In China's Sichuan province, near the city of Guangyuan, almost two dozen carefully designed buildings have been erected by Rural Urban Framework, a research and design collaborative based at The University of Hong Kong, as part of reconstruction efforts after the 2008 earthquake there.
The design strategy provides four different types of houses, differing in size, function and their roof sections. These demonstrate new uses of local materials, a green stepped-roof, biogas technologies, and accommodation for pigs and chickens.
The homes are relatively simple: exposed concrete frameworks with brick walls, and windows to help bring in light and cross-ventilation. In addition to the homes, a community centre with a green roof has also been installed. But what's striking here is that the houses are configured and terraced in a way that promotes a more urban feel, reflecting the studio's design response to the Chinese government's plan to urbanize half of the country's 700 million rural citizens by 2030, but in a local context.
Here, in this village, the buildings have been placed closer together to form narrower streets, while sheltered porches encourage residents to sit outside and participate socially with other community members -- arguably a more urban approach. By integrating solutions for increased self-sufficiency and long-term sustainability, the design also interweaves a sense of communal inter-dependence into the overall scheme. As the architects note:
By relating various programs of the village to an ecological cycle, environment responsiveness is heightened, transforming the village into a model for nearby areas. Because the land available for house building is limited, the village combines dense urban living in a rural context.
Ultimately, the studio hopes that this more sustainable approach to rebuilding villages can become a model for others to emulate:
This is an investigation into modern rural livelihood. The importance of the project in this context is to provide an alternative model to the hundreds of thousands of homes already built after the 2008 earthquake. This project provides a viable new alternative based on a better understanding of the limitations of both traditional housing and modern generic housing. With tens of thousands of newly planned villages occurring in China today, the challenge is to plan villages as authentic places whereby the spatial organization and physical expression is derived directly from its relationship to its natural environment.
While some argue that it's a better idea to stop rebuilding in disaster-prone areas, that rational approach glosses over people's understandably sentimental attachment to a particular place and region, and the human spirit's tendency to overcome setbacks, against all the odds. So what's the next best thing? Bake in resilience and disaster-resistance right into the design of our buildings and communities, and to hopefully learn from our mistakes. To see more, visit Rural Urban Framework.