Xu Tiantian examines Chinese rural architecture
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(Re)discovering Chinese rural architecture with Xu Tiantian

At Cersaie in Bologna, the Mother Earth conference was presented by the founding principle architect of DnA – Design and Architecture in Beijing

Xu Tiantian examines Chinese rural architecture
By Editorial Staff -

The program to revitalize rural areas in China aims to rediscover and boost a traditional building culture that’s very different from what’s found in the country’s cities. The architecture of the Chinese countryside tells the story of thousands of villages and thousands of years of history. It’s a world that’s becoming increasingly distant from the large metropolises that, in a relatively recent era, have fueled the economic growth of the socialist state.

One of the professionals involved in this revitalization of China’s rural areas is Xu Tiantian, founding principal architect of Beijing-based DnA – Design and Architecture. Through what she calls “Architectural Acupuncture,” she proposes a holistic approach to the topic that has grown out of a vision of architecture that encompasses promoting social cohesion as well as the country’s heritage.

Xu Tiantian talked about some of her projects during the Mother Earth conference, which was held in BolognaFiere’s Palazzo dei Congressi as part of Cersaie 2023’s educational program, Building, Dwelling, Thinking.


The Songyin River bridge

Shimen Bridge - DnA_Design and Architecture Studio © Wang Ziling, courtesy of DnA

One of Xu Tiantian’s most iconic projects is the bridge over the Songyin River. The existing bridge was earmarked for demolition, but the architect’s project reinvented the structure, converting it into a viewing platform. With her architectural vision centering on traditional materials, for this project, she chose a wooden structure to cover the bridge, recalling local building traditions.

The project transformed the bridge from a simple structure that connected the two banks into a pedestrian walkway, where people gather, interact, and share the experience. This project is a meaningful example of how architecture can be used to transform public spaces into places that promote social cohesion.


A tofu factory and a sugar factory

Tofu Factory - DnA_Design and Architecture Studio © Wang Ziling, courtesy of DnA

Another completed work by Xu Tiantian is the tofu factory in the village of Caizhai. For this project, the architect created a “museum of life,” where visitors can watch the work going on inside through large windows as they follow a long staircase on either side of the factory. The project demonstrates how a local tradition, such as tofu production, can become part of a living dialogue with nature and the community, creating shared places resembling a shared kitchen.

Brown Sugar Factory - DnA_Design and Architecture Studio © Wang Ziling, courtesy of DnA

This same principle of a museum of life also underpinned the project for a cane sugar factory in Xing village, which has led to a notable improvement in the local economy. The roof of the building was designed to allow natural light to pour inside and create the impression of an open space. The presence of the factory has also encouraged the cultivation of sugar cane, which has influenced the local landscape and even provided a cause for celebration when the scent of freshly processed sugar is smelt in the air.


Quarries in Jinyun County

Quarry #8 - DnA_Design and Architecture Studio © Wang Ziling, courtesy of DnA

In Jinyun County, Xu Tiantian transformed a series of abandoned quarries into community spaces, including libraries and facilities for educational events. Quarry 8 in particular is an outstanding work, with its multiple levels surrounded by large stone walls that have been sculpted throughout history by generations of artisans. Today, the quarry welcomes the community into a space that’s flooded with natural light, rich in history and tradition, and that creates a deep bond between people and the historical heritage of the place.


Xu Tiantian

Born in Fujian in 1975, Xu Tiantian graduated from Tsinghua University Beijing, where she now teaches. She later obtained an MA in urban design from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Her projects embrace Chinese vernacular architecture, thereby focusing attention on the importance of preserving the country’s historical heritage and local cultures, and promoting a connection between people and nature.

Named an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 2020, Xu Tiantian has received numerous awards, including the Swiss Architectural Award in 2022, and both the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture and the Berlin Art Prize / Kunstpreis BerlinArchitecture in 2023.


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Shimen Bridge
Location: Shimen Village, Songyang
Completion: 2018

Tofu Factory
Location: Caizhai Village, Dadongba Town, Songyang
Completion: 2019
Gross Floor Area: 1211 m2

Brown Sugar Factory
Location: Xing Village, Songyang
Completion: 2016
Gross Floor Area: 1234  m2

Quarry #8
Location: Xiandu Street, Jinyun
Completion: 2022

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