Date of Award

May 2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Architecture



First Advisor

Chelsea Wait

Second Advisor

Lindsey Krug

Committee Members

Trudy Watt, Mania Taher, Lynne Woehrle


Community Engagement, Design Justice, Design Methodology, Equitable Design, Ethnography, Life Centered Design


International adoption of children from China began in 1992, and between 1999 and 2019, China adopted out approximately 267,000 children. At this time, around 82,000 Chinese children were adopted by American families and raised within a culturally and racially different environment. As a unique diaspora community that has been involuntarily and forcefully displaced, Chinese transracial adoptees (TRAs) are often fragmented across the United States. The outcomes have especially complex effects as their identities are often situated in perpetual in-betweenness as they must negotiate the meanings of their Chineseness, Chinese Americanness, and adopteeness. Since a sense of self and identity is fundamentally embedded in the built environment, places play a critical role in defining and perpetuating the intersectional identity shared by Chinese TRAs. Moreover, when identity and place are misaligned, a lack of belonging can emerge.

This thesis explores the experiences of Chinese transracial adoptees regarding the liminal nature of their identities and how it is related to the built environment in finding a sense of belonging. Due to recent events, this displaced population is situated in a vulnerable position as they navigate their sense of home and find belonging in places that may be or become unwelcoming. Drawing on interdisciplinary scholarship regarding identity, belonging, and placemaking, the study examines the in-betweenness of their identities and places, focusing on the role of memory and spatial behavior in shaping their experiences. My design methodology utilizes a framework of community building and design justice, in which multi-sensory ethnography strategies, storytelling, and collaborative creative exercises were used. One central objective of the study is to uplift stakeholder empowerment through understanding the design of built environments. By collaborating with five cultural informants through a series of four group conversation sessions and individual exit interviews, the study reveals that agency over their identity, as well as the physical and social aspects of the built environment, is necessary for Chinese TRAs to find comfort and belonging. The study provides a better understanding of the complex relationship between identity and the built environment. Additionally, the study's findings will contribute to the dialogue surrounding the design for marginalized communities whose experiences may have been underrepresented and overlooked within the discourse of architecture. Moreover, the redesigned methodology rooted in empathy and humility begins to question the impact of different approaches toward engaging communities in the co-creation of their environments.