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BAI XU An essay submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the MPhil Examination in Architecture & Urban Design (2014-2016)

BAI XU QUEENS’ COLLEGE PILOT THESIS 5127 WORDS 21 APRIL 2015 An essay submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the MPhil Examination in Architecture & Urban Design (2014-2016)


ABSTRACT 7 INTRODUCTION 8 1 CONTEMPORARY CONDITIONS 10 The Migrant Population: “Ant Tribe” 10 Housing Disparity 12 Neighbourhoods of Wealth 14 Neighbourhoods of Poverty 16 Trajectories of Segregation 24



Rural-Urban Migration, Household Registration System


Danwei 28 Land-Use Reform 32 Housing Reform 33 Administration Hierarchy 36 Urban Renewal and Redevelopment Programmes




CHANGE THROUGH DESIGN 42 Design Challenges 42 Site 43 Design Response: Intensification 45 Design Response: Adaptation 48 Design Response: Collectivism 50






Figure 1. Mapping the physical expansion of Beijing 1959-2000

This paper analyses the rapid urban growth

to address the housing needs of a burgeon-

of Beijing, following socio-economic and

ing migrant population. The spatial frag-

political reforms, which has significantly

mentation of Beijing has led to a socially

changed the lives of its inhabitants.

divided metropolis, as the economically and institutionally privileged population retreat

It examines how reforms allowed local gov-

from public life and the underprivileged are

ernments and private investors to make

expelled to the peri-urban areas.

huge financial returns from pervasive urban development programmes under the

This paper proposes an alternative approach

banner of “modernisation�. The authorities

to urban development, by analysing Bei-

ended free state-housing, instigated the

jing’s residential typologies. I conclude that

commercialisation of central dilapidated

a modern interpretation of communal living,

neighbourhoods and the marginalisation of

with principles extracted from danwei and

impoverished communities, through forced

urban villages, is an appropriate form of in-

displacement (Ren, 2013). The reforms failed




China is experiencing unprecedented urban growth with the urban population predicted to increase to 60% by 2020, up from 26% in 1990 (Xinhua, 2014). Socioeconomic and political reforms have transformed Beijing, significantly impacting the lives of its inhabitants. The reforms altered the urban landscape and led to new patterns of social and spatial inequality. Beijing’s residential settlements are at the centre of this paper as housing consumption practices clearly illustrate the consequences of government reforms and subsequent urban transformations. This paper is organised into four sections. The first chapter discusses the current social and urban challenges facing Beijing, such as the neglected needs of the migrant population, the marginalisation of inner-city communities and the retreat of the privileged from public life.


Chapter two examines the historical, political, social and economic conditions which have shaped the rural-urban dichotomy, the drivers behind the mass migration from villages to cities and how urban redevelopment projects have contributed towards Beijing’s fragmentation. The findings reinforce the notion that the current paradigm of urban development is unsustainable. Development projects need to address the growing socio-spatial inequality in Beijing. Interventions are needed to reverse the privatisation of inner Beijing, stop the expulsion of underprivileged communities, address the affordable housing shortage for the migrant population and end the hegemony of elites in central districts. Chapter three investigates how to deliver growth in a more sustainable and egalitarian manner through a critical analysis of Beijing’s ubiquitous urban forms. It discusses the key challenges facing contemporary Beijing and how such issues can be addressed through design. The conclusion summarises Beijing’s key urban challenges and outlines how these could be addressed by re-inventing communal living and adapting as well as intensifying central residential neighbourhoods. This section also asks a series of practical and theoretical design questions for future progression.



FIgures 2-5 Photographs documenting “ant tribe” dwellings

The “ant tribe” is a term used to describe an emerging and informal class of highly educated graduates and young professionals who are forced to settle for a poverty-level existence in Chinese cities. Most of the “ant tribe” originate from disadvantaged rural regions. Without the financial support of a wealthy family, social skills and connections from growing up in a metropolitan system, they are deprived of basic resources that are offered to their urban counterparts (Hairong and Wang Hairong, 2011). The “ants” are an emblem of the housing issues facing Beijing today. Priced out of the formal housing market, they reside instead in the squalors of urban villages in Beijing’s peri-urban region, for lack of an appropriate alternative (Smith, 2014). It is objectionable to award the effort of such a generation with urban marginality, given that the “ants” in question are the next generation of talent and leaders1. Failure in retaining this pool of talent would negatively impact the economic development of Beijing.

