Dialogue with Professor Liu Jie of Shanghai Jiao Tong University: The Expression of “Zen” Culture Through Modern Wood Construction

Dialogue: Dialogue with experts from the wood construction industry Explore the world of modern wood construction Get to know the infinite possibilities of wood Realize coexistence between architecture and nature


Interviewee’s profile

Dr. Liu Jie

  • Professor/Doctoral Supervisor/Assistant Dean, Department of Architecture, School of Design, Shanghai Jiao Tong University; Director of Wood Architecture Research and Design Center;
  • Member of the Editorial Board of Asian Space Customs Series, University of Hawaii Press, United States;
  • Director of the Chapter of Architectural History Studies and Member of the Academic Committee, The Architectural Society of China;
  • Vice Chairman of the Landscape Architecture Research Institute, The Yuanmingyuan (Old Summer Palace) Society of China;
  • Deputy Chairman of the Professional Committee of Wood and Bamboo Structure, Shanghai Society of Civil Engineering;
  • Vice President and Secretary General of China Society for Covered Bridges (preparatory). He participated in the shooting of the US documentary Operation Bridge Rescue in 2018.



Since you have participated in a slew of projects for restoration and reconstruction of ancient Chinese temples, what characteristics do you value the most in wood? And what do you think is the biggest difference between traditional wood construction and modern wood construction?


Antique buildings or temple buildings themselves are mostly traditional wood constructions. With the advancement of the times, the demand for architectural functions of temples has become diverse. When conducting restoration and reconstruction, we try our best to apply traditional or modern wood construction technology while maintaining the original architectural style.

As a breathable, organic and long-standing building material, wood, in the eyes of Buddhists, can convey the “Zen” culture. Wood is gentle, robust and hydroscopic in nature, which can not only reflect the artistic conception of Buddhist architecture – “since all is void, where can the dust alight”, but also can be used as a low-carbon, energy-saving and environment-friendly green building material.

Regarding the difference between traditional wood construction and modern wood construction, the biggest difference, as far as I am concerned, remains in concepts, such as aesthetic concepts and functional space requirements, apart from the general academic views, such as structural connection methods, material processing methods, and material recycling limits. Architecture is designed to serve human-beings and human activities. In this regard, the practicability and humanism of architecture should be fully considered in design. Japanese architects Kengo Kuma and Shigeru Ban have also used logs and wood blocks to showcase the beauty of modern wood constructions. However, in some functional venues such as theatres and cinemas, even if they contain traditional wood elements, they will still be categorized into modern wood constructions.


According to our knowledge, several restoration projects of ancient Chinese constructions such as Hangzhou-based Xiangji Temple and Jingci Temple have adopted a combination of traditional wood construction and modern wood construction. How did you come up with such an approach?


I have been engaged in the research on the history and theory of traditional wood constructions for long. Since 2000, I have paid inspection tours to Europe for a couple of times. During this period, I visited countries like Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and Austria, all of which boast high forest coverage, extensive wood construction buildings and a long history of construction. Since the outbreak of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, industrial production have driven the modernization transformation of traditional wood construction technology in these countries.

After returning to China, I found that both the design and construction of wood constructions in China remain traditional in terms of concept/philosophy and technical means. In my opinion, we should learn from the developed countries where there are proven technologies and mature experience, and adopt modern wood construction technology to promote the further development of China’s traditional wood construction.

At that time, Xiangji Temple in Hangzhou was scheduled to conduct restoration, which turned out to be a prime opportunity for us. Modern mindset and innovative technical methods were adopted in the restoration of the temple. In another restoration project of the wood Jingci Temple in Hangzhou, since the temple is located at the core of the World Cultural Heritage site, West Lake of Hangzhou, we are obliged to strictly follow the relevant technical regulations and requirements for the protection and restoration of cultural relics and buildings.

Stepped in history and rich in culture, wood architecture embodies the essence of ancient Chinese philosophy. In most cases, a good mix of wood construction and architectural space is beyond the reach of other structural systems. For developers, overall considerations shall be given to such factors as function, market and cost when deciding the project type.



