Use of Public Space in China | In the search for the relationship between culture and space

As an architect who has been lived and worked on four different continents over the last 20 years, I am always amazed about how different cultures use private and public spaces differently. I actually spent much of my time watching people on the street, inside public buildings, and in a natural environment, to understand how culture creates spaces, and also how spaces enable the culture to emerge.
Back in 2013, I and my cousin went to Guangzhou and Shenzen, two major cities in the South of China. We were there with the mission to discover how Chinese people use and design public spaces. My own agenda was to see the relationship between public space and culture in contemporary China.
In total, we had visited a dozen of public squares, pocket parks over a period of nearly two months. The experience was remarkable. I believe that there is a major shift in how Chinese culture is evolved in contemporary China. In the past, we all know that the courtyard was the venue and birthplace of Chinese culture. Chinese scholars paint, draw, writing poems, or discuss with friends in the courtyard of their homes. Now, most Chinese homes are too small to have a courtyard, too crammed with entertaining facilities, leaving no space for imagination, new ideas to take place.
It is my very early hypothesis, but I suspect that a large part of Chinese contemporary culture is emerging not inside the homes any longer, but in the park, in a small public plaza. The Chinese culture has transformed from a domestic to a much more public and collective culture. If my hypothesis is correct, I will have a challenging question for architects and urban designers. Namely, how can we design spaces that are more responsible and active in the making process of our culture?


Minh Nguyen


  • Click on the chord map to explore our research summary
  • If you want to read more about my PhD’ research, here is the LINK
  • I am very grateful for the endless support of my supervisors, Prof. Diane Brand and Prof Jule Moloney, and Prof Marc Schabel
  • I also owl a great debt to Dr. Kai Gu who examined my thesis and provided great feedback for further refinement