According to Sharma (2014), around a third of this group graduated from China’s most prestigious universities. 1

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Beijing’s “ant tribe” population is currently estimated to be greater than 160,000 by the China Youth Development Foundation and growing fast. If this current housing problem is allowed to escalate, social unrest could follow, as the discontent of a large educated group in the capital city could undermine the government in power, resulting in political instability. In contemporary Chinese culture, homeownership status is an important social status and often considered a necessity for marriage (Reuters, 2010). These issues highlight the urgency in developing an alternative and sustainable housing solution to accommodate the increasing migrant population. The “ant tribe” and other migrant population groups are not confined to a defined territory. They are flexible with no long-term commitment to remain in any particular location (Miller, 2012). This group can be accommodated in any existing urban typology to reverse their social marginalisation, thus it is feasible to utilise this fluid social group as a mechanism to break down the segregated compounds, alter the fragmented state of Beijing by dispersing these “ants” all over inner Beijing. Their social integration into existing communities would encourage a more equally accessible city.

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China’s market reforms financially enriched the lives of many urban citizens at the expense of the rural population. It transformed 72% of urban-status citizens into home owners. By comparison, less than 1% of city-dwellers with a rural migrant-status own a property (Ren, 2013). The ignored welfare of the migrant population is clearly demonstrated by their living conditions. This section examines the growing inequality between residential enclaves of different population groups, the corresponding social difficulties and how these concerns could be addressed through changes in the urban landscape.

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Figure 6. Photograph depicting a gated villa compound

Figure 7. Photograph depicting a large gated community

Figure 8. Photograph depicting an urban village in Beijing

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A number of residential typologies have been identified in Beijing as neighbourhoods of wealth: villas, gated communities and danwei compounds (Wang and Murie, 1999). Villa compounds are the most exclusive type of gated urbanism, catering to the wealthiest. They are highly segregated from adjacent suburban communities, due to their cellular and introvert nature. Figure 9. Photograph depicting an exclusive villa in China

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The remaining economically privileged population reside in new gated communities. The gated community is the dominant typology for housing in contemporary Chinese cities. It forms an important part in the urban, social and cultural composition of Beijing (Pow, 2009). A gated community comprises of a privately enclosed cluster of residential units, in tower or villa form, surrounded by landscaped communal space. Much of the outdoor GATE


spaces are underutilised as the mono-functional nature of the compound provides few chances for social occurrences within, resulting in poor social networks. The fortification of the compounds’ perimeter arises from a desire for seclusion, security, and social status. The spatial layout creates a cellular urban form and symbolises its monopolisation of space. It has been widely criticised in terms of potential negative aspects in the long term economic integration of the city. Not only do they result in a seg-



regated city, ivt is also on a social level derided for creating unsatisfied groups of wealthy residents, by promoting security and personal segregation at the cost of communality, shared access and use of the city. Institutionally privileged individuals, such as government officials and employees of large public institutions, reside in contemporary danwei compounds. These compounds are protected

SECURITY Figures 10-14. Photographs depicting common characteristics of gated communities

by security guards, which makes them highly exclusive and impermeable.

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On the other end of the spectrum, three groups of residential ty-


pologies classify as neighbourhoods of poverty. They comprise of historic courtyard houses (siheyuan), deteriorated former danwei housing compounds and urban villages (Song et al., 2007). The siheyuan neighbourhoods are a historical housing typology, located in the city’s core. Unfortunately much of central Beijing was neglected during years of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution and hence many of the remaining neighbourhoods have seriously deteriorated (Wang, 2011). Danwei housing was constructed to house urban residents but their build quality was limited by funding and construction techniques (Lu, 2006). Over time, as the conditions have worsened, families with the means to leave have left. As a result the danwei have deteriorated and many danwei residents live in poverty. These neighbourhoods have become targets for redevelopment and displacement projects (Wu, 2007). Such districts have strong social networks (established through former danwei memories, and years of living together) and situated in convenient central locations.

