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Socially engaged architecture in a Chinese rural village: Xihe Village Community Centre, 2014

  • Xiang Ren (a1)


This paper attempts to explore the social production of architecture in contemporary Chinese rural villages through a case study on the Community Centre in Xihe Village. This community project, designed and built in 2014, exemplifies a lesser-known type of Chinese architectural practice engaging in a local and specific context, which suddenly gave participation a dramatic image in current breakneck Chinese rural-urban transition of large scale and rapid speed. By looking at this highly specific case through a detailed description and critical evaluation, this paper takes this participatory architectural project as the very first critical example of the socially-engaged architecture in China; as presenting an alternative architecture of resistance in response to the top-down guiding principle ‘Construction of A New Socialist Countryside’ launched by the government in 2005. Source material was collected through fieldwork in the village, including observational study, photographic documentation, and intensive formal and informal interviews with practitioners, authorities, and villagers. The analysis emphasizes the social process and consequences of different stages of this building, in order to explore hidden potentials and methodologies tailoring the architectural design and construction to the site-specificity. The social consequence of the building process is much more important than the object produced. By investigating the architectural version within a broader framework combining anthropology and activism, the paper attempts to introduce a more socially resilient way of making architecture in the current Chinese rural-urban transition. On the one hand it addresses the contingencies in working with underprivileged village communities in inner rural China, which have scarce resources and fragile identities; on the other hand it cuts through the surface of rural vernacular China to expose the undercurrent of silent issues in architecture that constitute the indigenous, the everyday, resistance, transition, and resilience.


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Socially engaged architecture in a Chinese rural village: Xihe Village Community Centre, 2014

  • Xiang Ren (a1)


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