> SIAS International University
AU faculty member has designed the entire campus of the first
American-style university in China.
Peter Weiss, an associate professor in the AU College of Architecture,
Design and Construction, has developed the master plan and designed
33 buildings and an iconic bell tower for SIAS International
University in ancient Xinzheng City, 300 miles south of Beijing.
The faculty member in AUs Department of Building Science
is the only Westerner permitted by the government of China to
design a campus in that country. The university is the only
one in China that is permitted to fly the U.S. flag.
Chinese university has erected 28 of the buildings and enrollment
has increased from 100 to 7,500 since Weiss began the project in
2000. With construction under way on the remaining buildings, Chinese
officials are preparing for enrollment to reach 12,000 next year.
Although China has more than 2,000 colleges and universities, Weiss
said he was told that the selection of an American architect was
part of a broader effort to introduce the American university model
into Chinas higher education system.
For Weiss, the journey to China began 30 miles from Auburn in Columbus,
Ga., in 1999, when Chinese entrepreneur Shawn Chen asked a friend
at Beacon College, a small, interdenominational Christian college
for help finding an architect for an American-style university in
The Beacon College faculty member turned to Bruce Erick, then a
U.S. Army officer at Fort Benning, who had taken classes at Auburn
and at the Columbus institution, which has since been renamed Beacon
University. The student recommended Weiss, his former professor
at AU, and Chen invited the Auburn faculty member to view the site
and discuss the project. Within weeks, the initial contract evolved
into the largest project Weiss had ever encountered and one in a
part of the world that was new to him.
At that time, I knew very little about China, recalled
Weiss, who has been a member of the AU faculty since 1983. My
only instruction from Dr. Chen was to build a campus for 10,000
students. Before the campus was complete, however, enrollment
was approaching 12,000.
Although written as an acronym, SIAS is a word created by Chen.
The university president told Weiss he chose the name after examining
the naming practices of several successful international corporations
Weiss soon learned that the job would be one of the largest university
design projects ever undertaken by an American architect. Chen wanted
to build his modern university in Henan Province in Chinas
agricultural heartland. As part of a government-supported effort
to bring capitalist principles to the communist nation, the university
would prepare a new generation of graduates schooled in American
China sends large numbers of its young people to American universities
to learn about business, science, agriculture and technology, but
the number of returning graduates is far below market demand in
the emerging capitalist economy. Chen informed Weiss that an American-style
university in Chinas heartland would be a much more efficient
way to introduce capitalism to his country.
Weiss, a licensed architect with degrees from three universities,
began his designs for the American-style university in March 2000.
That September he made his first journey to Xinzheng City and began
collaborating with Chinese architects and builders who are implementing
One of my first goals was to design buildings and a campus
that would give students a sense of comfort in and out of class,
Weiss said. I knew that would be important to the Americanization
process to which these students would be exposed.
While construction of dormitories and classroom buildings began
almost as soon as architectural designs were complete, the first
design was a belltower. Space is reserved at the highest point on
campus for the structure, and designs for all the buildings reflect
that icons mix of Chinese and American themes.
When I started working on the project, I was hoping to get
60 percent or 70 percent of my designs built the way I designed
them, Weiss recalls. In fact, well over 90 percent has
been built to design.
Two students, Charles Martin and Jennifer Abbot, assisted Weiss
with the designs for the SIAS campus. Both have since graduated
and are working in the construction industry.