Article - Taste of China leaves architecture students hungry for more

Taste of China leaves architecture students hungry for more

Taylor Hammack participated in the College of Architecture China Program.

Posted: Mon, Feb 14, 2011

Taylor Hammack has yet to absorb all the experiences he had this past fall in China.

The fifth-year College of Architecture student says it may take him years to understand how it expanded his horizons as an architect, and as a human.

"It was a terrific experience. China is really just growing. Their economy is growing so fast that they can't really build fast enough for everyone.

"It's way different from Lincoln."

He and a dozen other aspiring UNL architects participated in the College of Architecture's China Program. They walked and rode down streets crowded with bikes, motorbikes, cars and humans. They heard people speak Mandarin, a tonal language so different from English, and tried to speak, too.

They heard a lot of honking. But over there it's usually not in anger, Hammack says. It's just another way to communicate.

"The traffic is crazy," Hammack says. "There are lanes and lights but none of it matters. People are all over the place."

The goal of the semester-long program, now in its third year, is to help future architects like Hammack absorb China's history and culture firsthand while learning their craft.

The UNL students worked with their counterparts at Tianjin University in Tianjin, the third largest city in China. For one project, they designed ways to blend and unify three neighboring rural villages a two-hour bus ride from Tianjin.

Mark Hoistad, associate dean of the College of Architecture, and Janghwan Cheon, an assistant professor, served as advisers, working with their counterparts from Tianjin University.

The UNL students lived in a high-rise apartment building a short walk from the university. From his second-floor window, Hammack could see many other high-rise towers – anywhere you turned, it seemed, you'd see cranes building more of them.

During breaks, the students cruised down the Yangtze River. Some hiked in the Yellow Mountains. Some visited the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.

Taylor Hammack - ChinaThey traveled to Tokyo, South Korea and Hong Kong.

They tried the many regional styles of Chinese food – spicy hot in Chongqing, sweet in Shanghai, dim sum Cantonese cooking in Hong Kong, Peking duck in Beijing.

A hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Tianjin became a favorite. They befriended the owner and workers, using dictionaries and gestures to communicate.

"They actually started making dishes for us at the end – ‘Here, you try this out for free,'" Hammack says. "They were really, really nice."

He and his two roommates also bonded with a cab driver.

The cab driver was driving them to a club when a car rammed into them. The driver sped off, and their cab driver sped off after him, driving in and out of traffic in a wild chase through Tianjin.

"We went chasing him for 15 minutes at least. We're like, ‘Wow, what's going on?' And then we start egging our cab driver on."

At one point, their cab driver cut the guy off and jumped out of the cab to open the other guy's door. But the other guy was able to drive away. The cab driver wanted to give them the ride for free. But Hammock and his roommates refused.

"It was crazy. It was fun."

China is an exciting place architecturally, too.

"Going to China really opened my eyes up to a new sense of what architecture is and how it's different from place to place."

The China Program was created through funding by College of Architecture alumnus Scott Killinger ('61), whose Beijing-based firm has a studio in Tianjin. He gave Hammack and the other students about $800 each. He met with them in Tianjin and talked with them about what to expect in China.

They took him to that hole-in-the wall restaurant.

The College of Architecture promotes global engagement, Dean Wayne Drummond says. The college has the highest percentage of students going abroad to study of any other unit on campus. Its students also study in Ireland, Germany, France and Ecuador. Its London-based program, each spring semester, recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.

It's a powerful experience for architecture students to walk through a place and get a sense of scale and space and movement as well as to experience the daily life of another culture.

"China is the force to be reckoned with in the next century," Drummond said. "I feel very strongly that students need to understand the power of a country that is moving the world scene like none other."

Global engagement also is a priority of the university's Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities – a $1.2 billion fundraising effort to support students, faculty and research. The university hopes to give every undergraduate the chance to study abroad and to attract more international students to its campuses.

If you'd like to support the university's effort to promote global engagement, contact the University of Nebraska Foundation at or 800-432-3216. If you'd like to support the UNL College of Architecture, contact Connie Pejsar, 402-458-1190.


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