Students learn about sustainability in China

Danish students in China
"I think China can learn a lot from Denmark, such as using insulation and thinking sustainability," says Hans Henrik Brock Michelsen, a student at VIA Architectural Technology & Construction Management.
Every year, 30 VIA students of Architectural Technology & Construction Management spend two weeks in China projecting sustainable buildings. They return with new perspectives on “building green”.

Jacob Hasse Rasmussen studies architectural technology and construction management at VIA University College in Aarhus. In the autumn of 2014, he participated in a two-week workshop at Sichuan University in Chengdu in Western China. 

Here, in cooperation with Chinese students of architecture and finance and Danish co-students, he had to project a sustainable extension of the Chinese university. 

The stay was an educational experience. 

“It was exciting to try to be in charge of a project in a foreign culture. Also as Danes we had to take Chinese architecture and climate conditions into consideration," says the 31-year-old Jacob Hasse Rasmussen. 

The Danes took the lead 

He says the Danish students had to take lead of the project – which is not unusual when working in China. At the same time, Jacob Hasse Rasmussen was impressed with how hard the Chinese students worked. 

”If we told them to be done by a specific time, they were done. It was cool to gain insight into a Chinese architect’s way of thinking,” he says, adding that the language was the toughest challenge. 

“Their English is quite bad. The few who understood English had to translate everything to the others. And some of the Chinese professors were difficult to understand,” he says. 

A different way of experiencing Chinese culture 

Hans Henrik Brock Michelsen, who also studies architectural technology and construction management at VIA, participated in the same workshop. He says he gained a lot professionally and personally. 

“It was a really cool experience. Professionally, because we had to consider the risk of overheating and lack of insulation when projecting the building. And personally, because as a student I experienced Chinese culture in a different way than had I been a tourist,” Hans Henrik Brock Michelsen says. 

The 25-year-old student would like to work in a global environment when he finishes his studies. 

“I believe that the Chinese can learn a lot from Denmark, such as using insulation and thinking sustainably,” he says. 

China has a different take on sustainability 

Associate Professor Ernest Müller lead the workshop in Chengdu. He says China is very interested in sustainability, but that the economy is still an issue. 

”If you have a construction built 10 years ago, the Chinese do not mind razing it to the ground and starting over, if that is the most economical solution,” he says. 

The Danish approach to sustainable construction, however, focuses on materials, planning and lifecycle costs. 

Teacher-lead classes in China 

The goal of VIA’s joint modules in China is to give the Danish and Chinese students an opportunity to exchange knowledge and learn from each other. This includes study methods, says Ernest Müller. 

“In China, professors control everything that goes on in class. In our classes, students have to think and question themselves - and me. As the course progresses, they become more relaxed and start calling me by my first name,” the Assistant Professor says. 

The Danish students, however, experience how Chinese students show deep respect for their professors and work hard. They do so, though they attend the workshop in addition to their full-time studies. As for the Danish students, the workshop is part of a module during their 5th semester. 

Other VIA faculties offer similar courses, modules and double degrees in China - including social education and nursing. 

Facts about VIA’s short-term programmes in sustainable construction 

Every year, 1 - 2 classes (30-40 students) from VIA’s Architectural Technology and Construction Management programmes in Aarhus and Horsens participate in a 2-week programme at a Chinese partner university. Just as many Chinese students participate. 

  • Sichuan University in Chengdu: Workshop for Danish students in Architectural Technology and Construction Management and Chinese studying architecture, engineering and finance. The subject is projecting and planning of sustainable construction. Additionally, the students are instructed in Chinese architecture and earthquake challenges      
  • Chengdu University: Workshop for approx. 20 Danish students and the same number of Chinese architectural and engineering students. The subject is sustainable construction. VIA’s lecturers are responsible for the workshop, but a Chinese professor will participate and translate, if necessary      
  • Tianjin Chenjian University: Workshop for building and construction design students and Chinese architectural students. The subject is projecting and planning of sustainable building. The students will also be instructed in Chinese architecture and town planning. Classes are taught by Danish and Chinese instructors 
  • Changzhou Institute of Technology: So far, a workshop has been conducted for Architectural Technology and Construction Management students and for Chinese architectural students. The subject is projecting and planning sustainable buildings. As part of the collaboration, students and professors from Changzhou have visited VIA in Denmark.