Could you please share with us some of your memories in the process of project design and construction?


We had many interesting memories when we were renovating Xiangji Temple in Hangzhou. Established in the Northern Song Dynasty, and steeped in history, Xiangji Temple is a sacred place where ancient civilians came to pray and redeem a vow to a god. In the original construction plan, the owner advocated reconstruction in pursuant to techniques described in Yingzao Fashi (lit. ‘Treatise on Architectural Methods or State Building Standards’) of the Northern Song Dynasty, i.e. Restoration shall be conducted based on the principle of the design and construction of Song-style buildings. Later, some changes have taken place in the mindset of Hangzhou’s leadership, and they hoped that innovation would be introduced to traditional buildings. As a result, we had to make a new plan to incorporate innovative elements while preserving traditional culture, thus making Xiangji Temple the first of its kind in China to be built, on the whole, on a large scale with glulam.











At that time, there was a scenario in which the owner denied the building of a basement. I think as a designer, one should have a sense of responsibility and mission, truly consider the interests of the owner and the future operation of the temple. The basement is a practical necessity in order to meet the need for storage space.

After further discussion with the owner, it was learned that the owner did not disapprove the establishment of a basement, but was worried that the project could not be completed and delivered on time due to tight construction period. To meet the requirements for construction period and function, we later made some adjustments in the scheme design. In the new design scheme, the pattern of a temple built in the mountain is simulated; the elevation of the outdoor terrace gradually increases with the progress of the space, and a semi-overhead and semi-underground space is naturally formed at the last layer/courtyard of the temple. As a result, the risk of construction delay caused by extensive excavation is avoided, and the regulation and pattern of a traditional Zen temple are reflected, thus solving the limited storage space issue of the temple and showcasing the pattern of a traditional Zen temple built in the mountain. In addition, the temple’s step-by-step elevation design enriches the architectural outline and achieves excellent visual effects. As for project period control, since the wood construction can be prefabricated in the factory, the concrete foundation and the semi-basement can be constructed simultaneously. After the structural curing is completed, it is seamlessly followed by on-site installation of the wood construction, so that we have successfully completed the scheme with half the time and efforts.

At that time, there were few similar projects in China where there was a lack of construction experience. For example, there was a prominent contradiction in the joint/cohesion between concrete construction and wood construction. The fact is that the interconnection error of concrete construction was centimeter level, while that of wood construction was millimeter level. Later, the connection problem was solved due to recalculation and adjustment.


Which projects do you think reflect the future development trend of wood constructions? What do you think is the biggest challenge for wood buildings at the moment? Compared with steel construction and concrete construction, what is the greatest opportunity for the development of the wood construction industry?


I think anything is possible. Relatively speaking, wood itself is a healthy and organic building material, and will be applied to more scenarios, especially in cultural, educational, healthy and religious buildings.

The biggest challenge, I think, lies in policy and economy. Policy factor comes first, as favorable national policies have a great and positive impact on the development of the wood constructions sector. Economic factor comes second, as the market determines the price. The unbalanced local economic development and different local bidding policies directly or indirectly affect the choice of wood construction.

If the cost of wood construction is judged from the whole life cycle of buildings including planning, design, construction, application/usage and maintenance, even demolition, recycling and reuse, etc., wood construction still boast certain comprehensive cost advantages. Western countries have been following the route of sustainable development for long. However, wood buildings in China are still in the growth stage. Considering that wood-frame constructions are light weight, highly comfortable, prefabricated, and easy to install and dismantle, they will enjoy broad development potential in the future.

In some cases, wood construction possesses incomparable advantages over steel construction and concrete construction in terms of the expression, affinity, health and aesthetic properties contained in wood materials. Living in wood houses makes indoor occupants more focused, calms the nerves and enable them feel happy. Several scientific studies have found that living in wood houses for long can prolong the life span by 9-11 years. It is turned out to be the best choice for people pursuing a healthy life.



How do you think the development of modern wood construction will be integrated into the industrialization of construction?


