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Can Architecture Save China’s Rural Villages? DnA’s Xu Tiantian Thinks So

Bamboo Pavilion. Image © Zhou Ruogo
Bamboo Pavilion. Image © Zhou Ruogo

Travel seven hours by car in a Southwest direction from Shanghai and you will arrive in Songyang County. The name is unfamiliar to many Chinese people, and even more foreign to those living abroad. The county consists of about 400 villages, from Shicang to Damushan.

Here, undulating lush green terraces hug the sides of Songyin river valley, itself the one serpentine movement uniting the lands. Follow the river and you will see: here, a Brown Sugar Factory; there, a Bamboo Theatre; and on the other side, a stone Hakka Museum built recently but laid by methods so old, even the town masons had to learn these ways for the first time, as if they were modern methods, as if they were revolutionary.

And maybe they are. Songyang County, otherwise known as the “Last Hidden Land in Jiangnan,” may look like a traditional Chinese painting with craggy rock faces, rice fields and tea plantations, but it has also become a model example of rural renaissance. Beijing architect Xu Tiantian, of the firm DnA_Design and Architecture, has spent years surveying the villages of Songyang, talking to local County officials and residents, and coming up with what she calls “architectural acupunctures.”

Brown Sugar Factory. Image © Wang Ziling Teahouse, Damushan Tea Valley. Image © Chen Hao Teahouse, Damushan Tea Valley. Image © Jiang Xiaodong Bamboo Pavilion. Image © Zhou Ruogo Bamboo Pavilion. Image © Zhou Ruogo Bridge at Shimen Village. Image © Han Dan Bridge at Shimen Village. Image © Wang Ziling Bridge at Shimen Village. Image © Wang Ziling Wang Jing Memorial Hall. Image © Wang Ziling + 70

6 Materials That Age Beautifully

Often as architects we neglect how the buildings we design will develop once we hand them over to the elements. We spend so much time understanding how people will use the building that we may forget how it will be used and battered by the weather. It is an inevitable and uncertain process that raises the question of when is a building actually complete; when the final piece of furniture is moved in, when the final roof tile is placed or when it has spent years out in the open letting nature take its course?

Rather than detracting from the building, natural forces can add to the material’s integrity, softening its stark, characterless initial appearance. This continuation of the building process is an important one to consider in order to create a structure that will only grow in beauty over time. To help you achieve an ever-growing building, we have collated six different materials below that age with grace.