(IAP ’14) Bin Li, G
Bin Li (G, Architecture) Bin spent IAP 2014 in the rural village of Cherry Valley in Hubei Province, central China. The goal was to provide local households an innovative housing solution, making the dwelling a comfortable as well as a cozy place to host urban visitors. She created a field proposal for a new rural house type based on local natural building materials – raw earth and plants – to encourage and accommodate an agricultural tourism economy. Additionally, Bin carried out a survey and documentation for the first demonstration house.
Jan 9th 2014, Thursday
The train has departed from Beijing, in a heavy foggy day, on the North China Plain, the way south. Outside the window is the vast plane of typical plain- landscaped villages, clustered or spread-out in middle of fields. Farm houses are mainly built with red fired bricks, in which some front façades are covered with white color tiles. In a while one pine tree or several in a line passed by, in seconds blurred and disappeared in the fog, a rural image with joys and sorrows.
For the past week, I was working with China New Rural Planning and Design Institute (CNRPD) to prepare for the trip. The Institute has been working on Cherry Village, a hilly-valley village of Yun County in between Han River and Daba Mountain. CNRPD has been working on renovating the old houses and is planning to build a group of demonstration houses; each presents an affordable material and construction method to demonstrate new housing alternatives to villagers, as well as showing the house’s new function of agriculture tourism. My task is to design one earthen construction house. The goal for the trip is to study the Cherry Valley village landscape, observe existing earthen house, survey the site for proposing a house construction design strategy in spring.
The preparation before departure includes the following 3 main points. 1. Collect information and maps of Cherry Valley Village, Yun County and surrounded area. Read through “Yun County Documentation”. 2. Connect to local CNRPD stuff, construction team leader and village committee. 3. Talk to Wang Lei, the chief architect of the Institute on the goal of the trip. He suggests to visiting Hao Tang Village, Xinyang, locating half the way to Cherry Valley. The village has developed a village landscape pond system, renovated earthen houses, recycled toilet and a community center.
There are some initial hopes and concerns. I hope the field trip will make me get to know the real rural village situation of Cherry Valley, the village in transformation, the engaging model for new rural development. Seeing means more than reading. I hope the visit to existing earth houses will make me understand the problem of them and evoke some inspiration for new house type. I hope the locals will talk to me their concerns on new house, especially opinions from local contractor and construction workers.
Jan 15th 2014, Wednesday
In the field
The field work starts with walking and observing around the village. Here are three of us temporally forming a team, Zehua Feng (CNRPD Hubei office stuff), Scrully Meng (Free-lease journalist on environmental and rural topics) and me. The landscape is hilly and valley, along side of each valley is a cluster of households, called village group. There are 11 village groups in Cherry Valley. Hills are mostly cover with pines; slopes close to bottom of the valleys are mostly constructed into terraced field, among them fruit trees and vegetable are in growth.
Working with local CNRPD stuff. Through the lens of Zehua, who is in charge of house renovation projects in the village, I get to know the working flow of the CNRPD’s current local projects. Contracted with CNRPD, the village committees put together a list of houses which need to be renovated. CNRPD stuff visits and documents each house and provides renovation solutions. One problem CNRPD facing is the intention on exterior/façade renovation rather than interior space of a house. Another problem is that some houses are not structurally good enough to be renovated; instead, rebuilding is necessary. Then to me, an affordable demonstrative house solution by using earth-based local material will be one contribution to the entire development, especially the development of agri-tourism.
Working with local village committee group. When we first arrive on site, the village head and stuffs introduced to us the overall situation of village, how village groups are distributed, connected us to the contractors and cooked us a home-made lunch. I feel the eagerness for changing and their care on a good image of the village.
Working with local building contractor. I worked closely with local building contractor on site. Mr. Zheng and Mr. Li are managers on site for renovation projects, who will also be the ones for the upcoming demonstration houses. I did site survey, soil sample collection and local material observation with Mr. Zheng. There are two sites available, one along the slope by the side of main village road half way up the hill, the other one currently a terraced field. Soil on site contain mainly 30cm topsoil organics, and two types of subsoil, one with more sandy particle, the other with more clay particle. Mr. Zheng showed me some local materials with great uses on building construction, local pine (Ma Wei Song) in the upper hill, red grass for roofing (San Hong Cao), local lime (not as good as ones from distance but save the transportation energy cost), local rammed-earth and finishing technique, bamboo and brick. We discussed on the possibility of building with earth.
Working with local landscape contractor. Landscape of Cherry Valley was beautiful for its cherry and other fruit trees. The natural beauty of the village makes it landscape construction more of a conservation process instead of over development. When talking with local landscape contractor, we were pleased to find out they holds a same thought. Landscaping part of the demonstration house sites will follow the principle of using local species.
Jan 24nd 2014, Friday
Sitting in CNRPD Beijing office again, the field trip has been reviewed: what I have done, what I have learned, what I have comments on; if expectations have been met, if anything unexpected happened.
My task set was more technical than of humanity. The main job was to observe and survey the site, resources and opportunity of making a new house solution, building mainly with earth and local natural materials. The field work has generally achieved this goal. By collecting soil, plant sample and discussing with local contractors, possible solution was sketched.
What I learned beyond the technical part was an understanding on different needs of local groups, their power and roles, how to create a satisfaction as balance as possible and how to persuade locals to refresh on some rooted concepts. The Institute’s agenda on Cherry Valley village development is about financial and physical sustainability. The promotion on the ability of hosting agri-tourism is concreting on renovated and in future, newly-built houses. The process is not free and charitable; although the government encourages and grants stipends, for local households, the building renew process is partially an investment. Households who are willing to involve normally have a dream of attracting more visitors upon house renewal. Rooted concept in their mind includes dedicated façade treatment but unchanged interior space. Money was spent mainly on exterior decoration. Local government cares about the overall image of the village which has a homogenous quality or “old style” of house, collective concern than individuals. I was persuading them with the idea that the natural beautiful landscape, cherry and other trees are the unique attractions to urban visitors like me. I will choose a cozy interior place to stay comparing to a place which only shows decorated exterior wall. Explaining the idea to locals from their cared point of view can make the work more fluent than from designer’s view point.