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Figure 15. Land occupied by urban villages


villages & farmland

expanding city

villagers were too costly to compensate and relocate

farmland acquisition by municipal government for urban development

illegal development and gradual expansion of housing (4-5 storeys)

further expansion (7-15 storeys) Figure 16. Formation of urban villages

Urban villages can be found on the outskirts

demographic composition consisted mostly

of Beijing. They are informal residential dis-

of migrant workers. Due to its low rent and

tricts, former agricultural villages, swallowed

living conveniences, urban villages have

up by Beijing’s urban expansion (Du and Li,

now become a living solution amongst oth-

2010). They cater to a large migrant popula-

er low-income earners such as small busi-

tion who can ill-afford the rent on properties

ness owners, fresh university graduates and

anywhere else in Beijing. In the 1990s the

lowly-paid white-collar workers (Ren, 2013).

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Figures 17-22. Photographs of an urban village in Beijing

Urban villages’ positive aspects include the provision of affordable housing to an underprivileged social group, its sense of community and its fine grained urban fabric (Juhre et al., 2014). Their lack of boundaries, human-scaled urban spaces, diverse range of facilities and visually stimulating languages of buildings makes them convenient places to live (Li and Wu, 2013). What is more, they contribute towards an active street life and provide communal spaces. Therefore the lives of urban villagers are arguably more socially-rich than those who live in gated communities (Zhang, 2005).

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Urban villages are however overcrowd-

kitchens, heating or air conditioning to

ed, they do not meet fire-control stand-

cope with the extreme temperatures of

ards and have seen a lack of investment

Beijing (Zheng et al., 2009). Thus despite

in infrastructure and maintenance (Li and

their ability to provide cheap housing, ur-

Wu, 2013). A survey found that over nine-

ban villages are not a long-term solution

ty percent of units do not have toilets,

for Beijing’s residents.

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corner shop


fruit stall

Figure 23. Collage showing the diversity of urban villages

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fashion shops


shoe shop dress shop

opticians electronics store

SIM card car park shop

food street

leather goods flower shop


fashion store


salon flower stall


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Figure 24. Collage illustrating the diverse range of facilities available in an urban village in China

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hardware store




fruit stall


fashion store

night food market




night food market

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Wang, Li and Chai (2012) proposed that privi-

It can be reasoned that the characteristics of con-

leged urbanites show similar spatiotemporal pat-

temporary Chinese residential typologies (for

terns of urban mobility, while inhabitants from

example, the insular nature of gated urbanism

less privileged backgrounds exhibit disparate

and the concentration of underprivileged “ant

spatiotemporal experiences. These similarities

tribe” in urban villages) intensify the deviation

and disparities expose the “trajectories of segre-

of social classes. For this reason, interventions

gation” (Atkinson and Flint, 2004). A study con-

are urgently needed to dismantle the monopo-

ducted on urban residents in Beijing has shown

ly of elites in Beijing’s centre by integrating the

that the spatiotemporal patterns of movement of

marginalised population. Furthermore, changes

different social groups rarely crossover. Further-

are needed to bring the privileged out of their

more, it stated that such trajectories of segrega-

compounds as their disaffiliation from the local

tion extended beyond the spatial configuration

community could damage the wider society. To

of residential neighbourhoods; alarmingly, it was

be an equal and liveable city, Beijing needs to

also exhibited in the spatiotemporal patterns of

encourage the social integration of all classes.

daily activities such as work, education, shopping

This can be achieved by firstly creating affordable

and leisure. Thus it can be reasoned that the con-

homes for the economically-challenged popula-

centration of a social group in any particular area

tion. Secondly, commonly used facilities should

would lead to spatiotemporal trajectories of seg-

be imposed within the vicinity of both wealthy

regations in all aspects of lifestyle. Consequently

and poor neighbourhoods, to promote a spatio-

this would amplify the social distance between

temporal crossover.

different social classes (Atkinson and Flint, 2004).

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The following section examines the historical, political, spatial and social conditions surrounding China’s urbanisation. This is necessary to understand the factors that are driving the rural-to-urban migration, despite the inherent discrimination against rural-citFigure 25. Demographic & Urban Trends For China 1978-2005

izens in Chinese cities.

