School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape

Staff Profile

Professor Jianfei Zhu

Professor of East Asian Architecture


With a Bachelor and a PhD from Tianjin University (China) and University College London (UK) respectively, I embarked on a bilingual and bicultural career in architectural teaching and research from 1993 on. I taught briefly at the AA and the Bartlett School in 1993-1994, a few years at University of Tasmania (1995-1998), then a long time at University of Melbourne (1999-2019). In late 2019, I joined Newcastle University in the UK as Professor/Chair of East Asian Architecture. 

By early 2019, I have delivered more than 100 guest lectures worldwide (at institutions including MIT, Harvard GSD, Toronto University, Vienna Architecture Centre, Royal Academy of Art, and Royal College of Art) and published more than 100 pieces - mostly in English and some in Chinese (in AA Files, Time and Architecture, Jianzhu Xuebao, Harvard Design Magazine).

I have published Chinese Spatial Strategies Imperial Beijing 1420-1911 (Routledge, 2004), which was translated into Chinese (SDX Joint Publishing, 2017), and Architecture of Modern China: a Historical Critique (Routledge, 2009). I am also the editor of Sixty Years of Chinese Architecture: History, Theory and Criticism (Beijing: CABP, 2009, in Chinese). 

I am the Visiting Professor at Southeast University/SEU (Nanjing) since 2012, and at China Academy of Art/CAA (Hangzhou) since 2017. I deliver an annual theory class at SEU and CAA - at Master of Architecture level - around the relations between design and criticism, and between politics, space and architecture. 

With cross-Pacific relations intensifying from 2017 on, my new research interest centres on the relation between war, geopolitics and architecture. I aim to frame a geopolitical way of thinking, criticising and historical writing on architecture, using East Asia of the Cold War as an empirical case.


My research centres on the relations between politics and architecture, with a special reference to China and the Asia-Pacific region. I employ social and critical theories for empirical historical studies and speculative theorisations. In the past 25 years (since I completed PhD in 1993/4), I have conducted these major studies:

1, Imperial palace and the city of Beijing, of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1420-1911), as a field of spatial politics at various scales (from micro space of the palace to the mega geopolitical projects of the empire), with an employment of social and cultural theories that included, among others, that of Michel Foucault and Francois Jullien. It is resulted in:

Jianfei Zhu, Chinese Spatial Strategies: Imperial Beijing 1420-1911 (Routledge Curzon: 2004). It is translated into Chinese by Associate Professor Zhuge Jing as Zhongguo Kongjian Celue: Didu Beijing 1420-1911 (Beijing: SDZ Joint Publishing 2017).

2, Case studies on the important episodes of architecture of modern China, from 1720s to 2000s, with a focus on the relations between state politics, state ideology, cultural tradition, space production and formal design, from the Qing dynasty to the post-Mao era. It is resulted in:

Jianfei Zhu, Architecture of Modern China: A Historical Critique (Routledge: 2009).

3, Formation of a framework with which we can engage a criticism of architectural design and practice from China in an international perspective. This is resulted in:

Jianfei Zhu, 'Criticality in between China and the West', The Journal of Architecture, vol 10, no 5 (Nov 2005) 479-98.

Jianfei Zhu, ed. Sixty Years of Chinese Architecture: History, Theory and Criticism (Beijing: CABP, 2009) (in Chinese).

4, Theorising on Chinese culture, city and architecture in a theoretical and political framework:

Jianfei Zhu, 'Empire of Signs of Empire: Scale and Statehood in Chinese Culture', Harvard Design Magazine, 38 (2014) 74-9.

Jianfei Zhu, 'Political and Epistemological Scales in Chinese Urbanism', Harvard Design Magazine, 37 (2014) 132-41.

5, Theories and methodologies for studying the relations between politics, space and architecture:

Jianfei Zhu, 'Robin Evans in 1978: between social space and visual projection', The Journal of Architecture, vol 12, no 2 (2011) 267-90.

Jianfei Zhu, Xingshi you Zhengzhi: Forms and Politics: An Approach to Thinking in Architecture (Shanghai: Tongji University, 2018) (in Chinese).

6, A theorisation of the everyday and the anonymous, following Jacques Rancere, for design thinking:

Jianfei Zhu, 'Reconstructing the "everyday" for a political aesthetic in design', arq: Architectural Research Quarterly, vol 21, no 3 (2017) 255-264.

7, My recent open lectures, classroom teaching and preliminary studies centre on the relations between warfare, geopolitics and architecture, in response to the new tensions arising across the Pacific. 


In the recent past at University of Melbourne, I have taught:

A large design studio (Undergraduate, Year 2): 'Learning from the Masters' which centres on a study of formal logic and formal language of selected 'masters' in modernism and neo-modernism (including Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto, Louis Kahn, and Rem Koolhaas).

A theory subject (Master of Architecture, Year 1 or 2): 'Forms and Politics' where social, cultural, spatial and critical theories, including those from Michel Foucault, Bill Hillier, Robin Evans, Karl Marx, Manfeodo Tafuri, Walter Benjamin, and Jacques Ranciere, are introduced. 

A history class (Master of Architecture, Year 1 or 2): 'Polemic Design in China Japan Korea' where histories and design cases of selected architects from North East Asia, from the colonial to the present, are studied.

In 2019-2020, at Newcastle University, I am currently teaching Step 2 and 3 (Year 2 & 3):

The 'Cultures' section of ARC 2024 'About Architecture: Cities, Cultures and Space' where modern reconstruction of tradition and ideas of Critical Regionalism are introduced, using East Asia as a case region.

The Dissertation Elective section of ARC 2024, the Dissertation Studies of ARC 2020, and ARC 3060 (Dissertation), in which I run a seminar/dissertation group of students: 'War, Geopolitics and Architecture' (covering topics of urban battlefield, military infrastructure, war aesthetics, and geopolitical framing of design culture and knowledge). 

In PhD supervision, I have supervised theses on the various historical/political cases of urban and architectural development in the context of modern and historical East Asia. I expect future PhD supervisions to be entering on geopolitical forces and local designs and urban forms, in the Asia-Pacific region of colonial and Cold-War times.