In a moving tribute that crosses both time and borders, the University of Pennsylvania‘s Stuart Weitzman School of Design is set to award a posthumous Bachelor of Architecture degree to Lin Huiyin, a luminary in the world of Chinese architecture. Slated for May 18, 2024, this honor comes as a significant gesture on the 120th birth anniversary of Lin and the 100th anniversary of her enrollment at the university.
The narrative of Lin’s journey at Penn, as detailed by the Penn Wharton China Center (PWCC), paints a vivid picture of her tenacity and brilliance. Enrolling in 1924, she chose the Bachelor of Fine Arts course, not out of preference but out of necessity. The university’s architecture program, which she was deeply passionate about, didn’t open its doors to female students until a decade later, in 1934.
Despite this, Lin’s indomitable spirit led her to complete most of the required coursework for the Bachelor of Architecture degree. Her prowess in the field was evident, not just from her coursework, but also from her role as a teaching assistant in architectural design, where she frequently outperformed her male peers.
Yet, her remarkable achievements were shadowed by an archaic system. Out of the 23 Chinese students who were part of Penn’s architecture program during that era, Lin was the only one to be denied a diploma upon finishing her studies. Weitzman Dean and Paley Professor Fritz Steiner, who began a formal review into this oversight in 2022, remarked, “It was increasingly evident that Lin was denied her rightful degree solely based on her gender. Rectifying this oversight is long overdue.”
Esteemed academics across borders have lauded this gesture. Fudan University’s Professor Shen Dingli opined that this move reflected deep respect for an extraordinary Chinese woman, while others view it as an encouraging sign of enduring educational and cultural ties between China and the US.
The sentiment was mirrored by Lin’s daughter, Liang Zaibing, who emotionally noted, “A century later, her alma mater finally acknowledges my mother’s passion and prowess in architecture.”
This historic gesture caught the attention of many, leading to animated discussions on platforms like Sina Weibo. Comments ranged from celebrating Lin’s vast contributions to lamenting the delay in this recognition.
Beyond her educational journey, Lin’s legacy in the architectural realm is unparalleled. She played an instrumental role in designing China’s national emblem and the Monument to the People’s Heroes at Tian’anmen Square.
The PWCC is currently hosting an exhibition titled “Building in China: A Century of Dialogues on Modern Architecture.” This exhibition pays homage to the students who laid the foundation for modern Chinese architecture, with Lin Huiyin, heralded as the first and most celebrated female architect of modern China, prominently featured.
Associate professor of city and regional planning at Weitzman, Lin Zhongjie, one of the curators, expressed that the exhibition aims to showcase the symbiotic relationship between China and the US in the architectural realm. It celebrates the mutual inspirations and the enduring legacies left behind by pioneers like Lin Huiyin.