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Typological Drift

Emerging Cities in China

By (author) Shiqiao Li
By (author) Esther Lorenz


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  •  This book documents the impact of the Chinese culture on the development of city types in China in the past four decades, leading to surprising urban realities that often escape normative urban theories
  • Through 13 case studies, the book reveals, how a thing-based conception of quantity, an unwavering enthusiasm for figuration, and the instinct for group action have given rise to distinctive Chinese urban formations
Full Description

Neither derivatives of Western cities nor isolated from them, Chinese cities in the past four decades are perhaps best captured in their characteristic complexity through a concept in biological evolution: drift. Unlike mutation, adaptation, and migration, drift of phenotypes takes place when chance events terminate some features and allow other features to flourish. The Chinese culture, structurally divergent from the common Indo-European civilizational roots of Western cultures, can be seen to function as a set of “chance events” in the normative processes of urban change. The consequences of these “bottlenecks” of urban evolution are both fascinating and instructive: Chinese cities, when studied with this framework, begin to acquire an entirely different order of significance, injecting urban theory and practice with fresh vigor and insights. Through 13 case studies, more than 60 original maps and drawings, and extensive photographic documentation, the book reveals how three “drift triggers” – ten thousand things, figuration, and group action – have altered typological development in Chinese cities in recent decades.

About the Author

Shiqiao Li is Weedon Professor in Asian Architecture, School of Architecture, University of Virginia, where he teaches history, theory, and design of architecture, and directs PhD in the Constructed Environment Program. He is author of Understanding the Chinese City (2014), Architecture and Modernization (2009, in Chinese) and Power and Virtue, Architecture and Intellectual Change in England 1650-1730 (2006).

Esther Lorenz
is a licensed architect and academic, and Associate Professor at the School of Architecture, University of Virginia. Her research explores the connections between architecture and culture, from the study of new urban formations to cultural and spatial practices in relation to built form, to investigations of the intersections between media and architecture.


ORO Editions
24th Dec 2021
Paperback / softback
World excluding USA, Canada, Australasia & Asia (except Japan; China non-exclusive)
241 mm x 171 mm
336 Pages
300 color
Name of series
Next Cities Series
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