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The surge in China’s urban population can be attributed to rural-urban migration and reclassification of cities. Prior to market reforms, China was a socially stratified society, as a result of the hukou household registration system. The Chinese Household Registration System was established in 1958 as way for the state to control internal migration by identifying the location of all individuals in China. Under this system the population was separated into two categories of citizenship: rural and urban2 . The rural population was exploited to provide for the urban population under the banner of industrialisation and modernisation (Friedmann, 2005). The economic reforms in 1978, in conjunction with the initiation of a temporary registration system in 1985, and a relaxation of the hukou system, allowed for freer population mobility (Mars and Hornsby, 2008). Consequently urbanisation accelerated, as “peasants” rushed to Chinese cities in pursuit of a better life, causing the population in cities such as Beijing to increase dramatically. Its population has risen from 9 million in 1980 to 19.6million in 2010, of which 6 million are migrants 2010 (Beijing Statistic Bureau, 2011). Despite a relaxation in the system the basic principle of hukou remained the same. Rural-status migrants are lower-class citizens because they do not enjoy the same benefits (in for example healthcare and pensions) as their urban-hukou counterparts (Zhang et al., 2014).

This distinction also allowed the Chinese Communist Party to control the behaviour of the industrial sector of the economy. 2

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Figure 26. Hukou Hierarchy

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The danwei system was the main apparatus of state control during the socialist period. They were self-contained units incorporating employment, housing and social services (Lu, 2006). The key aspects were the domination of a single enterprise, the intimate connection between work and living and paternalistic policies which extended beyond the requirements of production (Crawford, 1995). Examples include factories, school, universities, and enterprises (Lu, 2006). By the late 1990s alongside the reforms of state-owned enterprises, the labour and housing market, the importance of the danwei was diminished. Danwei’s spatial qualities and social policies brought about a distinctive model for living3. Being part of a danwei equalled permanent employment, provision of housing and medical care. The availability of a diverse range of amenities and rights to participate in social events organised by the unit contributed towards the establishment of a community.

Spatial planning gave equal attention to the sexes, creating a gender-equal environment to live in. The proximity of work to home to social services helped both parents stay employed whilst running a household. Canteens offered convenient meals; nurseries and schools within the unit shortened commute times; and the provision of nursing rooms adjacent to workshops enabled new mothers to return to work. 3

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Figures 27-28. Life in a socialist danwei

Figures 29-30. Beijing’s danwei compounds in the 1990s

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A danwei’s boundary is defined by walls and gates. The boundary condition of a work unit differs in nature to the fortification of a gated community in that the walls in danwei were erected to establish a territory outline to benefit the residents within; its goal was to establish a community and promote a sense of solidarity, whereas walls in gated communities aim to segregate the privileged4. They are bordered by roads with an inner system of circulation. Work units shared facilities between one another which fostered relations and cooperation between danwei. Hence, they were more permeable and socially engaged with the greater city in comparison to contemporary gated communities. Such arrangements allowed a spatial and temporal crossover of work, family and social events

Figure 31. Map of Caoyang New Village (danwei), Shanghai 1951-1953

to occur. Spaces were multi-functional; for instance, work spaces were used to hold social events, and domestic spaces overflowed into social places (Bjorklund, 1986).

This outlook of social inclusion as opposed to social exclusion means that danwei is a more harmonious environment; being part of a danwei is comparable to being a member of a family, where the senior managers were your parents. For example, danwei managers arranged marriages their unit members and intervened in domestic disputes and civic quarrels (Gentle, 2011). 4

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This web of human relationships is comparable to life in urban villages. The different scales of streets, lanes and alleyways within its walls humanized the landscape which encouraged utilisation of public space and social interactions. In addition, shared pathways, public spaces and activities at regular meeting places allowed frequent chance encounters to happen thus developing neighbourly friendships. Accommodation was provided for both single employees and families in the form of dormitories and apartments. Spaces for social activities and utilities were externalised into public spaces to increase economic efficiency, which resulted in greater utilisation of communal facilities to compensate for the deficit in private spaces. This increased the chance of social encounters, which promoted the formation of neighbourly relationships and minimised construction and maintenance costs. Furthermore, the savings were passed onto residents5. Economic reforms in China have further highlighted the importance of the danwei. Despite it no longer being a pivotal centre of life for urbanites in post-reform China, it acts as a safety net for employees unable to meet the price threshold for the now privatized housing market, by providing subsidized housing (homes built within the compound and sold without a profit margin) (Wang and Murie, 1996; Bian, et al. 1997; Wang, 1999), financed through the ‘housing accumulation fund’ – a policy which requires employees to give five percent of their salary for housing development (Bray, 2005, pp. 174 – 175). 5

