China in Flux: Mapping the Middle Zone

Students and faculty from the USC School of Architecture, in partnership with USC’s American Academy in China (AAC), have been engaged in a summer‐long program examining how the “middle zone,” or more rural, outlying areas in between cities, are growing. The program travelled to Beijing, Lushan, and Xian, and is currently in Shenzhen where it is staging the exhibition China in Flux: Mapping the Middle Zone.

The goal of the multi‐city research trip, led by USC School of Architecture professor and AAC director Gary Paige, is to examine the ideas and conditions of in‐betweenness as exemplified by the transformations taking place between traditional urban and rural villages as well as by ongoing, contemporary countryside initiatives. The binary relationship between urban and rural villages is changing and in flux, resulting in a condition that is characterized by blurred zones and ambiguous territories. Yet, in spite of these transformations and the potential for a new rural‐urban hybrid, they are often lacking a strategy for social, economic and spatial evolution and sustainable growth. Consequently, our interest is to initiate a conversation by hosting an exhibition on this rather broad yet timely and significant topic with colleagues from universities in Asia, North America and Europe that have been conducting design research and experimental building projects in China.

In Lushan, a mountainous region in Jiangxi Province, USC students studied and created proposals for the renovation, addition, and transformation of fourteen vernacular dwellings in a remote village. Proposals were presented to AVIC Legend, one of China’s leading construction and design firms, which is currently working to repurpose many of the village’s more “traditional” buildings. Students were asked to develop “innovative and creative ideas” including speculations about new programmatic potentials for the sites as well as architectural and branding strategies. The students’ proposals will be part of the exhibition in Shenzhen.

Exhibition Details

China in Flux: Mapping the Middle Zone will open July 23, 2015, in Shenzhen. The exhibition, curated by Paige and co‐sponsored by AVIC Legend, will commence with presentations and an all‐star panel. Mapping the Middle Zone will run until August 31, 2015, with plans to travel to Beijing (Gallery All, 751D‐Park art district) and eventually to Los Angeles (USC School of Architecture) in the fall. A book that gathers and documents the summer research program and exhibition projects is planned for publication.

While so much attention has been paid to how major cities have evolved, very little attention has been paid to the dynamics of more remote regions and villages that have been undergoing their own brands of transformation under China’s decades‐long development boom. What can be learned from this “middle zone”? What opportunities exist for new paradigms of growth? What does this reveal about the multiple and complex nature of contemporary approaches to design and development in China? How does this contribute to a more nuanced understanding of China, not as a monolith, but as a patchwork of different identities, places, and thought? The exhibition is centered on these and other important questions.

Participating institutions and individuals include:

  • The Architectural Association (Professor Tom Verebes, Director AAVS Shanghai)
  • BASE Beijing (Robert Mangurian, Co‐founder, Mary‐Ann Ray, Co-founder and Univ. of Michigan Professor, Robert Adams, Co‐founder and Univ. of Michigan Professor)
  • Central Academy of Fine Art (CAFA) (Professor Keren He)
  • Chinese University of Hong Kong (Professor Peter W. Ferretto)
  • Columbia University GSAPP (Professor Jeffrey Johnson)
  • ETH Zurich Urban‐Think Tank (Professor Alfredo Brillembourg & Professor Hubert Klumpner)
  • Davidclovers (David Erdman & Clover Lee)
  • Harvard University Graduate School of Design (Professor Christopher C.M. Lee)
  • La Salle University Barcelona (Professor Jaime Font)
  • MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning with Qinghua University (Professor Dennis Frenchman & Professor Christopher Zegras)
  • Rural Urban Framework, University of Hong Kong (Professors John Lin & Joshua Bolchover)
  • University of California Berkeley College of Environmental Design (Professor Marco Cenzatti)
  • University of Pennsylvania (Professor Stefan Al)
  • University of Southern California School of Architecture (Professor Gary Paige)
  • University of Southern California Price School of Public Policy / SLAB (Professor Annette Kim)
  • University of St. Joseph Macau (Professor Thomas Daniell)
  • Yale University with Columbia University GSAPP (Professor Amy Lelyveld)

Preview of Selected Projects from the Exhibition:

Project Title: AAVS Shanghai 2015: Customised Cities
School: AAVS Shanghai, Architectural Association Visiting School

Courtesy of USC’s American Academy in China

Project Title: Mapping Subterranean Urbanism
School: SLAB, the Spatial Analysis Lab at USC’s Price School

Courtesy of USC’s American Academy in China

Project Title: Background City – A Taxonomy of Hong Kong’s Infrastructural Spaces
School: The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)

Courtesy of USC’s American Academy in China

Project Title: Zero-footprint housing prototype for the Torré Baro neighborhood
School: La Salle University Barcelona

Courtesy of USC’s American Academy in China

Project Title: New Synergies
School: University of Saint Joseph, Macau SAR

Courtesy of USC’s American Academy in China


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Cite: "China in Flux: Mapping the Middle Zone" 21 Aug 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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