Wood construction is inherently a product of modular design and construction, and industrialization has brought unprecedented development opportunities to the construction industry, so how to optimize design, integrate resources, improve efficiency and reduce costs is the key to the development of the construction industry in the next stage. With the advancement of the wood construction technology at home and abroad, architects have pull collective wisdoms to innovate design and technology, enabling wood construction to embrace more room for growth. Moreover, its superior material performance will benefit wood construction to achieve further development in the smart construction sector.



We know that Mr. Liu is currently a professor and doctoral supervisor in the Department of Architecture of the School of Design, Shanghai Jiao Tong University who enjoys rich teaching experience. In recent years, some colleges and universities, including Shanghai Jiao Tong University, have already offered relevant courses on wood design. What do you think drove the offering of such courses at these schools?


The content setting and development of wood design courses varies from school to school. We at Shanghai Jiao Tong University have also been trying to promote the teaching and research of wood construction building system. Our wood construction center is scheduled to offer a four-in-one program in architecture, construction, materials and art for postgraduates. Candidates in relation to these four majors can apply for this program. In the past, the curriculum setting was either narrow or meticulous, which enabled students not only to be proficient in only one subject or one aspect, but also prone to be one-sided without a comprehensive and long-term vision. From the perspective of teaching, the offering of interdisciplinary subjects can expand students’ knowledge and improve their comprehensive design capability. Only by combining technology with the concept can high-quality buildings be designed.

Students are taking the wood design course in a summer vacation program at The University of British Columbia (UBC)

What’s your comment on students’ attitude towards wood construction in the research and teaching of wood construction? How will this shape the next generation of architects?
















△ K11 Architecture Festival “The Resurgence of Wood Architecture” Exhibition


Wood architecture enjoys wide popularity among students. This is not only because they nowadays have a wide range of interests, but also due to the excellent expression of wood materials and the vigorous promotion of wood construction. Students have also been more actively engaged in relevant events and activities than ever before. Tongji University recently planned a theme exhibition entitled “The Resurgence of Wood Architecture”, which also attracted massive college students of related majors. We encourage students to take part in more activities alike. These exhibitions showcase the latest materials, technologies and future development trends. The assimilation, application and mastery of this knowledge will be of great help to students in their future work.











K11 Architecture Festival “The Resurgence of Wood Architecture” Exhibition



What teaching measures has your employer taken to train talents in the field of wood constructions? Which aspect of ability training should we pay more attention to? What are your expectations or suggestions for them?


Timber Design of Tourist Center (submitted by Nanjing Tech University), the award-winning project (First Prize) at the 4th National College Wood Construction Design Competition


We want to get students of architecture and engineering construction major involved by holding exhibitions, competitions, speeches, training, etc., through which students’ performance in design and practice can be elevated to a new level. In terms of talent training, different schools have different missions and orientations. For example, Nanjing Tech University focuses on undergraduate training, while Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Tongji University focus more on postgraduate training. Whether you are students or construction practitioners, people of different majors have their own fields of expertise. In the process of cross-disciplinary cooperation, we should communicate and consult more widely, be prudent, and consider things from every angle and in all directions.




List of classic project cases

Xiangji Temple in Hangzhou



Kaiyuan Temple in Liuzhou

Jingci Temple in Hangzhou


Tourist Service Center of Jiuyi Mountain Scenic Spot in Ningyuan County, Yongzhou City, Hunan Province (Honorable Mentions at the 2019 BC WOOD DESIGN AWARDS in Canada)




Wood Biophilia Featured on the 2020 Second Annual China Healthy Building Conference

The biophilic qualities of wood materials and wood frame construction (WFC) were highlighted at the Second Annual China Healthy Building Conference that took place on September 8, 2020, at the China Academy of Building Research (CABR). This conference is the most prestigious healthy building event in China, jointly organized by seven national-level organizations that are key players in the advancement of China’s healthy building development. They include the China Healthy Building Alliance, CABR, the Chinese Academy of Urban Sciences, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Building Science, Tsinghua University, and Beijing University.