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Beijing’s radical transformation would not have been achievable without the changes in the land governance system in the 1980s. The establishment of a land market and property market allowed land use-rights to be traded as a commodity6, thus local governments converted collectively owned farmland into urban land, developed the necessary infrastructure and sold it to private developers at a profit7. Meanwhile Beijing transformed from a low-end manufacturing city to a service orientated economy which instigated new business and industrial parks, financial districts, ICT and culture industries, all of which competed for space in inner Beijing (Yang et al., 2013). These factors contributed to a growing scarcity in central urban space and increased land values and property prices so that previously affordable neighbourhoods became unattainable and only high-end developments were built in the city centre.

In the socialist period land could not be traded, it was dispensed to danwei and industrial developments by the state. 7 In the case of residential use, private and institutional investors can purchase land-use rights for up to 70 years, and 50 years for commercial use 6

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The Chinese housing reform began in the early 1980s with the primary aim of alleviating the financial burden imposed upon State-Owned-Enterprises. Housing reform went through three stages of transformation. The first stage (1980-1997) involved a ban on free housing, followed by the acquisition of danwei homes by its employees at below-market prices, in the interest of promoting the private housing market (Lu, 2006). The subsequent stage (1998-2005) was the commoditisation of residential units, in which danwei housing and private units were sold at market value. The third stage (2005- present) involved the central government’s unsuccessful suppression of the property market, as demonstrated by its constant escalation in value. Between 2001 and 2010, average residential property prices in Beijing increased by more than 300% (Ren, 2013). The failure of government to control the inflation in property prices could be attributed to the difference in China’s administration hierarchy. Local officials are not incentivised to restrain inflation in the housing sector, since a significant proportion of their revenue is generated through real-estate. The constant drive for economic reward by the government has made living in inner Beijing unaffordable for migrants, low-income workers, and even some middle-income families. Cities should not be built for profit-making; instead they should be designed to fulfil human needs (Brenner, Marcuse, and Mayer 2011). Changes are needed in urban planning and policymaking to stop Beijing merely becoming a money-generator for governments and investors. Rather, the focus should be on transforming Beijing into a more egalitarian and integrated place for living.

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Figure 32. Housing Types And Availability For Migrants In Cities

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China has a distinctive political culture and a highly complex bureaucratic system. The danwei, hukou, and the party have been described as “the three pillars of socialist urban governance” (Wu, 2002). In conjunction with the tiao-kuai matrix8, these institutions are the foundations of urban governance structures. Control over land, housing and infrastructure development has shifted from central ministries to territorial establishments and city governments over the years. Unfortunately the decisions engendered by this transfer of power have not always benefitted the local population. Local governments have a vested interest in inflating land and property values as urban developments have become a tactic for facilitating financial growth. As a result, urban landscapes are increasingly developed for revenue and growth, rather than to address urban issues and needs of Beijing’s citizens. Chinese cities are embedded in an elaborate structure of hierarchical and horizontal authorities, known as the tiao-kuai matrix 8

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Figure 34. Territiorial Hierarchy of China

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Figure 35. The System of Urban and Regional Planning in China

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Figure 36. The Process of Master Planning in Beijing

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Beijing’s urban villages are also under pressure to be developed due to the lack of land and the desire to modernise into a “global city”. The 2008 Beijing Olympics exacerbated the pace of redevelopment of many urban villages. Property owners in urban villages are compensated for their losses and offered an urban-status (hukou) in return for the rights to their land, but the tenants are evicted with no alternatives to fall back on. Some return to villages in the countryside, despite having little agri-

Figure 37. Residential Clusters in Beijing

cultural knowledge (if they are An important phenomenon contributing

teriorating residential neighbourhoods and

a second-generation migrant).

towards Beijing’s social-spatial inequality is

replacing them with premium apartments,

For those unwilling to renounce

the prevalence of urban redevelopment and

affluent business and retail districts . Such

their Chinese Dream, they have

renewal projects. Studies have shown that

programmes have made many developers

turned to almost uninhabitable

such programmes can transform deterio-

and private investors rich, at the expense of

places to live, such as basements

rating districts into highly valuable territory

vulnerable tenants who were evicted with-

and storage rooms of apartment

(Gaubatz, 2005). In Beijing, the areas mostly

out sufficient compensation into the urban

buildings, parking garages and

affected are located within inner city regions.

periphery10 (Shin, 2009).

civil air defence shelters (Huang

Such programs involve the demolition of de-


and Yi, 2014).

