Villages in the City: A Guide to South China's Informal Settlements
216pp. September 2014
Villages in the City: A Guide to South China's Informal Settlements
Editor: Al, Stefan;
Countless Chinese villages have been engulfed by modern cities. They no longer consist of picturesque farms and feng shui 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 another 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 their dense structures, and provide a peek into residents’ homes and daily lives. Essays by a number of experts give a deeper understanding on the topic, and help imagine how reinstating the focus on the village could lead to a richer, more variegated pathway of urbanization.

300 color illustrations

Not for sale in East Asia, Australia, and New Zealand

Published in association with Hong Kong University Press
"Indeed, while Villages in the City is a fabulous piece of architecture and design graphica, written contributions from Marco Cenzatti, Margaret Crawford, Jiong Wu, and others offer vital considerations of the histories and contexts of the phenomenon. The book succeeds by investigating and advocating for the informal without fetishizing it." —Gordan Douglas, Architectural Record
Editor: Al, Stefan;
Stefan Al is a Dutch architect, urban designer, and an associate professor of urban design at the University ofPennsylvania. In an international career to date, he has worked as a practicing architect on renowned projects suchas the 2,000-foot high Canton Tower in Guangzhou, the preservation of world heritage in Latin America at theWorld Heritage Center of UNESCO, and an 11,000-acre new eco-friendly city in India. Al’s research focuses on theevolution of urban form from a global perspective. His articles have been published in the Handbook of ArchitecturalTheory, Urban China, and other publications. He has edited the book Factory Towns of South China and is currentlywriting a book on Las Vegas entitled The Strip.

Marco Cenzatti holds a laurea in architecture from the University of Florence, a master’s degree in housing andurban planning from the Architectural Association in London, and a PhD in urban and regional planning from UCLA.Currently, he is a lecturer in architecture and city and regional planning at the College of Environmental Design, UCBerkeley. Besides urban and peri-urban development in Southern China, his most recent work focuses on urbanchange, the production of social space, and urban industry. His publications on these topics include “The (Changing)Colors of the American City,” New Geographies (2011, Vol. 3); “Heterotopias of Difference,” in Heterotopia and theCity (edited by M. Dehaene and E. Vervloesem, 2009), and “The Permanence and Change of Urban Industry,” HarvardCollege Economics Review (2006, Vol. 1). 

Margaret Crawford is a professor of architecture at UC Berkeley. A graduate of Berkeley, the ArchitecturalAssociation, and UCLA, she has also taught at SCI-Arc, Harvard GSD, and the University of Florence, Italy. She isthe author of Building the Workingman’s Paradise and editor of The Car and the City and Everyday Urbanism, along withnumerous articles on topics in the American built environment. She has been conducting research in the Pearl RiverDelta since 2005. 

Jiang Jun is a researcher, architect, editor and writer whose experimental urban research explores theinterrelationship between design phenomena and urban dynamics. He was the founding editor-in-chief of UrbanChina Magazine, the chief curator of the “Street Belongs to . . . All of Us!” exhibition in China, and the projectdirector at the Strelka School in Moscow. His works have been presented in exhibitions including the ShenzhenBiennale, China Contemporary, and Kassel Documenta. He is currently an associate professor at the GuangzhouAcademy of Fine Arts and visiting fellow at the ESRC Centre of Oxford University. 

Laurence Liauw is the principal director of SPADA Ltd and an associate professor (part-time) at the Universityof Hong Kong. An ex-investment banker, he has practiced in the past 18 years as a registered architect, professionalurban designer, and strategic development consultant in the UK, Malaysia, Mainland China, and Hong Kong. Hegraduated from the Architectural Association London and City University in London and is a winner of internationalcompetitions and design awards. His expertise lies in China’s urbanization process, strategic planning, and urbandevelopment, leading to his publications AD: New Urban China (2008) and New Economic Spaces in Asian Cities (2012).His professional projects have focused on international CBDs, financial districts, academic and technology campuses,aviation cities, creative industries, cultural institutional buildings, hospitality healthcare, as well as aging populations inurban development. He serves as an expert advisor to government planning bureaus and development agencies inChina and Asia. Liauw was a creative team member for the Shanghai World Expo Shenzhen Pavilion in 2010, and anexhibitor at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2006. He has lectured widely on design and urban development atHarvard GSD, Columbia University, University College London, Tsinghua University, and Peking University. 

Nick R. Smith is a PhD candidate in the Department of Urban Planning and Design at Harvard University. Smith’sresearch combines ethnography and spatial analysis to explore processes of urban transformation, planning, andpolicy in rapidly developing contexts, with a particular emphasis on China. Most recently, Smith’s work has focusedon the planning of peri-urban villages in the context of urban-rural coordination. His research is supported bygrants from the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation. 

Jiong Wu (Abingo) is a PhD student in architecture at UC Berkeley, studying housing and habitation in China.A native of Zhuhai, she is a graduate of the South China University of Technology and the Berlage Institute inRotterdam. She has worked in architecture and planning offices in Rotterdam and Guangzhou.