Architecture student named recipient of dissertation award with distinction

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Dara H. Jin ’22, a fifth-year student in the School of Architecture, was announced as the recipient of the Class of 2022 Honorary Thesis Award during the Renee Crown University Honors Program Convocationheld on Friday, May 13.

As the most challenging required component of the honors program, thesis projects are the culmination of three to four semesters of independent research and professional, creative work by students from all schools and colleges of the University. In collaboration with an academic advisor, students design, research and carry out a major project in their main field of study.

The entire dissertation requires the development of “higher-level” professional and academic skills and must be scientific work of particularly high quality, worthy of honors in the scope of its conception and execution.

Each year, thesis supervisors select honors thesis projects they deem “award-worthy,” and committees of core faculty members meet to determine winners in five categories: humanities , creation, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering and the professional.

After evaluating each project application, members of the subcommittee awarded Jin the best thesis award in the creative category for his project, “Woven Tensions: Chinatown Contestations.”

Dara H. Jin ’22

“This thesis would not have been possible without the guidance and support of Professor Joseph Godlewski and my honorary reader, Professor Danielle Taana Smith,” says Jin. “It is truly an honor to be selected, and it is extremely gratifying to have so many people resonating with the aspirations of the project. I look forward to developing the project further in the future.

Executed under the direction of specialist educational consultant and associate professor at the Joseph Godlewski School of Architecture, Jin’s project addresses the tenuous relationship between the residents of Chinatown and Johannesburg, South Africa, and proposes an architectural intervention that aims to acknowledge the divide and create space for open dialogue.

“As a Chinese-American who grew up around Chinatowns, the contestations that Chinatowns are experiencing around the world was an important topic that I wanted to shine a light on,” Jin said.

The project focuses specifically on Cyrildene, a neighborhood in Johannesburg that has become an important enclave for Chinese migrants who have integrated into the once affluent suburb. As this new Chinatown began to forge its identity, it also began to adopt and reshape the apartheid architectures that preceded its arrival.

Currently, Cyrildene Chinatown can be seen as an anxious neighborhood where notions of otherness, insecurity and paranoia often trouble Chinese people. Public space has become a place of hostility and vulnerability.

Through both collaborative design and architecture, Jin’s proposal embraces the local aesthetic of recombining and flexible architecture by utilizing Chinatown’s ubiquitous feature of the street “stand” and its larger counterpart, the market, as a way to open the spatial conversation, creating new areas to gather and foster cultural exchange.

The thesis considers public space through AbdouMaliq Simone’s concept of “people as infrastructure”, which describes the redesign of cities through a constantly flexible, mobile and provisional space. By defamiliarizing this space, new possibilities and understandings emerge; the stand is redesigned not only as a space for physical goods, but for cultural and identity transactions. The stall and the market become new spatial areas of gathering and cultural exchange.

In this project, the architect is the instigator and the inhabitants of Cyrildene are the real artisans of the space. By providing a framework that can then be adapted, edited and expanded, the thesis offers a lasting solution to Cyrildene’s challenges.

“Dara is an excellent student, and it was an honor to work with her on this brilliantly executed thesis. We share interests in the study of architectural and urban forms in Africa, and his project highlights the exciting potentials of a directed research model between faculty and students,” says Godlewski.

To view the full Renee Crown University Honors Program call, visit Back to school weekend at Syracuse University website.

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