Ziwei Cheng

Research project: Simulacra Cities in China's Post-reform Urbanisation


‘‘Simulacrascapes,'' coined by Bianca Bosker in Original Copies (2013, pp. 37-67), refers to urban spaces that substitute urban forms with simulated representations, giving rise to the emergence of distinct social practices and experiences. The simulacra cities have gained considerable traction and extensive discussion among local and international architects and scholars due to their ongoing social, cultural, economic, and political influence (Yin and Qian, 2020), while unique forms of townships have emerged.  Such spaces have been dismissed as an ‘‘outdated'' phenomenon that would not last for long. Others have surmised that everyday activities occurring in these socio-culturally produced urban spaces concoct an original and developing ‘‘civilisation mix'' (Piazzoni, 2018).    

My hypothesis is that the adaptation of simulacra city new towns in Shanghai has influenced the cultural identity and social dynamics of inhabitants, shaping their sense of place and community cohesion. To investigate this hypothesis, I started to examine Shanghai's "One City Nine Towns Plan" of 2001 and the subsequent appropriation of Thames Town (British style), Anting New Town (German style), and Pujiang New Town (Italian style) by inhabitants. I will situate the roles of duplitecture and appropriation in the context of debates on authenticity throughout Chinese history, town planning, painting and philosophy, as well as contemporary definitions of authenticity that revolve around a sense of belonging to a place and the search for connections between social activities and cultural identity (Zukin, 2009) and urban space as a social product (Lefebvre 1974).  

My research will employ a mixed method approach that incorporates aesthetic, social and cultural theory around notions of authenticity, participatory research with inhabitants of Thames Town, archival research including personal archives of residents, and a "Photography Essay of Inhabited Simulacra Cities" (visual-textual documentation) as intersecting methods of enquiry.  


I am an architectural designer and aspiring academic, combining my passions for architecture and research in my multifaceted career. Holding a bachelor's degree in architecture from Central Saint Martins and two master's degrees in research from the Royal College of Art, I bring a unique blend of architectural expertise, artistic creativity, and cultural understanding to my work. I recently completed my first year of full-time PhD studies at the Kingston School of Art, where I explored various communities in China's simulacra cities. 

Areas of research interest

  • Urban and regional development
  • Social-spatial development
  • Suburbanisation and suburban migration


  • BA(Hons) in Architecture, Central Saint Martins, 2018
  • MA in Architecture, Royal College of Art, 2021
  • MRes in Architecture, Royal College of Art, 2022