Design Method of Low-tech Ecological Rural Settlement in China Qiang Villages as an example (Early Stage of Research)
Research stage: initial doctoral stage
Category: Extended abstract
1. Critical Reflection
China’s rural areas take up 94.7% of China’s total land area, and the rural population take up 53.4% of the total. The year 2021 witnessed (the promulgation of) the “rural revitalization strategy” by the Chinese government as a major basic national strategy. Because of the concentrated development of rural lands, construction of a large number of settlements for land-losing farmers has become an imperative. However, these settlements are usually located faraway and faced with the backward economic development. This has led to a lot of problems in these settlements. Firstly, lack of funding has resulted in poor quality of design and architecture; secondly, the government and the design institute dominate the design plan, depriving residents of any say in architectural design, and causing the inconsistency between the use status and the residents’ expectations; Thirdly, the design plan shows no respect for traditional crafts and lost regional characteristics, all villages looks the same; Fourth, the design The design ignores and even goes against the principle of ecological design. The construction destroy the environment1.
How to combine between the wisdom of traditional architcture and the modern residential requirements, how to let the regional architecture be inherited and developed sustainably is an issue of concern. My research is carried out under this background.
2. Theory of Low-tech Ecological Architecture
Low-tech ecological architecture refers to construction of ecological architecture combining traditional techniques but using fewer or even not using modern techniques. Generally, low-tech ecological architecture can be classified into four models, including heat adaptation, wind effect, light adaptation and landscape adaption 2. So far, scholars have explored low-tech ecological architecture from the following perspectives, including modern applications and development of traditional techniques (such as rammed earth and earth-sheltered architecture); technical improvements of traditional materials (such as improvements of bamboo materials); reuse of industrial waste (such as reuse of tires); and in-depth passive architectural research. Charles Correa proposed the “Form Follows Climate”, which holds that architecture should capture climate elements from the plane and vertical perspective, and he reflected this idea in “tube house space” 3. Hassan Fathy put forward “cooperative construction” 4. Simon Velez studied the “Umbrella” architecture of the bamboo, and advocated improvements of traditional materials, simplification of design charts, and participation in the construction process 5. As a representative of the modern low-tech architecture. Philip Jones is committed to the sustainable carpet design, and has succeeded in establishing the building energy model 6. Tyin Tegnestue Organization devotes itself to the humanistic architecture and recycling of industrial waste 7.
Figure 1: The Low-tech renewal of traditional sunken cave, Source: draw by author.
3. Applications of Low-Tech Ecological Rural Settlement in China
The traditional village patterns are great in variety and contain a great wealth of low-tech wisdom. This enables them to find applications in modern design, For example, Building raised from the groundTo avoid moisture; Nomadic buildings that can be built quickly; The sunken cave dwellings embedded in mountains of Northern Shaanxi are capable of air-conditioning, they are warm in winter and cool in summer.
The transformation in ventilation, lighting and insulation is used in the Low-tech renewal of traditional sunken cave [ 1 ].
In the design case of Jintai Village, Sichuan Province, the designer made one important breakthrough. The designer decreased the earthwork by increasing the number of terraces. The planted roof terrace has not only inherited the planting habits of the farming society, but also ensured the heat insulation of the roof. The raw-water collection systems and greywater recollection systems also combined livestock keeping facilities and biofuel pool to make full of biological energies 9. This design also integrated the concept of “low impact development”. The permeable floor was adopted for the village, and “wetland” was constructed for storing and recycling of water resources 10 [ 2 ].
Figure 2: Post-earthquake reconstruction of Jintai village, Sichuan Province, Source: draw by author.
4. Locality – Traditional Qiang villages
The traditional Qiang villages located in Sichuan, China is chosen for a case study. Traditional Qiang architecture demonstrates unique regional characteristics, including use of stones and watchtower as a symbolic element. Being one of the 55 ethnic groups in China, the Qiang people are mainly distributed in the riverbed of the high mountain which is 3,000m above the sea level in Southwest China, and whose topographic slope ranges from 20°to 50°11. The climate is dry and cold, and the temperature is 3-24 degrees Celsius. The first floor of architecture is used for keeping and cultivation of livestock. The second floor is for residents to live in. The semi-open third floor can receive adequate sunlight For Drying Crops. The materials used are mainly local rubble, loess and wood [ 3 ].
Figure 3: Traditional Qiang Villages, Source
Figure 4: The exterior wall, Source: Research on Modern Pattern of Qiang Vernacular Dwellings in Region of Sichuan Province. Xi'an University of architecture and technology.
Figure 5: The corner block stones, Source: Research on Modern Pattern of Qiang Vernacular Dwellings in Region of Sichuan Province. Xi'an University of architecture and technology.
Architecture of the Qiang People represents a crystallization of wisdom of the folk residence over the past thousands of years, which can well adapt to the environment. For example, the wall that is thin by the upper part and thick by the latter part can increase its stability [ 4 ]. The alternating masonry of corner block stones can play an anti-seismic role [ 5 ]. A movable ladder can get rid of pursuers，which is a defense technique in war [ 6 ]. The thick exterior wall and small window can well guarantee thermal insulation. From the 48 hour indoor and outdoor temperature curve，we can see that the indoor temperature changes little compared with the external temperature [ 7 ]. The external wooden rooms can collect heat [ 8 ] 12. The area is known for the frequent outbreak of earthquakes and other natural disasters. In the aftermath of “Wenchuan Earthquake” happening on May 12, 2008, the traditional Qiang village suffered a serious blow. Over the years, reconstruction has been carried out due to continuous aftershocks. But the reconstruction effects of most villages were not satisfactory. In spite of that, all these cases have been laying the foundation for our post-use evaluation. Investigation and solution of the existing defects can facilitate the follow-up research.
Figure 6: The movable ladder, Source: draw by author.
Figure 7: Small window and 48 hour indoor and outdoor temperature curve
Figure 8: The external wooden room, Source: Research on Modern Pattern of Qiang Vernacular Dwellings in Region of Sichuan Province. Xi'an University of architecture and technology.
5. Research Procedures
I hope I can come to scientific conclusions through the following research procedures:
- Collaborative design and cyclic feedback: I will seek collaborative design with villagers, consider the residence as a whole, and use demonstrate research results via drawing, physical models, 3D models, animations, etc. Additionally, I will make adjustments and cyclic design in accordance with feedback;
- Literature research: study theories and cases of low-tech ecological architecture, and explore how to apply these achievements to local residences, and study the social and historical background, natural conditions, regional architectural patterns, traditional low-tech techniques and existing research findings of local residences;
- Field survey: I will choose representative rural settlements to record the status of village planning, architecture, infrastructures, landscapes and so on. I will take a look into which low techniques are used and what are the problems. Meanwhile, I will use instruments to put down various indexes of the architecture and the environment;
- Post-use evaluation: I will conduct a post-evaluation of existing villages to gain feedback from villagers. The feedback covers villagers’ satisfaction of residential spaces, low-tech needs, and adaptability towards changes of lifestyles and socializing styles;
- At last, based on the existing experience and knowledge, scientific evidences are provided for low-tech planning and design of rural settlements, aiming to design a low-tech ecological settlement model that is consistent with the local conditions on the basis of post-use evaluation, inherit the traditional architecture while accommodate to the modern residential needs, and help alleviate the aforesaid problems and improve villagers’ residence quality.
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