Rural Urban Framework began as a journey to a project site in a rural village near the border of Guangdong and Guanxi Province in 2006. The eight hour drive started in Hong Kong, travelled across the border to Shenzhen and commenced northwards up through the Pearl River Delta. The journey was a cross-section through distinct urban concentrations and indeterminate amalgamations of built fabric and farmland, before our arrival at our rural destination. The journey revealed a landscape that was in a state of incompletion and transition. We began to document this territory observing collisions, paradoxes, abandonment, synergies and contestation. Given that nearly all of the land that we passed through had been farmland thirty years ago, we began to categorize each of these conditions and to investigate the distinct processes underlying their formation. As our work takes us across China to various other remote locations, we remain interested not only in the diversity of project sites but in the journey from the city to the countryside and in the transformation of rural to urban fabric.
As a result of this journey, we established Rural Urban Framework as a research and design collaborative. Conducted as a non-profit organization within The University of Hong Kong, we engage with charities and government organizations to design projects in China. By engaging the context through design, the aim is to research the processes of rural urbanization.
Our work currently explores the fate of over eighteen rural villages. Some have become embedded in dense urban fabric with few traces of their agricultural origins remaining, others have had their farmland turned into residential enclaves; and some are fragmented, as the forces of urbanization have encroached upon their rural livelihoods. Our work itself is organized as a journey: with case-study villages beginning in urban areas, transgressing through various states before reaching rural village sites. The scales of the projects vary, from small interventions which address large scale forces to designing and planning entire villages. Each architectural project responds to the unique conditions posited by each village location. Each addresses different themes and problematic issues engendered by the urbanization process. The projects are not one-stop solutions or should be heralded as altruistic archetypes. If anything they are experiments; designed to be robust enough to withstand and adapt to the rapidly changing context. Completed projects and failed projects are both presented here as often un-built projects bring to light and clarify our understanding of the complex forces acting on these sites.
In many emergent, urbanizing areas of China, the once clear distinction between rural and urban has become obsolete in the face of processes which have blurred their definition. The Chinese context provides an ideal laboratory for understanding these new village conditions, given that they all originated from a single homogeneous type. In China and the world, we live in an urban age, but we believe its future course is intertwined with the fate of the rural.