Taking inspiration from local materials and vernacular architecture, Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu remade a rural Chinese village in their image.
Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu have been studying villages in China for years, documenting the slow decline of rural towns as the nation has run headlong into a new urbanized era. These villages are the last bastions of a way of life, and a fading traditional architecture. Wang and Lu hope to preserve both, without rebuilding the past: Instead, their Hangzhou-based firm Amateur Architecture Studio is designing new buildings based on traditional forms that aim to rejuvenate these areas—and maybe even lure young people back from cities.
The husband-and-wife team’s first major rural intervention has been realized in Wencun, a village of about 1,800 residences in Zhejiang province. “Half of the village is old buildings and the other half is ugly, huge new ones,” Lu says. When she and Wang started talking with Wencun residents in 2012, the feeling was that newer, and bigger, was better, and the space taken up in a house by a traditional courtyard would be better used for bigger rooms. “Their real desire was to demolish all the old buildings,” Lu says.
Wang and Lu worked with them to try something different: For a new extension to the western edge of the village, Wang and Lu looked to the rammed earth, bamboo, and stone historic buildings in their design for 30 new residences spread across 14 three- and four-story structures. All were built with local materials in the traditional courtyard style, but with a modestly contemporary feel. The buildings include space for a shrine to ancestors, storage for farm tools, a workshop, and, in a modern touch, a living room for watching TV.
To integrate the new buildings and the rest of the village, Wang and Lu worked with some local homeowners to renovate—or even rebuild—their own self-built houses in the older section of the village to embrace the style of Amateur Architecture Studio’s new designs. That, plus new bridges, pavilions, and even a school, help extend the aesthetic throughout Wencun.
Eighteen of the new residences are now occupied by villagers, and 12 are being used as an inn—an initiative aimed at increasing tourism from city-dwellers. But the primary goal was to help Wencun to remain a thriving rural village. “What is important is that it does not become a theme park,” Lu says.
The hope is that this intervention can serve as a model for other such villages, but, she argues, it cannot simply be copied. “The most critical point is how to maintain the rich diversity of Chinese rural culture,” she says. “This work is complicated.”
Project: Renovation of Wencun Village, FuYang, China
Client: Wencun Village Committee
Design Architect: Amateur Architecture Studio, Hangzhou, China . Wang Shu, Lu Wenyu (principals); Cheng Lichao, Cheng Hao, Shen Yue, Wang Tiantian (project team)
Structural Engineer: Shentu Tuanbing
Electrical Engineer: Cheng Chunji
Site Supervision: Lu Zhenfeng
Consultant: The Design Institute of Landscape and Architecture China Academy of Art
Size: 7,590 square meters (81,698 square feet), total floor area; 48,905 square meters (526,409 square feet), site
Construction Cost: $483 per square meter ($45 per square foot)