Dr Xiang Ren

B.Arch (1st), MA (Dist), PhD, FHEA

School of Architecture

Lecturer in Architecture

Director of Space, Cultures and Politics research group

Xiang Ren
Profile picture of Xiang Ren
+44 114 222 0359

Full contact details

Dr Xiang Ren
School of Architecture
Arts Tower
Western Bank
S10 2TN

I practise architecture from the late 2000s, started from the Stone Museum in Soochow and then completed several educational and workplace buildings as the project architect before receiving my PhD under the late professor Peter Blundell Jones at Sheffield. 

My research and teaching lies in the search for the reinvention of the discipline of architecture from within its own traditions and contemporary ruins, that is centred on place and heritage, often with an East-West comparative study and an architectural-anthropological close-reading. 

I serve as an international editor for the RIBA's Journal of Architecture, external examiner for PhD upgrade at the Architectural Association, and external panel for the Hong Kong Research Grants Council. 

Research interests

My fundamental research enquiry is about the driving force of architecture as both a profession and a discipline, on what is and will be the core disciplinary knowledge, considering both the practice-based nature of architecture and design, and the increasing tension between building and disciplinary knowledge. 

I aim to construct non-canonical theories and modes of practices related to the foundations of the domain of architecture and its core disciplinary knowledge, through publications and practices. This is primarily based on a close reading and thick interpretation on the substance and process of architecture, its cultural meaning, its social construction, its varied tectonic and ritual forms, in a longer history and across a larger world. 

I am particularly interested in understanding form, type, use, structure, plan, composition, material, tectonics, topography, atmosphere from non-canonical architectural histories and contemporary practices, and the relationships of these topics with other intellectual disciplinary settings and professional developments.

I have also maintained a long-time interest in pre-modern architecture, settlements and historical built environment in the contemporary cities, particularly within South and East Asian historical and cultural contexts. Specific themes include architectural anthropology, ancient archetypes, contemporary vernacular architecture, living architectural traditions and heritage, Modernism's other and its organic tradition, the East-West architectural encounter and interaction.

My PhD project focused on contemporary socially-engaged architecture and architects in traditional Chinese villages, using case study as the main method, intersecting social anthropology with design research methodologically. During my PhD I presented my research in various academic conferences and symposiums including UCD Dublin, KU Leuven Brussels, HKW Berlin, UPC Barcelona, Milano Polytechnic, University of Oxford and University of Cambridge. Two of my research works were shortlisted for RIBA Presidents Research Awards in 2014 and 2016.

PhD Supervision Interests

  • Modernism's other and non-canonical architectural history and theory of 20th century
  • Architectural, cultural and built heritage
  • Architectural anthropology 
  • Vernacular, participative and socially-engaged architecture
  • Conservation and regeneration of traditional settlements 
  • East-West studies in architecture and landscape
  • Architecture and minority spaces

Current PhD Students

  • Omid Ebrahimbaysalami (2022- ), PhD project – Modern Architectural Heritage in Iran (1925-1979) (second supervisor Dr Chengzhi Peng)
  • Abhishek Bhutoria (2021- ), PhD project – Domesticities of Himalayan Villages in post-earthquake Nepal (second supervisor Dr Jan Woudstra)
  • Chi-jen Li (2021- ), PhD project – Sun Xiaoxiang: The Life and Career of the First Chinese Landscape Architect (first supervisor Dr Jan Woudstra)
  • Chen Zhang (2021- ), PhD project – Utopia or Heteorotopia: Chinese Urban Site Museum (first supervisor Russell Light)
  • Yiwen Yan (2020- ), PhD project – Historic Urban Landscape Heritage, Hangzhou, China (first supervisor Dr Jan Woudstra)

Completed PhD Students

  • Xiaolu Wang (2024), PhD project – Reinterpreting Foguang Monarstry, China's Most Celebrated Buddhist Building (co-supervisor Dr Jan Woudstra)
  • Nural Mohamad (2024), PhD project – Julius Posener and Malaysian Architectural Education: humanistic values and intellectual legacy (first supervisor Prof. Renata Tyszczuk)
  • Yang Yang (2023), PhD project – Hiroba-ka Open Space within Tokyo's Contemporary Architecture (second supervisor Dr Krzysztof Nawratek)

