From Rural to Urban

Redefining the Collective

Related Staff : John Lin

Tulou are large, introverted earthen buildings of the Hakka culture in Southern China that have emerged hundreds of years ago. Extended families built thick earthen walls for collective defense, while maintaining a shared open space for farming activities in the center. In the traditional tulou individual families live in a vertical section of rooms which are wrapping the collective courtyard space and are accessed through shared balconies. Having emerged as a form of communal dwelling, the tulou’s center has housed other functions over time: religious activites, marketplaces or schools. A proto-urban condition where the collective spaces were not only used privately but as public institutions in an increasingly developing region.

As a form of collective housing, tulou no longer correspond with contemporary desires for dwelling. Across Fujian Province, remaining spaces outside of, and inbetween, these large earthen buildings are quickly filling with a dense fabric of individual houses. As a result, the abandoned tulou would often preserve the only available open spaces in what nowadays are densely populated territories behind their protective walls. We are witnessing the tulou’s transformation from an urban building in the rural to a rural building in a newly surrounding urban context. The few remaining residents have often radically transformed or expanded their tulou. For example, by directly plugging in a modern house from the outside of the old house’s wall, or by rebuilding their tulou section by section in brick and concrete – each family with individual style and layout but retaining the collective courtyard in their middle. These adaptations are not only physical in nature but transform the notion of collectivity within the tulou. At the same time, they prove the tulou’s flexibility for programmatic, structural and spatial transformation.

Both the changing relationship between rural/urban and individual/collective ask to radically rethink the tulou. Within this transformed social and urban context we would like to propose a programmatic mutation and rethink the abandoned tulou as a public building. We explore how to renovate existing buildings for this programmatic change, exchange ideas with local communities and government and see how negotiating with reality grounds our ideas for prototypes of public buildings developed in the first semester. On three distinct sites the old house for collective living will be transformed into a new house for collective experience. As public institutions, could these abandoned structures become once again centers for a new form of collectivity?

Enlarge Photo: From Rural to Urban 1Enlarge Photo: From Rural to Urban 2