (Cyan) Cheng is a transdisciplinary design researcher, whose practice traverses architecture, anthropology and visual art. The wide-ranging themes include, non-canonical histories and socio-spatial models, diverse ways of cultural knowing and being, aesthetic agency, and modes of co-existence and affinity between human and non-human. Her work received commendations by the RIBA President’s Awards for Research from the Royal Institute of British Architects, in 2018 and 2020, respectively. Currently, with the support of Driving the Human, Cyan is working on a documentary-fiction filmmaking project, Ripple, Ripple, Rippling, exploring the marginal everyday.

Cyan co-leads an architectural design studio (ADS7) at the Royal College of Art. She holds a PhD by Design and an M.Phil Projective Cities from the Architectural Association (AA) in London, and was the co-director of AA Wuhan Visiting School 2015-17. Cyan also runs an independent cultural exchange platform, ACROSS Architecture, since 2014.

Cyan’s work has been exhibited at Critical Zones: Observatories for Earthly Politics (2020-21), Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism (2019), Venice Architecture Biennale (2018) and Beijing Design Week (2016 & 2015), and included in the Architectural Association’s permanent collection. Her research has been presented at Columbia University, University of Toronto, Architectural Association, University College London, University of Westminster, University of Edinburgh, KU Leuven, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Tsinghua University, National Historical Museum of Sweden, Festival of Rural Architecture and Design, Ireland, Nanjing International Art Festival, Beijing Design Week, and China Design Centre, London, among others.


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 that views 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 integration of planning, urban design and architecture, in order to create one synthetic design discipline capable of facilitating an alternative multi-scalar rural regeneration model. The aim of 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 of the current rural discourse and to rethink rural development as a socio-cultural process.

Given that a self-organised support system underpinned by associational relationships in rural society embodies a rooted cultural unity in China, the thesis argues that rurality, or an elastic form of association, transcends the simple divide between urban 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.


Director of Studies: Dr. Pier Vittorio Aureli
Supervisor: Dr. Sam Jacoby

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