Panyu: Urban Becoming Rural?

Department: Landscape Architecture
Active Dates: June 2015 - December 2017

Title: Panyu: Urban Becoming Rural?

Project team: Co-PIs: Dorothy Tang (FoA), Max Hirsh (HKIHSS), Margaret Crawford (University of California—Berkeley)

Project funder(s): Seeking Funding


Lying at the heart of the Pearl River Delta, Panyu is neither here nor there: an in-between landscape of industrial estates, villages, and farms, superhighways and ancient canals, populated in equal measure by villagers who have deep historical roots in the region, and by more recent migrants who have flocked to Panyu’s manifold workshops, factories, and back offices. Located on the fringes of larger urban centers such as Guangzhou, Foshan, and Dongguan, Panyu’s polycentric, heterogeneous landscape is often overlooked, or worse, discounted as a backwater, filled with antiquated reminders of Guangdong’s rural past that have ‘not yet’ been urbanized.

We argue, however, that it is precisely these overlapping ‘in-between’ valences—between rural and urban, between agricultural and industrial activities, and between villagers and migrants—that make Panyu an excellent lens for interpreting broader changes in the social, aesthetic, and economic landscapes of China’s megacity regions. Rather than charting a progressive and irreversible urbanization of the countryside, we use a study of Panyu to highlight instances where the creative combination of rural, urban, and suburban functions has produced an as-yet unnamed 21st-century landscape typology: one that bears certain similarities to other industrialized rural regions, such as Japan’s Kansai and Germany’s Ruhr; yet at the same time departs from these historical precedents due to the peculiar characteristics of China’s myriad market-socialist models of village development.

Anticipated outcomes and outputs:

  • Book-length Project
  • Hirsh, Max & Dorothy Tang. “Periurban Architecture in Contemporary China: Notes from Panyu” in Critical Approaches to Contemporary Architecture edited by Swati Chattopadhyay and Jeremy White. Routledge. (Forthcoming)



2015-16 Exhibition, “Panyu: Rural becoming Urban?” (With Margaret Crawford & Max Hirsh)

2015 Shenzhen Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Architecture/Urbanism
Shekou, Shenzhen, China


Enlarge Photo: Panyu