Xing Ruan, PhD, Dean and Chair Professor of Architecture at School of Design, Shanghai Jiao Tong University


2019.04.17 18:00-19:30


lecture hall, 2rd floor of Tsung-Dao Lee Institute (east of Pao Yue-Kong Library)


Why should a scientist, or an engineer, receive an all-round liberal arts education? What exactly is the humanist tradition?

This lecture begins on the distinction between education and training. This is pertinent to the humanist tradition of the cultivation of a fine human being. But is broadening the mind via liberal arts education merely a business of “aesthetics”? What is the usefulness of such cultivation against the background of seemingly utilitarian purpose of science and technology? Aesthetics and ethics, which are largely misunderstood in our time, are examined here against their pre-modern roots. The superior “usefulness of the useless” in enriching human experience is then discussed. The lecture attempts to introduce to a historical consciousness, which acknowledges the limitation of both historical accumulation of human experience and cognition. Given such limitation, imagination, with “a method”, becomes crucial to any human endeavour, including the production of new knowledge in science, and the innovation in technology. Examples of such “method” are drawn from a wide range of disciplines, such as modern anthropology, mathematics, historical studies and the nineteenth-century Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

As historian John Lukacs suggests, the lecture concludes that there is no science without the scientist. The primary purpose of any science and technology is fundamentally a human concern.


Xing Ruan, PhD, is Dean and Chair Professor of Architecture at School of Design, Shanghai Jiao Tong University. He joined UNSW Sydney as Professor of Architecture in 2004. He was Associate Dean International (2015-2018). Xing was Director of Architecture (2014-16), Chair of Architecture Discipline and Director of Master of Architecture from (2005-09). Prior to his appointment to UNSW, he was Head of Department of Architecture at the University of Technology Sydney (2002-04).

Xing has published on a cultural history of housing, architecture and anthropology, vernacular architecture, architectural education, Louis Kahn and modern architecture, China’s pre-modern, modern and contemporary architecture, as well as Australian contemporary architecture. The titles of his books include: Allegorical Architecture, 2006; New China Architecture, 2006; Hand and Mind,2018; Topophilia and Topophobia, 2007. His books have received critical acclaim and enthusiastic appraisal both in academic journals and from some mainstream media outlets around the world.

Xing’s essays have appeared in leading academic and literary journals, such as JSAH (Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians), Jianzhu shi [The Architect ] and Wenhui Xueren of Wenhui Ribao [Wenhui Scholar of Wenhui Daily. Xing is co-editor, with Ronald Knapp, of the book series Spatial Habitus: Making and Meaning in Asia’s Architecture published by the University of Hawai’i Press, with published titles encompassing China, Japan, Korea, India and the Middle East. He has also contributed, as a critic, to professional architecture journals in Australia and China.

Xing teaches architectural design, history and theory. He has been invited to give keynote and public lectures at conferences and universities in China, South-East Asia, India, USA, the UK, Italy, New Zealand, Argentina and Australia. He also serves as a supervisor for PhD and Master’s research degrees.