FII China was invited by the conference organizer to introduce the role of wood in healthy building applications. Organized with a live broadcast over WeChat with the support of lezhibo.com, the event reached more than 2.6 million views, showing a strong public interest in this area. Mr. Cui Kai, Fellow of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, also complimented WFC’s strengths with green and healthy building in his presentation that included two wood-frame public building projects in China designed by his team.



Cui Kai, Fellow of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, introducing WFC sample projects and their green building features




















The concept of “Healthy Building” began to circulate when China issued the “Healthy China 2030 Planning Guidelines” in 2016, which is a systematic strategy to “promote a healthy lifestyle, develop a healthy environment, and establish a healthy industry” in the years leading up to 2030. In 2017, MOHURD issued the 13th Five-Year-Plan for building energy conservation and green development, while CABR took the lead in publishing China’s first Healthy Building Label.


At the onset of its implementation, the healthy building system was slow to progress in China due to health factors being less of a priority in the construction market. Before 2020, only around a dozen buildings applied for certification under the Healthy Building Label each year. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted people’s awareness of health issues in their environment and shifted their attention to the factors that can determine healthy living conditions.


More than ever, the topic of health is playing a leading role in the Chinese construction industry. The number of projects applying for the Chinese Healthy Building Label grew exponentially, and CABR is working on publishing 10 new specifications categorizing healthy building labels by application types such as healthy hospitals, healthy tourism and resort, and healthy products and materials.

Project Representatives receiving the China Healthy Label Certification














The use of wood in construction is proven to be an advantageous solution for people’s health and well-being, both physically and mentally. Research shows that biophilic properties wood can have a positive influence on nerves and reduce stress levels from touch, sight and smell. Volatile substances or the scent released by wood and essential oils extracted from wood are shown to relieve mental stress and can help soothe some symptoms of respiratory diseases. FII China will continue to advocate for its application in the Chinese healthy building system and construction sector with relevant Chinese partners.

Wood Industry Quarterly Update – 20Q2

1. BC softwood lumber exports:


  • In 20Q2 the total softwood lumber exports from BC rebounded by 8.1% in volume and 10.6% in value compared with 20Q1, nearly to 19Q4’s level reaching 4.3 million m3. Being affected by the global impact of the pandemic, the total export volume of 20Q2 is just 73.1% of 19Q2.


  • US markets, as the main destination for BC softwood lumber exports, showed a slight fall of 5% in 20Q2, down from 2.83 million m3 in 20Q1 to 2.69 million m3 in this quarter.


  • China, the second-largest market for BC softwood lumber exports, reverses the downward trend in this quarter after declining for 4 consecutive quarters. Exports volume to China significantly rises by 56.8% in 20Q2 compared with 20Q1, reaching 0.97 million m3.





China timber imports:

(1) Total imports

  • China’s log imports have slipped by 16.9% in volume in 20H1 versus 19H1. Lumber imports and softwood lumber imports also went down by 11.8% and 11.6% respectively in comparison with 19H1. China has imported 24.25 million m3 logs and 16.60 million m3 lumber up to this June. Softwood lumber accounted for 75% of total lumber imports.


  • The total logs and lumber imports by China show a recovery, up by 16.0% in 20Q2 versus 20Q1, reporting 21.9 million m3, though the volume is still 18.0% less than 19Q2. The recovery is mainly driven by lumber imports which expand by 38% than the previous quarter. Softwood lumber imports enjoyed a similar level of recovery with a growth of 41.8% from 20Q1, recording 7.3 million m3 in 20Q2.









(2)Softwood lumber imports

  • Russia still dominates the softwood lumber exports into China up to 20Q2, accounting for 61.1% of total imports, though with a decrease of 12.0% versus the same period of last year.


  • Canada softwood lumber imported by China in 20H1 reports 1.4 million m3, shrinking by 45.6% versus 19H1.


  • Europe boosts its softwood lumber notably in the 1st half, taking over Canada as the 2nd largest export market into China. Sweden and Germany are the main contributors which have considerably heightened their exports to China, at a rise of 50% and 47.5% respectively. Ukraine also raised its exports by 24.7%. While Finland cut the exports to China by 16.6%.


