As found houses: Experiments from self-builders in rural China

John Lin, Sony Devabhaktuni, Department of Architecture, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Awards RIBA President's Awards for Research 2021
Category Cities and Community

Highway House, Wooden House © John Lin

The research addresses the tendency toward vernacular obsolescence in rural China by identifying unique cases of previously overlooked vernacular dwellings that have been informally adapted by villagers. Instead of abandoning their traditional dwellings in favour of generic concrete frame and brick constructions, these self-builders have developed intelligent solutions for updating their old houses. The results are fresh ideas for sustainable living that contain spatial nuances related to deep rooted social structures– relevant for professional and informal builders and designers alike.

Systematic documentation of these innovative houses has produced a design guidebook for adaptation, while also providing architectural evidence for the social, economic and cultural imperatives motivating transformations of the rural environment. By cataloguing and redrawing the houses, the spontaneity of their designs can be understood as clear and imitable spatial strategies. In this way, design innovation is found, recorded and disseminated back into the community also laying the groundwork for more formal solutions by designers – calling for a new role for the architect in what formerly were sites without architects.

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