Fifteen years ago, in 2003, I started my architecture studies in Mexico City. The atmosphere at the School of Architecture in the National University (UNAM) was at that time (and still is), one of cultural sensitivity and social awareness. We, the students, were constantly instructed about the role of architects and urban designers in the social and cultural context of the country. I remember that we were bombarded with plenty of courses, forums, conferences, and special programs about a big topic: URBAN DESIGN IN MEXICO. This is plausible; however, the proportion of rural areas in Mexico and the world is bigger than what architects and urban planners would like to accept. We had ZERO courses with the name RURAL DESIGN, the ‘other’ kind of design for the other 50% of the country.
China, 2018. The tremendous urban growth of the country over the last 30 years has produced novel perspectives about the speed at which human societies can switch from rural to urban environments in less than one generation. This shift is still on motion and the cultural changes are so fresh that it is difficult to grasp its consequences. If today 55% of the population is urban in China, 630 million people live in rural environments. That is almost twice the total population of the United States. Urban environments in China and the world are overanalyzed. What happens to the ‘other’, the rural dweller, in term of environmental design and architecture?
I am glad to have found an architectural office in China that tackles social issues such as hygiene and poverty in rural environments, and that is coming closer to the public eye internationally. The name of the office is DOMAT. They have been shortlisted for the Architectural Review Emerging Architecture awards 2018. A practice led by Maggie Ma and Mark Kingsley, DOMAT, has designed the Hygiene Station for Cattlefield Village Primary School in China’s mountainous region of Yunnan. The project challenges the notion of new architecture in mainland China.
The project has been extensively documented here and here. In the second decade of the 21st century, this project reminds us that rural architecture and rural design is alive and that half of the human population in the world today requires dignified environments.