The Wheelwright Prize is a prestigious international award bestowed by The Harvard University Graduate School of Design to prospective budding architects. The award facilitates advanced and original contemporary architectural research that shows tremendous potential for creating a positive impact on international communities and architectural literature. The award supports research that positively changes the perception of architecture in the ever-evolving contemporary context. The award involves a $100,000 cash grant to assist with the individual’s two-year research along with an opportunity to lecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Jingru (Cyan) Cheng wins the 2023 Wheelwright Prize for her project, “Tracing Sand: Phantom Territories, Bodies Adrift”. Cheng was among four distinguished finalists from a highly competitive pool of architectural researchers.
A Brief Look into the Project.
Jingru (Cyan) Cheng is a multi-faceted researcher and designer that delves primarily into architecture, anthropology, and filmmaking. Her work predominantly involves confronting and drawing relationships between social injustice and inequity that are associated with different forms of migration. Cheng received her Ph.D. in Design and her MPhil in Architecture and Urban Design from Architecture Association (AA) and is currently teaching an interdisciplinary module at The Royal College of Art in London. She has also received multiple other recommendations and awards including The RIBA President’s Award for research in 2018 and 2020. Her acclaimed work has been exhibited in several notable global exhibitions including The Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2019, and The Venice Architectural Biennale 2018 among many others.
Cheng’s Wheelwright Prize-winning research project, “Tracing Sand: Phantom Territories, Bodies Adrift”, focuses on the many impacts of sand mining and land reclamation breaking down how a ubiquitous material such as sand defines the built environment and the strong relationship it has with human communities globally. Sand is a key component of everyday contemporary architecture found in glass, concrete, turfs, and roads as a base requisite for any form of architecture that encompasses life. This ecosystemic facilitator when mined and relocated through underwater systems and channels, tends to erode riverbanks destroying the economic, cultural, and ecological significance of a habitat while shaping another. The research dives into how sand, being a humble and indispensable material, impacts a chain of global consequences.
How the Wheelwright Prize would facilitate Cheng’s research.
The Wheelwright Prize will assist Cheng in her research and travel over two years across several countries including Singapore, Vietnam, Rural China, and The United States visiting airports, deltas, rural immigrant communities, and beaches among others along the way. Cheng looks to investigate the various processes involved in sand mining across these vastly differing sites and examine the possible impacts those processes have in their respective habitats. Engaging in interviews with key stakeholders, Cheng’s research will scrutinize the different aspects of sand mining involving tracing procurement routes, contractual relations, regulations, and policies among many others. Additionally, she plans on being a positive facilitator for the affected communities by developing educational and public programs along with multimedia archives that can be easily accessed by the communities, activists, and other relevant researchers.
Wayfinding through materiality.
Jingru (Cyan) Cheng states that “Tracing Sand” is a sympathetic culmination of her many lines of work that is a testament to her learnings as an architect along with the life experiences that have shaped her. She emphasizes the importance of architectural materiality as it forms unique connections between different communities, sites, and ecologies, often involved in shaping sequences of consequences and dependencies. Cheng believes that the Wheelwright Award, being a travel-based architectural design research award, will undoubtedly assist in her audacious pursuit of following and tracing sand. She is certain that following sand allows one to trace architectural materiality thereby opening doors to learning about the complex experiences of people, communities, life forms, and built forms across several scales. In a world where social injustice and economic crisis are currently intensifying, Cheng believes that through material wayfinding, one can understand and appreciate how interconnected and interdependent people are with each other.
Unraveling by tracing.
Jingru (Cyan) Cheng’s work spans several interrelated disciplines that carry an architectural essence. American Canadian journalist Vince Beiser’s book “The World in a Grain (2018)”, comprehensively outlines the importance of sand as a core ingredient that makes up the bulk of the built environment stating that sand is to buildings what flour is to bread, thus affecting everyone that inhabits a space. Cheng’s work takes this concept a step further as she not only highlights how sand is the core component of all built forms but also emphasizes its relationship with the global economy. Several jurors of the Wheelwright Prize and Harvard GSD’s dean, Sarah M Whiting, praise the breadth that Cheng’s research carries as it facilitates several if not all the global community positively, shedding a unique light on architectural literature. Examining and following a ubiquitous material like sand to its consumption and sourcing helps unravel several entanglements of matter that affect the livelihoods of countless habitats and ecosystems.
Jingru (Cyan) Cheng’s research bridges a connection between several opposing sites with differing uses and user groups through a single fundamentally uniting concept. By enabling a cohesive amalgamation of research, activism, and design, Cheng’s research has broken the core concepts of a built form to its bare bones thereby enabling architecture to branch into exciting new routes. “Tracing Sand: Phantom Territories, Bodies Adrift” steps into the big shoes of its predecessors all having promising outputs from winning the Wheelwright Prize. Cheng’s audacious research can bring out several new questions through an in-depth analysis of the guts of hypermodernity. The outcome of the research could bring about a shift in the future value system of architecture.
2023 winner Jingru (cyan) Cheng (2023) Wheelwright Prize. Available at: https://wheelwrightprize.org/2023-winner-jingru-cyan-cheng/ (Accessed: 11 July 2023).
10, D. (2023) Jingru Cheng wins the 2023 Wheelwright prize for ‘tracing sand’, Harvard Gazette. Available at: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/newsplus/jingru-cheng-wins-2023-wheelwright-prize-for-tracing-sand/ (Accessed: 11 July 2023).
Machat, J. (2023) Jingru (Cyan) Cheng wins Harvard GSD’s 2023 wheelwright prize, Harvard Graduate School of Design. Available at: https://www.gsd.harvard.edu/2023/07/jingru-cyan-cheng-wins-harvard-gsds-2023-wheelwright-prize/ (Accessed: 11 July 2023).
Silver, H. (2023) Jingru (Cyan) Cheng wins the 2023 Wheelwright prize, wallpaper.com. Available at: https://www.wallpaper.com/architecture/jingru-cyan-cheng-2023-wheelwright-prize-winner (Accessed: 11 July 2023).