TAISHAN: Designing the Rural Cosmopolis in China

Cosmopolitanism and its vibrancy are commonly associated with urban life; rural life by contrast is often seen as static, disconnected and monocultural. China’s rapid urbanization over the past two decades has led to a decline of its countryside, outward migration, an increasingly poor standard of living and a vanishing rural community. However, an emerging population of returning rural emigrants who have experienced and lived cosmopolitanism in their host cities have been transformed through the everyday negotiations of cultural differences. Taishan, in the Pearl River Delta region, experienced China’s earliest emigration in the 19th century and today retains a distinct diaspora community sustained by the clanship network. As a result, the culture is rooted in ancestral history coexisting with transnational mobility and openness to difference.

This studio will explore tourism as a catalyst for rural revitalization in Taishan. The aim is to support existing social capital while stimulating new development through stakeholder collaboration and local empowerment. The project demands strategies to incentivize returning migrants and small to medium scale entrepreneurs to settle in rural areas that provide an alternative lifestyle for economic and social mobility. Within rural revitalization, thematic tensions are considered: heritage and development. The challenge in defining what is heritage in an urbanizing rural context and how heritage is inherited and integrated into future developments will be of central importance.
Students will work in interdisciplinary teams focused on two tasks: 1) at the macro scale – a territorial design for Duanfen Town; 2) a built-form intervention for Tingjiang Village. Within these scales, strategies will be developed in parallel with tangible outcomes. The studio addresses revitalization issues examining the macro to the micro, tangible and intangible, in a dialogue that informs the whole process. Taishan’s cultural background and socio-economic restructuring creates an opportunity to recuperate the social capital between the ancestral clanships and local governance in facilitating the regeneration of the region. The complexity of issues requires concepts born out of the intersection of planning, architecture and landscape architecture. 

The overarching goal of the studio is to facilitate Taishan’s transition from traditional agrarian to a new rural economy, from traditional farmers to cosmopolitan ‘rural’ residents along with the spatial transition from villages to contemporary rural settlements. The studio poses the following:

• How can new development transform the local residents from passive beneficiaries to active stakeholders? 
• What urban qualities can be introduced without threatening the positive rural qualities?
• How can the existing clanship network be maintained in the context of a transforming marketing system? 
• How can new agricultural enterprises be sustainably integrated economically with Taishan’s rural community? 
• What can new development learn from the existing villages at the urban and architectural scales?

The studio is in collaboration with local universities, organizations and government agencies. The outcome of the studio will culminate into a set of design strategies and policy recommendations for action and implementation presented to the People’s Government of Duanfen Town.

Note: This studio will meet on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Elaine Kwong will be in residence for all classes. David Rubin will be in residence on February 4, 5, 18, 19; March 10, 11, 24, 25; April 7, 8, 21, 22; and the final review on either May 1, 4, or 5. Kathryn Firth will be in residence on January 28, 29; February 11, 12, 18, 19; March 10, 11, 24, 25, 31; April 1, 14, 15, 21, 22; and the final review on either May 1, 4, or 5. This studio will travel to Taishan, China.