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Shanghai Calling: The journey begins

Today I booked a flight to Shanghai. This, for me, marks the beginning of what will be one of the most exciting cultural and architectural adventures I am ever likely to have. In a forgotten moment this summer, while applying for jobs in London, I sent an e-mail to a friend working in Shanghai. This led to a job offer at a Chinese architectural practice as an intern (a part one equivalent position); I will be only the fifth foreigner they have employed.

Months of applying for part one jobs in the UK has convinced me that the job market here is both sluggish and saturated, with RIBA Future Trends reporting in August that just 8 per cent of practices believe their staffing levels will rise in the next three months. This, combined with seemingly endless gloomy architectural headlines - and the feeling that the British architectural industry is politely treading water until the recession goes away - led me to conclude that moving to Shanghai was, perhaps, not such a crazy idea as I had initially thought.

China, from where I am sitting, seems to be the antithesis of what the British architectural industry is now. The society and the cities are busy considering where they want to be and what they want to be in the 21st century and the phrase ‘modern architecture’ does not seem to command the same fear in Chinese hearts as in many of those in Britain.

It is a time of boom in China. A lecturer at my university describes it as ‘in the fastest progress stage’ with the economic climate ‘full of chaos and opportunities, more or less like the 1960’s America’. With a growing economy, China can barely keep abreast of its architectural needs. Friends there report that everything is wanted ‘yesterday’.

I hope that by observing and experiencing this fast-changing country and by being submerged in its culture I will gain not only another perspective on my education but an experience, both cultural and architectural, that I can draw on for the rest of my life. I am hoping that I will be led to re-assess the assumptions and priorities I have been educated in and grown up with; and observe architecture, and the part it plays in our lives, through new eyes.

For the moment, though, I am staring at my unstamped visa, waiting for it all to begin…  

Eleanor Jolliffe has just completed her Part I at Nottingham University. She will be taking up an internship in Shanghai later this month. This is the first of a series of regular blog posts.

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