Project Context: Set within the overall theme of the 2013 Shanghai World Exposition, ‘ Better City, Better Life’ and in association with the 7th Shanghai Biennale, ‘Trans-Local-Motion’, fifty students from design schools across the world were, through portfolio submission, selected to take part in the 2008 International Design Summer School. This initiative was hosted by the College of Architecture and Urban Planning (CAUP), Tongji University, Shanghai. During the first year of her PhD, I was invited & the financial support provided by the 2008 Martin Jones Scholarship enabled her to participate.

In August 2008 I travelled to Shanghai, China, to embark on the activities of the Summer School. She became immersed within the exciting and creative forums, workshops, seminars, design debates and research discussions of the 2008 Design Summer School and the 7th Shanghai Biennale. Within a design team she undertook a project to work with a community living alongside the banks of the SuZhou River.



Project Brief:  Based on the micro-vision of city streets, we were to undertake deep thinking on present phenomena of global urbanization, pay attention to status of urban life & development including people flow and consequent problems, emotions and opportunities, explore the role that art & design could or should play in the process. The brief of ‘re‐applied and used for street advertisings’ was advanced to produce urban proposals for an area of central Shanghai. This place had no name and was not recognised as existing by the Chinese Government or the new proposals for the 2010 Shanghai Exposition plans.

Site 1


The Site: The site was comprised of an ‘old shanty town’ and the ‘new tower block city’. We became fascinated by the ‘old shanty town’. It had no name, no post-code and the homes had no addresses. It is difficult to find this place on a map and proposals for the 2010 Exposition for Shanghai have failed to include or acknowledge that these homes exist. In architectural drawings this area is rendered as green-space.



Project Team: As a research and design group (composed of interdisciplinary researchers from across the world) we found a deep appreciation of the place that we had been given to transform. We were, Chiyu Chen (Royal College of Art), Ian Ruaraidh Harrison (University of Dundee), Yiying Lu (University of Technology, Sydney), Lesley McIntyre (University of Dundee),  Alice Mela (Politecnico of Turin), Dominik Premauer (University of Applied Arts Vienna), Lobke Rozemarjin (MAHKA Utrecht), Aurora Rapalino (Politecnico of Turin), Yiting Wang (UCLA), Gabriel Wartofsky (Art Centre College of Design), Min Zhang (Tongji University).  We came from countries across the world and from disciplines as varied as architecture, industrial design and media arts.  We found a shared set of values, approaches and manifestos.



Design Process and Methods: In adopting ethnographic methods and engaging with the people living along the banks of the SuZhou River the ‘mission’ was to enable the community to ‘advertise’ that they existed, lived and worked along the banks of the SuZhou River. The group began this recognition process by finding a name for the community.

Finding an Identity

The first part of our mission was, through site visits, map research, discussion, iteration and working with community, to give the place an identity. Fascinated with the graffiti in the area, we combined both the cultural (Suzhou River Area) and geographical (coordinates of area on a map) identities of this area into one logo.  ‘SuZhou He 31 ‘144.121’ 274’ became it’s name.

identity name

Capturing the Voice of the Site

We took inspiration from our surroundings in an attempt to give a ‘voice’ to the people of the site. Our general brief ‘advertising’ evolved into a much more in‐depth analysis and recording of the place; its sights, sounds, textures, colours and the diverse view-points of it’s inhabitants. We understood the site through the experiences and stories of the locals and had ambitions to express the essence of the community from an inner point of view.

User Engagement

We set out to engage with the inhabitants of ‘SuZhou He 31 ‘144.121’ 274’ to find ways to bring out the ‘voice of the place’. Through applying a synaesthetic process we identified different ways in which communication through advertising media might work and then developed project components to deal with each.

Our Methods

We used 3 methods of finding and recording these ‘voices’, sites and experiences:

Camera blue

The Little Blue Camera


Making teeMaking TEE


logo sight soundSights and Sounds of the Site 



Based on the lessons learned during this process we proposed a new product which could act in the same way to improve communication between designers, decision-makers and inhabitants.  ‘Emõtool’ is a bracelet that allows people to take pictures and record sounds to express their likes and dislikes.  An auditory interface questions the decisions of the user to allow the information to be used as a research tool for designers.



Exhibition: The collection of outcomes were selected to be exhibited within the 7th Shanghai Biennale.





Award: Through critique by peers, academics and curators this project was bestowed the prestigious Gold Award of the 2008 International Design Summer School.



Project Outcome: Exhibition at the 7th Shanghai Biennale, ‘The Voice of SuZhou‘ Booklet and an Exhibition Report.

topper blog

Funding Bodies: Martin Jones Scholarship for Architectural Research from the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) & Tongji University Summer School Scholarship.


Martin Jones Scholarship for Architectural Research.

Martin Jones, the Architect and Architectural Studio Tutor, specified that he wished to provide an opportunity for an outstanding student or graduate of the School of Architecture in the College of Art & Design, Architecture, Engineering & Physical Sciences, to pursue a personal line of creative investigation and research. I was awarded the Martin Jones Scholarship by the Royal Incorporation of Scottish Architects (RIAS) in the Summer of 2008.

Tongji University Summer School Scholarship.

The International Design Summer School has been organized by CAUP (College of Architecture and Urban Planning), Tongji University in Shanghai since 2005. The two-week design workshop has gained an international reputation as an unique platform for international students to meet and communicate each other , and widely accepted and highly praised by renowned universities both domestically and worldwide.

During the two-week period, a “Chinese cultural tour ” is undertaken to enhance the interests and understanding of Chinese traditional culture. The final works created at the Summer School are critiqued by invited international jurors, exhibited and published. The three most prominent projects are awarded with the Gold Award of the Summer School.