In the summers of 2016-19, our School of Architecture collaborated with Guangzhou University to organise Village Reactivation Workshops in the Dong minority village of Gaobu, located along the Pingtan River in Hunan Province.
Led by Prof. Peter Ferretto, the 10-day Workshops involved CUHK architecture students at both BSSc and MArch levels, during which they researched, designed and fabricated architectural prototypes and developed master planning proposals with the aim to revitalise Gaobu, a village rich in cultural heritage yet facing challenges related to the rapid modernisation in China.
The Workshops’ premise was that architecture can serve as a vehicle for collective expression and social empowerment. Working in teams, participating students had to understand Gaobu’s customs and traditional craftsmanship, before building timber structures made from indigenous fir trees, addressing social issues such as abandoned public spaces, creating new playgrounds for children and activating riverbanks, among others.
Each team not only conceived their design ideas but also engaged physically in constructing the prototypes with the help of the local community. Through this process, villagers were also able to reevaluate things that had no apparent value, adapt and transform them into positive assets to generate new meanings for Gaobu.
The resulting architectural prototypes and master planning proposals were presented in the form of an exhibition at a public square, highlighting sustainable and bespoke ways of enhancing community life through socially motivated architecture. The exhibition in 2017 was documented by CCTV, relating the Workshop to the wider question of heritage preservation versus village regeneration.
A new civic approach towards architecture was achieved through the Workshops, awakening the awareness of social, sustainable and economic issues facing rural Chinese communities today.