Stefan Ai (ed.), 2014,Villages in the City: A Guide to South China’s Informaltlements 華南城中村指南
Contributing editors: Paul Chu Hoi Shan, Claudia Juhre, Ivan Valin, Casey Wang
Stefan Al is an associate professor of urban design at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the editor of Factory Towns of South China: An Illustrated Guidebook.
Countless Chinese villages have been engulfed by modern cities. They no longer consist of picturesque farms and fengshui groves, but of high-rise buildings so close to each other that they create dark claustrophobic alleys — jammed with dripping air-conditioners, hanging clothes, caged balconies and bundles of buzzing electric wires, and crowned with a small strip of daylight, known as “thin line sky.” At times, buildings stand so close to each other they are dubbed “kissing buildings” or “handshake houses” — you can literally reach out from one building and shake hands with your neighbor.
Although it is easy to see these villages as slums, a closer look reveals that they provide an important, affordable, and well-located entry point for migrants into the city. They also offer a vital mixed-use, spatially diverse and pedestrian alternative to the prevailing car-oriented modernist-planning paradigm in China. Yet most of these villages are on the brink of destruction, affecting the homes of millions of people and threatening the eradication of a unique urban fabric.
Villages in the City argues for the value of urban villages as places. To reveal their qualities, a series of drawings and photographs uncover the immense concentration of social life in the dense structures, and provide a peek into residents’ homes and daily lives. Essays by a number of experts offer a deeper understanding of the topic, and help imagine how reinstating the focus on the village could lead to a richer, more variegated pathway of urbanization.