  • The preceding 6 countries represented around 87.8% of the total 20H1 softwood lumber exports into China.



  • The import volume of fir and spruce lumber in 20Q2 enjoy a firm rebound after slipping for 3 consecutive quarters. In 20Q2 China imported around 3.3 million m3 fir and spruce lumber, almost on par with 19Q2, up by 49.6% compared with 20Q1.


  • The growth of fir and spruce lumber imports in this quarter further enlarges the gap with radiata pine and Douglas-fir imports in volume. Radiata pine lumber imports have dropped since 19Q3, reporting 191.5K m3 in 20Q2, and sliding by 26.1% over 20Q1. The volume is just 58.7% of that in 19Q2. The imports of Douglas-fir lumber record 46.4K m3 in this quarter, up by 8.3% over 20Q1. The volume is around 78.9% of that in 19Q2.


  • The unit price of imported radiata pine lumber and fir & spruce lumber terminates the falling trend, even with a mild rise. The price of the former one raises from CIF 203 USD/m3 in Q1 to CIF 207 USD/m3 in Q2, and the latter one heightens from CIF 167 USD/m3 in Q1 to CIF 175 USD/m3 in Q2 (may be caused by the declining inventory).


  • Douglas-fir lumber continues its fluctuated trend in its unit price. It slips to CIF 155 USD/m3 after an increase in 20Q1 at CIF 159 USD/m3.


2. Construction Market Overview:

  • Total investment in Chinese real estate development in the first half of 2020 was RMB6.3 trillion, a nominal increase of 1.9% year on year.


  • The land area purchased by real estate enterprises was 79.7 million m2 in 20H1, down 0.9% year on year. While the total transaction value of land reached RMB403.6 billion, up 5.9%.


  • The total construction starts in China bounce back to 1,398 million m2 in 20Q2, indicating the resumption from the pandemic, even with 10.6% growth over 19Q2.


  • The total construction completes record 1,245 million m2 up to 20Q2, with 760 million m2 in completed in 20Q2, 1.6 times more than 20Q1. It is still a 12.6% drop from 19H1. While the total accumulated floor space under construction in this half resume to 11.2 million m2, even more than 19H1 by 4.2%.


3. Highlights in the market:

  • In June 2020, China’s manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) was 50.9%, a drop of 1.1% from March. According to preliminary estimates released by the China National Bureau of Statistics, China’s GDP expanded by 3.2% year-on-year in 20Q2, reversing a decline of 6.8% in 20Q1. China has become the world’s first major economy to show robust recovery from the impact of the pandemic, with The Economist predicting that China is the only G20 nation with a chance for GDP growth this year.


  • China’s total retail sales of consumer goods were RMB 17.2 trillion (US$2.46 trillion) in 2020H1, down a nominal 11.4% year-over-year.


  • Chinese furniture sales totalled RMB 65.7 billion (US$ 9.4 billion) over the period, down 27.2% from the 2019H1. June 2020 furniture sales totalled 15.9 billion (US$2.3 billion), down 13.6% from the previous year.


Focused Policy Coverage: China Drills New Meaning into Industrialized Construction

China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD) and eight other national departments jointly announced a new policy on September 4th 2020, ushering in a new phase for the industrialized construction sector. While recognizing the accomplishments made since the formulation of prefabrication policies in 2016, the new policy was published in a context where operation efficiency, innovation and environmental protection are reinforced as essential concerns for the industry.

Building on existing prefabrication policies, the new policy aims to promote construction industrialization driven by information technology to optimize the process and define more specific action areas for advancement. There is a push for a consolidation of supply chains to ensure high-quality development, and efficiency requirements to lower material consumption and pollutant emissions. Accordingly, action plans were rolled out to define policy targets in nine fields:

-The policy pushes architects to focus on a more systematic design with an emphasis on determining factors in each stage of construction to better account for the life cycle of the process.

