Contemporary Social Housing in China: Playing with the Constraints

Contemporary Social Housing in China: Playing with the Constraints

Saskia Sassen, the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, predicts in her co-authored book “The Quito Papers and the New Urban Agendathat, in the future cities will become our crucial battlefield as we continue to fight against gentrification and growing degree of isolation in our communities. Sassen argues that, “Cities should be an inclusive space for both the affluent and the poor. Nevertheless, in reality our cities never achieved equality for all, because our cities were never designed that way. Still cities ought not to be a place that tolerates inequality or injustice”.

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Longnan Garden Social Housing Estate / Atelier GOM. Image © Hao Chen

In response to the profit-driven and ultimately unsustainable processes of urban transformation, the Quito Papers call for a new, non-violent urban ethic, which refuses the over-specification of functions and forms imposed by pure market-led urban processes.

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Longnan Garden Social Housing Estate / Atelier GOM. Image © Hao Chen

In China, architects and designers are also becoming aware of the need to change the current practice, and the mindset, of those in charge of planning contemporary cities. The newly constructed social housing in China can be seen as an experiment that not only answers the changing regulations in the real estate market, but also a milestone in our battles for sustainable development.


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Responding to Policy Reform 

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Longnan Garden Social Housing Estate / Atelier GOM. Image © He Wei

In the mid-1990s, the construction of affordable housing appeared briefly in Shanghai. However, due to the ongoing welfare housing allocation system at that time, and the inconvenient location of the social housing away from the city centre, people did not pay much attention to this development. Soon, the idea of making social housing was replaced by rapidly evolving commercial housing.

Since 2005, in order to curb the rising housing prices and improve the living conditions of low and middle-income families, the city of Shanghai has decided to restart the Economically Affordable Housing Plan.

Establishing Social Housing Typology

Jiajing Zhang, the founder of Atelier GOM, has begun his residential studies and urban studies rooted in the domestic environment since 2002.

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Longnan Garden Social Housing Estate / Atelier GOM. Image © CreatAR Images

In Atelier GOM’s project of Longnan Garden Social Housing Estate, Jiajing Zhang reintroduced vocabulary such as ”Fortress besieged” and “corridor”. By improving current urban morphology, making public space accessible, reconsidering the impact of residential height and density on living comfort, Longnan Garden Estate has become China's new residential estate phenomenon.

Moreover, Atelier GOM hopes to challenge the conventional residential pattern in China through social housing, in order to upgrade other types of residential design in China.

Challenging the Real Estate Paradigm

Atelier GOM believes that residential design is not only about the forms and layout of buildings, it is closely tied to comprehensive factors such as urban operations, population density, economic conditions, and ecological environment. Residential housing is essential whether it is for urban development or for ordinary people's lives.

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House 22. Image Courtesy of Atelier GOM
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House 22. Image Courtesy of Atelier GOM

The ideal collective housing that Atelier GOM pursues is a diverse community with the characteristics of "enclosed, low-rise, high-density, and mixed use", which is obviously a rejection to the commercial standards set by real estate market.

1. Longnan Garden Social Housing Estate / Atelier GOM

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Longnan Garden Social Housing Estate / Atelier GOM. Image © CreatAR Images

Longnan Garden Estate abandons the deeply rooted, high-rise, low-density, and determinant residential estate paradigm, and discusses the impact of residential height and density on living comfort. Both half enclosure and fully enclosed courtyard spaces are designed to gather here. The roof platform progressively goes down, creating extensive space for activities. It can be seen as a garden or an observation ladder, while allowing more sunlight to shine in the courtyard full of flowers and trees.

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Longnan Garden Social Housing Estate / Atelier GOM. Image Courtesy of Atelier GOM
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Longnan Garden Social Housing Estate / Atelier GOM. Image © CreatAR Images

With the purpose of creating public space in social housing, two floors of community space are placed on the north side. Every one or two floors of the north corridor will have an outstanding public terrace to welcome sunlight. Placing public spaces in small apartments is a balanced and efficient strategy for social housing.

2. 40m² Prefabricated Seaside Affordable Apartment / L&M DESIGN LAB

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40m² Prefabricated Seaside Affordable Apartment / L&M DESIGN LAB. Image © Qingyan Zhu

The design challenge is to provide a prefabricated, versatile, and multifunctional space in a standard unit of 40 square meters. From the perspective of future users, the prefabricated steel structure gives this unit the best foundation with no columns or walls, which makes it easy to accommodate a variety of lifestyles, and make the use of this residential structures to the greatest extent.

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40m² Prefabricated Seaside Affordable Apartment / L&M DESIGN LAB. Image © Qingyan Zhu
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40m² Prefabricated Seaside Affordable Apartment / L&M DESIGN LAB. Image © Qingyan Zhu

L&M DESIGN LAB takes young people's "one-person residence" as the basic prototype, and expands the system to meet more usage scenarios. Under the "one-person residence" model, 40 square meters includes a U-shaped kitchen, separate bathroom, open living room, bedroom and variable cabinets. Even without considering the variable cabinet, this 40-square-meter unit can already meet the various needs of "one-person residence" with high quality. Cooking, reading, gatherings, and watching movies can all be carried out in a comfortable way to satisfy young people’s need for a sense of ritual in life.

3. Wuliqiao Road Social Housing / Shanghai ZF Architectural Design

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Wuliqiao Road Social Housing / Shanghai ZF Architectural Design. Image © Wei Li

Due to the harsh site conditions and regulatory requirements, the design is adapted to local conditions, following the guiding principle of "innovating from inside without breaking through the outside". Three enclosed buildings with mixed elevations are arranged. On the north side of Liyuan New Village sit the 3 to 4 storey low buildings. The 8 to 17 storey small high-rise buildings are located on the south side of the plot. The height gradually drops as the distance between the houses on the north side changes, so that the architects ensure an abundant amount of sunshine can enter from the outside.

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Wuliqiao Road Social Housing / Shanghai ZF Architectural Design. Image © Wei Li
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Wuliqiao Road Social Housing / Shanghai ZF Architectural Design. Image © Wei Li

Wuliqiao Road Social Housing carries complex and diverse functions. By placing the public part at the bottom of each building along the road. The upper north side of the road podium is equipped with office and one-bedroom public rental housing. Such design not only stops residents from being disturbed by the noise from the road, but also makes full use of the public areas. Meanwhile, it creates a street life atmosphere based on human scales.

This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Equity. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.

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Cite: Scarlett Miao. "Contemporary Social Housing in China: Playing with the Constraints" 10 Sep 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/968191/contemporary-social-housing-in-china-playing-with-the-constraints> ISSN 0719-8884
Longnan Garden Social Housing Estate / Atelier GOM. Image Courtesy of Atelier GOM

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