The Countryside as a City

The studio is premised upon two fundamental ambitions, the recuperation of an idea of the city as a project and the pursuit of alternative forms of urbanization in response to the challenges posed by the developmental city in China. The former treats the project of the city as a cultural, political and aesthetic act; the latter as a strategic project for urbanization, articulated through its architecture, landscape and infrastructure.

For the final year of our three-year sponsored research and design studio on China, our research will be focused on the transformation of China\’s rural villages into towns, with the villages of Zhongmou County, at the outskirts of Zhengzhou, as our site of investigation and proposition. With China’s rate of urbanization reaching the 51% mark in 2011, the next phase of economic and social development will now be focused on the urbanization of its rural areas. In Premier Le Keqiang’s recent announcement, the state’s urbanization target of 70%, affecting 900 million people by 2025, will not come from the further expansion of large cities but will instead be focused on the growth of rural towns and small cities. As a continuation of the \’Building a New Socialist Countryside\’ programme of 2006, developed against the backdrop of rural unrest and the urgent need to secure food production, this drive attempts to reverse the migration of the rural populace to the city, uplift the living standards in the rural areas, and to safeguard farmland from further speculative developments. This is now manifest in the demolition and reconstruction of sub-standard housing in villages, and the wholesale demolition and merging together of several village, to share new communal amenities, as an approximation of life in the city.

China’s rural urbanization should not be mistaken with the process of suburbanization of the United States or the creation of low density picturesque garden cities in Britain. It should neither be the transformation of rural areas into dense urbanized cores, with the glut of speculative housing as the primary economic driver. Beyond the upgrading of basic infrastructure and sanitation, the challenge here is to imagine a self-sufficient place that can support a dynamic economy in the countryside, provide cultural and intellectual stimulation, and offer a respite to the inequalities and divisions that plagues the developmental city; in other words, the city as a space of equal and plural coexistence. Thus the design task for the studio is to conceive of the restructured villages as a common framework – with housing, cultural and communal facilities, and work spaces that can cultivate an economy alongside its agriculture base. The studio defines the common framework as an architecture, landscape and infrastructure that reifies the idea of the city as a space of coexistence. It is most poignant when it is shared, lived, experienced and viewed as a whole, as a city – as a collective work of art.

Open to students of Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape Architecture

The studio will travel to Zhengzhou and Beijing in September 2014. The historical and theoretical underpinnings of this studio will be offered by Course 09123: The Fourth Typology. The outcome of the option studio will be subject to a publication.

The studio meets on Aug 29, 30; Sep 11, 12; Oct 2, 3, 16, 17, 30, 31; Nov 13, 14, 24, 25, and Dec 10. Online tutorials will be held on the Thursdays and Fridays when studio is not meeting.