Toward a New Sustainable Environment in Light of the Changing Face of Rural (and Urban) China
This four-credit, project-based course includes a visit to Beijing, China.
In collaboration with the Beijing University of Technology's College of Architecture and Urban Planning, program participants research, document, and react to the changing face of rural China in one specific locale: the Shang Shui Guo Village in the Pearl River Valley Township near Beijing. Research will lead to the development of a new rural prototype house as well as a series of specific recommendations on how to convert the historic structures and environment to meet modern standards.
The course is open to select undergraduates and to students enrolled in the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Students from a wide range of disciplines are encouraged to apply, and it is intended that the project and content will focus on the skills and interests brought by the participants who are selected for the course. The program requires students to be inquisitive, hard-working, mature, and committed. Participants should enjoy collaboration and be enthusiastic about working with a diverse team including villagers, builders, colleagues and faculty from other disciplines.
Participants in this interdisciplinary, field-based course experience the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to:
- Participate in learning about and contributing to the condition of 750 million people—or one in every nine of earth’s inhabitants— living in China’s approximately 1,000,000 rural villages at the beginning of the 21st Century
- Establish a relationship with rural villagers, many of whom have never seen or met a foreigner despite their proximity to China’s Capital city (2-1/2 hours drive north of Beijing).
- Interact with Chinese and local experts and students, as well as with government leaders at the Municipal, Township, and Village levels.
- Acquire skills in field-based research techniques, such as photography, measuring, and interviewing.
- Collaborate with others to establish sustainable initiatives related to, but not limited to, social services, culture and the arts, infrastructure, technology, real estate, economics, engineering, agriculture, regional planning and architecture.
- Participate in presenting, publishing, and exhibiting the work of the course.
- Live and study in one of Beijing’s fascinating urban villages, home to a population of rural-to-urban migrants (the “floating population”) and now a significant creative and cultural zone – Caochangdi in the BASE Beijing Studio.
- Engage in what will be a deeply educational and life-changing experience.
The goal of this course is to document the changing face of rural China in one specific locale—the 27 villages of the Pearl River Valley Township near Beijing—and to study it in a thorough way so as to be in a position to then provide alternatives and possibilities for new and sustainable rural environments and living in the face of the inevitable modernization in the 21st Century. This information will lead to the development of a new rural prototype house as well as a series of specific recommendations on how to convert the historic structures to meet modern standards (addressing such issues as heating/cooling and sanitation), where possible, without compromising the architectural and historical integrity of these structures. We will also examine new ideas for rural infrastructure such as internet access, water retention and purification, and waste management. The project will also identify and address public amenities such as bathhouses, exercise and public space both indoor and outdoor.
The significance of this project lies in the fact that about 750 million people—or one in every nine to 10 humans— live in China’s countless (approximately 1,000,000) rural villages at the beginning of the 21st Century. While massive rural to urban migrations continue, the rural village remains important as it is the locale of family and cultural tradition, and agriculture. There is evidence of reverse migrations from cities back to villages on both a temporary and permanent basis. In an era where it has become clear that massive urbanization is becoming less and less sustainable (environmentally, economically, socially, and culturally), a larger aim of this project— which turns its attention toward the rural village (away from the long held architect’s obsession with urbanism)— is to find ways to create a rural environment that is more viable as a contemporary place for human habitation.
Within the greater municipal region of Beijing, approximately 2 1/2 hours drive north of the city center, lies the Pearl River Valley and it’s 27 villages, township center, and market town. We have been granted extraordinary access to these villages over the past few years through our relationship with the Beijing University of Technology and with our now long term relationship with the Township Leader, several of the village leaders, and the villagers themselves. The villages are undergoing a series of changes and facing a whole series of new and existing problems. Several of the key problems that we will focus upon include insufficient water for agriculture and daily use; shrinking populations due to rural to urban migrations; inefficient and unsafe thermal practices in the dwellings; lack of new industries compatible with the natural rural setting; few opportunities for entrepreneurial advancement; and lack of transportation and communication between the villages and places beyond the township.
- Course Credit Breakdown: ARCH 301= one-credit, in-class work during Winter Semster; ARCH 409 = three-credit field studies in China during the following Spring Term). NOTE: Students must register for both courses for the Winter 2012 term.
- Location: Beijing, China in May; in class (Ann Arbor campus) during Winter Term
- Instructor: Mary-Ann Ray, U-M Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning
- Cost: Approximately $1,000 via CGIS for Housing & Meals, and approximately $2,300 for airfare, visa, personal expenses, etc. (Scholars program will pay the CGIS Student Fee and provide remainder of $3,000 allocation to students to cover remaining expenses). The LSA Global Experience Scholarship, which is a need-based scholarship awarded to LSA students, ranges from $500 to $2,000.
- Course Details