by Meghna MehtaOct 14, 2020
Amsterdam-based NEXT Architects has transformed a rural village in China’s Jiangxi Province into an art centre by combining Chinese and Dutch creative cultures. NEXT Architects was wholly responsible for the masterplan, architecture and interiors for the art village’s rehabilitation, called Holland Dafang Creative Village.
The village’s old spaces have been restored, new elements such as a winding, stepped watchtower and a terracotta clad public hall have been added, along with spaces to encourage art, resulting in a fresh community with a focus on art and public interaction.
The art village is one of the many in the country undergoing transformation on account of rapid urbanisation in China, which is looking at transitioning from a predominantly rural society to having approximately one billion living cities by 2050. Therefore, migration to urban settlements has risen manifold, leaving thousands of villages abandoned and uncared for. “Many of these have dozens of generations of social, cultural and monumental value but are currently lacking major future significance,” mentions the architectural firm.
Rural revitalization is one of China’s key future developments. We believe this asks for the design of balance between the old and new, the living and visiting, the history and future. – John van de Water, partner, NEXT Architects, Beijing
Dafang village has been in a state of dilapidation for over a decade, leave for a few Ming and Qing Dynasty artefacts. The client’s vision for the rehabilitation project was to ‘adapt to newness’, for a touch of Dutch to rejuvenate Dafang. NEXT Architects sought to design a flexible and attractive environment for Chinese and Dutch artists to work, interact and exhibit locally. Holland Dafang Creative Village has been conceived to become interactive, and to be able to constantly re-invent itself through its architecture and landscape. The design hopes to attract and inspire a new generation of inhabitants and visitors.
The multidisciplinary collaboration between Dutch and Chinese creatives has resulted in the vibrant ambience of the revived art village. Dafang’s spaces, architecture and landscape have been repaired and restored wherever possible, with the addition of new materials, creating a harmonious sync between the village’s old and new elements. The roofs of the old residences have been restored with glass roof tiles, while the ancient system of irrigation has been revamped by adding natural helophyte filter that cleans the water.
A public hall and watchtower have been added to the village space, their architecture taking cues from on-site examples. Most ancient villages of this area had watchtowers for defence, but the original one was destroyed ages ago. The new watchtower provides alternating views of the ancient and modern elements of the village, as well as views to the distant landscape and mountain range. Its form takes after a gigantic Chinese ‘dragon column’, its pale intertwining routes embracing each other. Locally dubbed the ‘watching tower’, the structure also demonstrates fondly, “a poem of the famous Chinese poet Li Bai about people waiting for loved ones to return to their hometowns.”
Dafang Creative Village’s public hall has been covered with a unique terracotta tiled façade that welcomes birds to build nests in its niches. The structure takes up the village’s centre, built on the former site of a courtyard building wrecked at the time of the Cultural Revolution. Its unique roof is inspired from a 100-year-old camphor tree that stands outside the village, whose canopy allowed for a gathering space underneath. “The camphor hall dissolves in the fabric of the village and provides a shaded collective space,” informs NEXT Architects.
Newer functions in the Holland-Dafang Creative Village include a museum, library and artist studios that customise the village into an art filled, creative locality. Artists are encouraged to react to these structures – “to add, change and transform its context.” Some samples of this intervention include the floor of the public hall being painted by a Chinese artist, in a Mondrian-like pattern, and Dutch artist Herman Lamers inserting an airplane inside an old house.
NEXT Architects presents a thriving example of how international collaborations can work enthusiastically, to bring new life to rural settlements. “Holland-Dafang Village opened last month, and it is already attracting thousands of visitors each day,” says Jiang Xiaofei, partner, NEXT Architects Beijing. “We hope it will have a positive, lasting, social and cultural impact and will also provide a new developmental model for abandoned Chinese villages.”
Name: Holland Dafang Creative Village
Type: Rural regeneration
Location: Dafang, Jiangxi Province, China
Client: Jinxi government
Area: 48,000 sqm
Year of completion: 2020
Architect: NEXT Architects
Design Team: John van de Water, Jiang Xiaofei with Gao Shuang, Kuang Wenhui, Shen Xue, Liu Wenya, Sun Yi, Lu Xiaorui, Zhu Juncheng, Zhang Chi, Ren Wanting and Yue Haiting
In collaboration with: IVEM (Dutch Institute for Heritage and Marketing), Smartland architects, Total Design and Linda Vlassenrood