9 In 1991, the Beijing municipal government released a plan to bulldoze and revive decaying houses, under the program title “Old and Dilapidated Housing Redevelopment Program”, in which demolition and complete redevelopment was the preferred means of transformation (Shin, 2009). 10 Compensation for displaced local residents involved a guaranteed home with existing tenure (before 1998), normally located the suburbs; since 1998 the rule has been to offer monetary compensation, but it is not enough to allow the displaced tenants to purchase their own property due to the inflation in the real-estate market; most commodity housing currently in Beijing is only attainable to high income residents (Wang and Murie 1999a, 1999b).

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Figures 38-39. Photographs of Tiantong Yuan

These examples demonstrate that current trends of urban development often evict the original residents of Beijing, whether through the complete redevelopment of a neighbourhood, whereby tenants are forced to relocate due to policy constraints, or via the gentrification of an organically-grown community. To address the housing requirements for the evicted communities, and the need to alleviate population pressure in inner districts, new “fringe clusters” have appeared in the peri-urban area (Wang, 2011). Such developments are the government’s solution to a shortage of affordable homes11. Such fringe clusters cause problems in terms of city planning. Construction of several districts on the outer-urban area have attempted to deal with the population growth, however the clusters remain primarily residential in function. The absences of employment, public transport and services have generated huge traffic and congestion problems. The commutes are so time-consuming that elderly parents often hold places in bus queues for their working children so they can get a couple more hours sleep before work (South China Morning Post, 2014). Furthermore, they lack the same quality of social services, such as schools and hospitals, as exist in central Beijing (Reuters, 2015). The construction of suburban residential clusters, with inadequate infrastructure to link it with the city centre, has contributed to Beijing’s segregated and polarised social-spatial structure. Such designed isolation is arguably a form of marginalisation. 11

Its availability is not extended to rural-status migrants.

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Figure 40-41. Conceptul designs

The conditions discussed in preceding chapters have revealed the ways in which forms of governance, reforms and urban typologies have contributed to a fragmented city and how this division is accompanied by a series of inherent social and cultural implications. This paper argues for a design proposal to act as a mechanism to reverse Beijing’s fragmentation. This can be achieved by identifying the urban issues and understanding the contextual framework in which the urban issues are present.

DESIGN CHALLENGES The analysis has identified three key issues facing Beijing, within the wider challenges of social inequality, which could be addressed through architecture. The first challenge I have identified is the shortage of housing for an impoverished migrant population. The second issue is the eviction and marginalisation of an established community and the last challenge is the social segregation in the city. I believe that these problems could be tackled through a spatial strategy which draws on both the physical and functional analysis of danwei and urban villages.

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Figure 42. Site location

Figure 43. Existing Site Conditions

I identified an old residential neighbourhood, located between the Eastern Second and Third ring road, to use as the site on which to test my design. The East Third Ring Road area in Beijing in 1990s was occupied by large manufacturing facilities and dilapidated danwei housing; a decade later the area turned into the iconic Chinese Central Business District. This particular compound is under 7 storeys high, its height restricted by the technology of its time. Through an evaluation of the site’s architecture and history, it can be reasoned that my site is former danwei housing.

