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USC names architecture dean with `global' view

October 06, 2006|Scott Timberg | Times Staff Writer

The University of Southern California has named Chinese architect Qingyun Ma as dean of its School of Architecture, the first foreign national to hold the position and a reflection of the university's international ambitions, according to Provost C.L. Max Nikias.

Ma replaces Robert H. Timme, who died last October.

The new dean, 41, is based in Shangai and is founder of the firm MADA s.p.a.m. The company has worked primarily in China, where it designed the Centennial TV and Radio Center in Xian, Tianyi City Plaza in Ningpo. In addition, Ma serves as an occasional lecturer at Tongji University in Shanghai and has taught and directed studios at Columbia University.

He said Thursday that he hopes to extend USC's program in two ways. The school, he said, "has to be opened up to a much more global platform -- that's where the university and the city of Los Angeles are." The city, he said, sits on a "double frontier" that looks East toward the United States and West toward the Pacific Rim, and he hopes the school will look in both directions as well.

Nikias acknowledged that the issue is important to the school. "It's an out-of-the-box hire for us," he said. "It makes a statement about where USC wants to be in the 21st century. Not only the economy has gone global, but higher education has gone global."

Ma, speaking by telephone from London, said he hopes "to construct an interdisciplinary program so that architects get training in landscape architecture, environmental issues" as well as art and "virtual reality."

Architecture, he said, has a changing role as the world, and the financing of construction, become more international. "And more and more environmental issues are becoming motors of new thinking and research. In the next 10 years we'll see a lot of debate in this realm."

Although he has spent most of his life in China, Ma received a master's degree in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania in 1991 and worked in New York after that. He has since lectured at several American universities, among them Harvard and Penn, and collaborated with Rem Koolhaas on the Central China TV headquarters.

Ma noted that education styles differ greatly between the cultures. "Chinese training is an old form of artistic romanticism. The training in the U.S. is very rational and relies on argument and certain premises."

Asked about his work, Ma said he's especially proud of the Qingpu Community Island, a community center built on a lake.

"What the building does is continue the public spaces around the lake, before it accommodates certain programs that serve the community.

"In China, a lot of communities are newly formed, they have no standing form" and depend on buildings and urban design for their very existence, he said. He is also proud of the way this structure uses technology to accommodate a tricky plot and serve "social, cultural and urbanist ideas."

Said Nikias: "We see him as a world-class architect with a global perspective on architecture."

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