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Aid program redesigns village devastated by Wenchuan earthquake

2018/5/15 13:27:28   source:Global Times

Ten years ago in Wenchuan, Southwest China's Sichuan Province, people were going about a normal afternoon when suddenly a huge earthquake rocked the region. Reaching 8.0 in magnitude, the earthquake destroyed countless buildings over a more than hundred-thousand-square-kilometer area and led to the deaths of over 80,000 people, making it one of the most destructive earthquakes to hit the country after the founding of the People's Republic of China.

On Saturday, a decade after the earthquake, commemorative activities were held throughout China to remember those that lost their lives or were injured, but more importantly, to celebrate the rebirth of this area.

New houses and schools have been built, businesses are prospering and people have returned to their normal lives. Many people have contributed to this success.

Among them all, John Lin and Joshua Bolchover are two contributors that should not be forgotten, as the duos' Rural Urban Framework (RUF) helped provide affordable housing to locals in need.

Village renewal

One of the areas that was severely impacted by the disaster, Jintai Village is located near the city of Bazhong in Sichuan Province. Adding to the tragedy, the misfortune that the village experienced wasn't limited to the earthquake. Following the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, the village was subsequently damaged again by a decimating flood and accompanied landslides in 2011. This was a terrible blow to locals, many of whom had just moved into newly rebuilt homes.

Seeing people in need, RUF moved in to work with NGOs and the local government to help the community.

"We thought that in addition to being able to help out the community, it was a valuable opportunity to take part in designing an entire village from scratch and reflect on its significance and potentiality," Crystal Kwan, the project leader for RUF's Jintai Village Reconstruction Project told the Global Times.

A solution was quickly worked out. Instead of simply copying the designs of the residents' original homes or following common urban designs, the team decided to come up with new buildings that would be in fitting with the unique lifestyle of the village.

"We hoped to offer an alternative solution that would not only preserve the authenticity of the village but also help foster a sense of self-reliance and community-living," Kwan noted.

In order to insure the safety of the houses, Lin and Bolchover gave up on traditional square shaped homes, instead going with irregular shaped buildings with an inclined and terraced roof.

"We rejected the easier way of tabula rasa and instead we terraced the site in order to follow the existing topography as much as possible," Kwan explained.

Making full use of space, designers turned everyone's roof into a small garden that could be used for farming. Taking into the watering and temperature needed for the plants, the architects worked high-tech solar panels and a private rainwater collection system into the design to help make residents' lives as cost efficient as possible.

Perfect blend

"Second we valued a lot the relationship of the houses with the surrounding natural environment," Kwan explained.

"In a rural village, you have to feel yourself being in the landscape; architecture and landscape should be more blended in with each other."

According to Kwan, one of RUF's goals was to incorporate the natural environment into the house, such as natural light, air circulation and view of the surroundings. At the same time, they emphasized the dialogue between the homes and its residents.

As a result, one can now find in the village homes that perfectly blend into the local environment to become a part of the rural view. Families are able to sell their home-grown vegetables and fruits at stalls by their front doors, while livestock that once defecated on the street, now enjoy "private toilets" that collect their droppings and turn it into usable methane.

Besides the natural environment, Kwan also believes that the house and village design has to be relevant to the villagers' rural livelihood as well.

"It is important not only to improve their lives but also to inform a new way of living."

With this in mind, the designers also built a community center where residents can get together to chat with family and friends.

Like the homes, the roof of the building can be used for farming, while an open space below the roof provides a place the dwellers can rest in the shade.

The spacious design makes it a great place for community meetings or spontaneous get-togethers among members of the community.

"We often strive to plan the project so that the whole village can benefit from it. Instead of just satisfying the program needs, we want the project to integrate into the village and people's lives," Kwan noted.

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Sponsor:Information Office of Shandong Provincial People’s Government