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Figure 44. Module system


“Urban compaction, or intensification is ... desirable, in order to help urban economic regeneration, make cities more lively…” (Hall and Ward, 2014)

To address the shortage of affordable housing I propose intensifying low-rise residential compounds by building a module system above structurally-reinforced residential towers. The new additions would be incredibly compact, thus financially-efficient, and the savings would be passed onto its tenants so they are attainable to all income levels. The compact nature of the space would be compensated for by the provision of shared living spaces- the modules are for ”sleeping” and communal spaces in the compound are for “living”. Despite the modules’ extreme compaction a high degree of privacy and living standards is given, as the rooms are for single individuals, and come equipped with modern comforts one would expect to find in commodity housing. The predominant target group for this proposal is the “ant tribe”, given that a change in their residential condition and location would be mutually beneficial for both the migrants and the local community. The insertion of such modules can act as an intermediate platform for the “ant tribe” on which to achieve their rise to the middle-class. Hence a fluid and dynamic population, their presence in central Beijing can improve the vibrancy of the area. The analysis of the “ant tribe’s” shared micro-residences in urban villages shows that, although not ideal, we can accept the willingness of people to live collectively in compact accommodation if such principles can be taken forward in a more sustainable manner.

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Figure 45. Conceptual Design








The eviction and marginalisation of an established community can be address through an adaptation of impoverished housing neighbourhoods. The transformation process would be implemented in two ways. The first incorporates the physical upgrading of deteriorated residential towers, as the addition of new builds above necessitates structural reinforcement and alterations to buildings below. The second involves a transformation in the usage of space. The interchangeable nature of a modular system enables a space to be continuously transformed in response to the changing needs of the local community. Consequently the development becomes deeply entrenched within the neighbourhood’s social, cultural and urban fabric. This transformation can safeguard central neighbourhoods against future urban renewal programmes and prevent the displacement of communities to urban margins. Most importantly, social networks and memories established over the years would be preserved, as the residents continue to live in the centre.

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Figures 46-48. Adptation of Site Over Time

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Collectivism in the context of this project implies open access to communal facilities and the provision of mixed-use services (e.g. places of employment, leisure and commerce), to establish intimate connections between work and living, as opposed to policies of social control. This is achieved via a continuous intensification and adaptation process, as outlined above. According to Leyden (2003), mixed-use neighbourhoods can promote social engagement, thus the communal characteristics in my proposal, derived from socially-dynamic aspects of urban villages and danwei, should encourage social integration. By transforming inner residential compounds into mixed-use, collective urban forms, the spaces transform into an attraction point for all the residents within its vicinity. This would encourage a spatiotemporal crossover between privileged urbanites and poor, through chance encounters and social interactions.

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Figure 49. Mixed-use programme

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Figures 50-58. Design principles of shared spaces

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This paper has identified Beijing as a socially and spatially divided city. The alternative approach to urban renewal proposed in this paper would have an instrumental effect on the urban, economic and social fabric of Beijing. By reactivating communal living, the “ant tribe” could be incorporated into the city centre. In addition, by providing a viable living solution for a vulnerable group in society and re-engaging the privileged in the public realm, the adapted development could start the repair of Beijing’s fragmented economy and make it a less economically discriminatory city for living. My hypothetical proposal of ongoing intensification and adaptation of an old housing compound engenders a more nuanced and organic trajectory of development. In comparison to the current trend of urban renewal, it is arguably a preferable form of development, given the positive impact it would bestow on existing local neighbourhoods and residents. It would retain established social networks of local communities, and incorporate members of the “ant tribe” into known housing typologies in central Beijing. The multi-functional nature of the proposed design would create a permeable threshold, engendering greater social integration between the compound and the wider area. In summary, it would contribute towards the overarching goal of disintegrating Beijing’s social-spatial segregation.

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This polemic proposal matters because it addresses live issues facing Beijing today. As the nation’s centre of politics, education and symbol of modern China, Beijing acts as an example which other cities follow. If the issues of inequality discussed throughout this paper are not addressed, the problem could be replicated around the nation. Whilst the project is hypothetical, issues of practicality and theoretical implications need addressing to facilitate this project’s future progression. Planning regulations, structural strategies and how this project could be financed are a few examples of important issues I need to engage with. As migrant workers are shifted into designated central neighbourhoods, research should also be conducted to prevent the area from transforming into another enclave of poverty. Further extension of the project could develop upon strategies on how to retain a mixed income community. My continued design research will seek to advance on building a sustainable model of urban development to create a more inclusive Beijing.

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Pilot Thesis An essay submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the MPhil Examination in Architecture & Urban Design (2014-201...


Pilot Thesis An essay submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the MPhil Examination in Architecture & Urban Design (2014-201...

Profile for bx426