Conference S.ARCH

Architectural Award 2017

Hong Kong 2017

Inspired by Michel de Certeau's seminal work "The Practice of Everyday Life" which considers the modes of social behaviour by individuals and groups as critical in the production of a collective sense of culture, this paper investigates the idea of village regeneration applied to the Dong (侗) Minority community in Mainland China. The Dong ethnic minority people are one of China’s 56 ethnic groups, who live in the region delimited by southwest Hunan, southeast Guizhou and north Guangxi. With a population of almost three million and a long history of more than 1,000 years dating back to the Tang Dynasty, the Dong communities are today, in a similar manner to many other Chinese rural settlements, deeply affected by the phenomenon of ‘Village Hollowing’. This unprecedented exodus of rural populations to expanding urban areas, has resulted in almost vacant villages inhabited by struggling communities of mostly elderly and young people.


The complex relationship between daily life, rituals and buildings is a vital part of how the Dong community dwell within their environment. Dong culture is essentially a material culture, they possess no written language, where their most important means of self- identification derives from an inherent relationship between the inhabitants and their artefacts, rituals and their architecture. Public structures such as the “Wind-and-Rain Bridge” and “Drum Tower” are at the heart of all social activity, supporting an elaborate public space system anchored in daily practice. This social structure which results from the habitus of acquired and settled dispositions of its individuals, represents Dong’s greatest asset to stem the exodus to the city.


The study will focus on villages along the Pingtan River (坪坦河) in Tongdao County, Hunan Province; specifically concentrating on Gaobu (高步), a village of approximately 2500 inhabitants with a rich history dating back more than 1000 years, as a pilot village for a regeneration strategy. The research methodology is based on an alternative approach of “Adaptive Re-use”, engaging and transforming the Dong Minority’s existing rich social heritage in order to reimagine and enhance collective life and work experience which will provide a better rural living for the whole Dong community for years to come. By investigating the fundamental social and environmental challenges facing the Dong Community through a new approach of Architectural Prototypes, offering a vision for a new collective and co-operative system, incorporating multiple functions that respond to the needs of the community in relation to: local environment, climatic conditions, agricultural cycles, available resources and traditional architectural customs.


The project argues that the Dong Minority villages offer a unique and to this day relatively under explored academic topic, to understand how minority cultures have adapted and changed their traditions to coexist within a majority society. Their inherent social/spatial structure is an instrumental asset to animate social life and if adapted can coexist with modernization rather than simply replacing it. Specifically through the analyses of their public architecture that transforms architecture beyond a mere formal solution into a social/spatial syntax, this project seeks to study the system of inherited dispositions, to develop an alternative reactivation plan.



Prof. Peter W. Ferretto