The Class of 2020: Jianan “John” Dai (MArch’20)

The Class of 2020: Jianan “John” Dai (MArch’20)

Student spotlight: Jianan “John” Dai, ARCH ’20

By Lauren Hertzler


From Changshu, China, Jianan “John” Dai moved to Rhode Island when he was 15. Witnessing life in ever-growing cities in China, and then in the suburbs of the states, he recalls becoming vastly interested in futuristic residential solutions.

“I’m interested in mediating vertical city growth,” he says, “when people still want to own their own house and backyard in an urban setting.”

Dai, who attended Ohio State for architecture, worked as a designer after college at Columbus firm OHM Advisors. He was drawn to Penn’s School of Design for a master’s in architecture degree not only because of its rigorous program in visual studies, but also its emphasis on digital design and new media. 

Now in his second year, Dai has already made his mark in the program, nabbing multiple awards, including the Warren Powers Laird Award for having the highest standing in all his academic courses at Penn, and second place in the F. Schenk-Henry Gillette Woodman Competition, which earned him a scholarship to travel abroad.

This past spring, he and his teammate Xiangyu Chen earned first place—and a $6,500 cash prize—in the Design Futures Challenge, presented by HOK’s Philadelphia office. The award also included an opportunity to participate in a paid internship at the firm this past summer.

In addition to his schoolwork, Dai is a teaching assistant for the 501 studio, which is for first-year architecture graduate students, and is president of PennDesign Student Council, which, he says, is providing him great leadership experience. An apt skill as he prepares for his future, Dai says he hopes to one day establish his own architecture firm.