-Establishing new certification mechanisms for production lines, the policy advocates for standardization of building components and optimization of the manufacturing process where green building materials can be utilized.

-The policy emphasizes precision and efficiency for on-site construction, with significant portions of the text dedicated to integrated refurbishment and enhanced coordination among the different trades involved.

-The combination of information technology and industrialized construction was widely discussed in the policy, covering Building Information Modeling (BIM), the Internet of Things (IoT), big data applications, and smart building technologies.

-With respect to project management, Engineering-Procurement-Construction (EPC) was cited as the mainstream model for industrialized construction, while professional consulting services are mandated for quality control of the whole process.

-The policy recognized the role of technology in bolstering an upgraded version of industrialized construction and therefore encouraged research and development as well as the conversion of technological advancement.

-According to the policy, cultivating a talent pool that matches the emerging workforce demand is a critical step for the success of the new industrialization drive.

-Competent departments will set up feedback channels to evaluate the opportunities and challenges facing industrialized construction.

-The policy concludes with a series of incentives to stimulate the transformation to a newer stage of industrialized construction, covering project approval facilitation, financial support, incentives for environmental standards, technology proliferation and other government endorsements.

Canada Wood Participated at the International Conference on Green and Energy-efficient Building in China

On August 26-27, the annual International Conference on Green and Energy-efficient Building was successfully held in Suzhou city, Jiangsu province. The conference has been ranked as a top-level event in green building area in China, organized by China Society for Urban Studies, with the support from central government ministries including the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD), the Ministry of Science and Technology, the National Development and Reform Commission, and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

As one of the largest conferences to be held post-COVID-19 for the construction industry in China, the event was attended by national leading experts and over 3000 representatives from government organizations, research institutes, universities, design institutes, developers and construction companies. FII China, Canada Wood China and the Greater China Network of the Canadian Trade Commissioners jointly decided to participate in this benchmark event.

The main forum of the Green Building Conference in Suzhou


With Canadian Trade Commissioners joining together from the consular missions in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing and Beijing, FII China and Canada Wood China leveraged the opportunity to organize a program together on August 25. This program included a half-day briefing session in Shanghai on the wood industry, followed by site visits to wood construction projects in Suzhou built by Crown Homes. FII China also invited local Chinese stakeholders to join the visits, to brief them on wood applications in public facilities, residential housing and prefabricated wood production. The team was joined by research institutes from Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, along with the China Academy of Building Research (CABR) to discuss potential cooperation areas.

Briefing session held at Dream Home Canada in Shanghai, with FII China, Canada Wood China, and the Canadian Trade Commissioners





































Site visit to the Crown Homes factory in Suzhou for wood prefabrication

Following the program on 25th, the two-day conference started on 26th with the theme of “Healthy Green Building”, which echoed the principle of the new Chinese National Assessment Standard for Green Building issued last year, to pay more attention to improving the living quality and satisfaction of people in buildings. FII China was also invited to deliver a presentation to over 150 industry professionals during one of the forums to introduce wood in the healthy building, and how wood could help developers realize the targets in China for healthy buildings.

Nancy Xie, Director of Government Relations at FII China, presenting on healthy building


In addition to the topic of healthy building, the keynote speeches from leading Chinese academics and experts during the main conference and the 49 sub-forums mainly covered climate change, carbon reduction, energy efficiency, old house renovation, reduction of construction waste, and the framework of towns and villages with special characteristics. All these topics matched with the areas where FII China has advocated for opportunities with wood construction. One particular highlight is that wood had been mentioned many times by a senior fellow of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and professor from the Southeast University School of Architecture, Professor Wang Jianguo. In his presentation on urban construction and architectural design in the main conference, he emphasized the benefits that wood solutions can offer for energy-efficiency.


During the two-day conference, FII China team members participated not only to follow the most recent policy information and industry trends but also to leverage the opportunity to have on-site meetings and engage with stakeholders from both central and regional government bureaus. This chance to meet and discuss upcoming programs helps to strengthen government relations and expands the network for advocating wood with new industry connections.