Journal articles


  • Wang X & Ren X (2023) A Brief Spatial History of British Kitchen In Zuo J (Ed.), Bishan (pp. 56-62). RIS download Bibtex download
  • Ren X (2021) A bare form of resistance: the anthropology and activism of a barefoot-architect’s own house in a Chinese village In Doucet I & Gosseye J (Ed.), Activism at Home: Architects dwelling between politics, aesthetics, and resistance (pp. 377-387). Germany: Jovis Books. View this article in WRRO RIS download Bibtex download
  • Ren X (2020) Tailor, Mason, Intellectual, Peasant: An Alternative Architect towards Sustainable Regeneration in Rural China In Zuo J (Ed.), Bi Shan Beijing, China: Chinese National Geography - CITIC Press. RIS download Bibtex download

Conference proceedings papers

  • Suryantini R, Paramita KD & Ren X (2024) Making food: exploring the indigenous resilience strategy of the Bima communities in west Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. Proceedings of International Seminar on Vernacular Settlement 12 (pp 430-447). Bangkok, 9 November 2023 - 9 November 2023. View this article in WRRO RIS download Bibtex download
  • Ren X (2014) Translating Vernacular Hybridity into a Living Matrix -- Reflections on the production and occupation of a School Building. Architecture and Education, 3 September 2014 - 5 September 2014. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Ren X () Heterotopias of High-Tech Architectural heritage: three conceptual scaffolding. High-Tech Heritage: (Im)Permanence of Innovation. ETH Zurich, 14 September 2023 - 14 September 2023. View this article in WRRO RIS download Bibtex download


  • Ren X & Qiao J (2024, March 7) Drawing and Dwelling: British Asian Space and Heritage, as part of "Cultures of Creative Health" exhibition. Huddersfield. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Ren X & Qiao J (2023, November 30) Drawing Minority Space, in "Research through Drawing" exhibition. École Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture de Lyon, 30 November - 15 December 2023. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Ren X & Qiao J (2023, November 23) Drawing Minority Space: an axonometric, in the “Givors. Atlas of Non-heroic Urban Forms” exhibition. Archipel, a centre for urban culture located on Place des Terreaux in Lyon city centre, France. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Ren X & Qiao J (2023, October 31) Drawing and Dwelling: British East Asian space and heritage. Sheffield Winter Garden, 31 October - 7 November 2023. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Ren X, Pham K, Qiao J & Blundell-Jones C (2023, June 17) Reimagining Home for Refugees and the Homeless. Soft Ground, Sheffield. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Ren X & Qiao J (2022, June 28) Living with Nature, in the "Sustainable Living and Cultures of Place" exhibition. Queensgate Market, Huddersfield. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Ren X (2019, May 24) Form of Silence: Tanghua Architects, 12 Built Projects. 24/05/19 - 21/06/19. The Arts Tower, University of Sheffield. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Ren X (2015, February 20) Whisper of the Rural Vernacular: Drawings, Designs, Buildings. The Bridge Gallery, University of Westminster’s Marylebone Campus, London, 20 February - 15 March 20. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Ren X (2011, October 21) Provincial Bureau of Construction New Workplace Building Design and Research. Provincial Bureau of Construction, Hefei city, China, 21 October - 21 November 2011. RIS download Bibtex download

Website content

  • Ren X China’s ‘barefoot architects’ are transforming left-behind rural villages, August 22, 2019, THE CONVERSATION. RIS download Bibtex download

Dictionary/encyclopaedia entries

  • Ren X (2020) Haobo Wei, Consumption. In Encyclopaedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World (2nd ed). London, UK: Bloomsbury. RIS download Bibtex download
Research group

