Recently “villages-amidst-the-city” has been a hot academic issue. URBANUS is giving attention to this issue as an active participant in urban construction, rather than as a scholar. This participation reflects the positioning, attitude and intent of our practice.
The cause for the formation of “villages-amidst-the-city” is simple. A huge amount of agricultural land has been taken over by cities due to the rapid urbanization that has occurred since late 20th century in China, however, the law-protected villagers residential lots are intact. Hence the “villages-amidst-the-city” were formed. Confined by horizontal size, these villages are sprawling vertically and increasing in density at an even greater rate than the expansion of the city. Because of this they are key providers of cheap housing for immigrants and the poor.
Aesthetically, the “villages-amidst-the-city” are seen as scar of the city. Politically, it is regarded as a sort of time bomb. Except from those artists who appreciate the “villages-amidst-the-city” as a meaningful background for their dramas (e.g. Hong Kong shanty housing shown in Fruit Chen’s movie), these villages have become a seemingly unsolvable problem to those who take serious consideration of the issue.
URBANUS realizes that the “villages-amidst-the-city” are an inevitable outcome during the process of urbanization in China. It is a kind of basic housing type in the contemporary city. While white-collar workers are starting to gain affluence and enjoy the middle class life style, the other pole of the city is opening wide to those low-income urban residents. We have to be aware of the Chinese agricultural population, proportion and geographical distribution, as well as the liberation of farmers in the post-industrial age. We also have to be aware that this is an important time in urban development. The more people that live in a comfortable middle class life style, the more low-income people living in a much poorer condition to support the above comfort. Hence we need these villages for a balanced society. There are various kinds of social benefits to schemes planning to replace the villages, such as compensatory removal of villagers. However, these are not realistic solutions for most of the residents relying on the village for affordable housing. In most cases, to relocate the people is to essentially deprive their means of making a life. These villages are not only places to live; they are also a basic work place for the inhabitants. Residents can simply use the same location to start small businesses. There are countless opportunities. If this kind of close-knit social frame is unbound into another urban form-unit blocks, then the above simple living condition will vanish.
The outstanding social and architectural condition of the “villages-amidst-the-city” is their spatial vitality. Compared to those “well-designed” cities which are driven by urbanization and globalization, these villages represent an extraordinary vitality in their physical and spatial configuration, as well as the enthusiasm of human beings who spontaneously create their own homes. From an architect’s point of view, the “villages-amidst-the-city” should not be bulldozed.
URBANUS is a firm with concern for the state of social engagement. Its goal is to design a humanistic urban environment amidst the circumstance of today’s rapid and careless urbanization. URBANUS’ approach towards the “villages-amidst-the-city” is realistic. On one hand, we admit that these villages are a realistic solution for the housing problem of the low-income public; hence we refuse to simply remove them. On the other hand, we are trying to discover a new method, via introducing positive public spaces and functions as well as redefining the villages’ own local characteristics, in order to upgrade the living condition within these villages, as well as to maintain a culture beneficial to the city.
These villages are in dangerous condition and may inevitably face a destructive future; at that time, there will be people who will mourn for the disappearance of the once vivid urban spaces and dwelling in the villages as they did for the ex-slums in Hong Kong. However, as a basic solution for housing the low-income class, these villages might exist forever, and at that time, there will be people bemoaning as they do about the slums in the beautiful seashore city of Rio De Janeiro. In such an age during which architects can be an active force in an effort to push society ahead, these village designs will have their values not only architecturally, but also socially and politically. We are presenting to readers four case studies revealing a potential bright future for the “villages-amidst-the-city.”