Space, cultures and politics research group

  • 2023-25, 'Decoding Dong in China', Endangered Wooden Architecture Programme Large Grant, PI
  • 2022-23, 'Home-coming and Home-making: South-East Asian Diasporas in Europe',  British Academy with Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, UK PI, in collaboration with Dr Victoria Sakti from Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Gottingen, Germany
  • 2022-23, 'Asian Cultural Mobilities: Transitions, Encounters, Heritage', British Academy with Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, UK Co-PI, in collaboration with  Dr Karen O’Brien-Kop from King's College London and Dr Alessandro Rippa from Rachel Carson Centre for Environment and Society, Ludwig Maximilians Universität, Munich, Germany. 
  • 2022, 'Mapping Multiple Identities of London Chinatown', TUoS, PI
  • 2022, 'Mapping Pandemic Domesticities of Sheffield', TUoS, PI
  • 2020-23, Peter Blundell Jones Library, TUoS, PI
  • 2019-21, ‘Place and Displacement: Micro-narratives of (un)settlement’, French Embassy in the UK, PI, in collaboration with Dr Jim Njoo from Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture de Paris-La Villette, France.
  • 2019-20, ‘Conservation and Regeneration of Chinese Ancestral Hall in Zhejiang Province’, WUN, PI, in collaboration with Prof. Yong He from Zhejiang University. 
  • 2018, ‘New Workplace and Education Building Typologies in London, Oxford and Cambridge’, funded from industry, PI
  • 2016, ‘Hybrid Building and Hybrid Practitioner’, RIBA President's Medal for Research, Shortlisted
  • 2016, ‘Understanding and Transforming Chinese Rural Villages’, GBCET/UCCL, winner
  • 2016, ‘Park Hill’, Denis Mason Jones Award, RIBA/WYSA, winner
  • 2016, ‘Writing Buildings’, CREAte (University of Kent)/Architectural Review, travel grant winner
  • 2016, ‘Habits, Beliefs, and Tacit Knowledge: Everyday Ritual in East Asian Villages’, PGR Forum Funding TUoS, winner
  • 2015, ‘Housing System’, Wohnungsfrage Academy, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Germany, selected participant
  • 2015, ‘Sharing Futures’, ESRC/University of Birmingham, selected participant
  • 2014, ‘Stereotomics, Tectonics and Material Presence’, RIBA President's Medal for Master's Dissertation, Shortlisted (national 1 of 4 finalist) following School nomination
Teaching interests

I contribute to the undergraduate architectural humanities lectures at various levels, mentor postgraduate Live Projects, have a M.Arch dissertation group, and lead a MA design studio.

My design studio focuses on the design conservation and regeneration of built heritage in changing contexts, based on the deep reading and reinterpreting of the site and place.

Teaching activities

I have been the module leader for:

  • ARC 204 Humanities 4 – Issues in Contemporary Architecture
  • ARC 6874 Conservation and Regeneration: Principles and Approaches
  • ARC 6986 Architectural Design Project
  • ARC 6988 Thesis Project

I also give lectures to:

  • ARC 103 Humanities 1 – Manifestos
  • ARC 104 Humanities 2 – Architecture and Society
  • ARC6983 Participation in Architecture and Urban Design
  • ARC6975 Trajectories in Urban Design Practice

I supervise a large group of dissertation students for:

  • ARC 322 Special Studies
  • ARC 556 MArch Dissertation
  • ARC 6988 MA Thesis Project

Apart from my curriculum involvements, I am a core member of the longstanding academic unit, East-West Studies in Architecture and Landscape, established by the late Professor Peter Blundell Jones with Dr. Jan Woudstra from Department of Landscape since early 2000s.

The regular East-West Seminars and newly-branded Peter Blundell Jones Memorial Lecture Series involves students across the School and the Department of Landscape, with leading academics and practitioners from China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Turkey.

Professional activities and memberships

Academic reviewer

Bloomsbury (2019); Routledge (2019); The Journal of Architecture (2018; 2020;
2021; 2022); Architecture and Culture (2019); Home Cultures (2021); Sage OPEN
(2021); Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering (2021); European
Planning Studies (2021)

Design reviewer

University of Loughborough, Part 1 (2018; 2020); Tongji University, B.Arch (2021); Zhejiang University and Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University, MA (2021); Nanjing University, M.Arch (2021)

Invited lecture

Chinese University of Hong Kong (2021); Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture de Paris-La Villette (2021) Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (2022) China's Central Academy of Fine Arts (2022)

Design consultancy

Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy, Washington D.C (2019);
Horizon new Headquarter, China (2020)

Academic organizer

Peter Blundell Jones Memorial Travel Grant (2020–); 
Peter Blundell Jones Memorial Lecture Series (2018–); 

Academic membership

Global Architectural History Teaching Collaborative (GAHTC) member (2019–); 
European Architectural History Network (EAHN) member (2018–); 
Architectural Humanities Research Association (AHRA) member (2014–);