Student: Rita Wei
Advisor: David Theodore
Studio: Directed Research Project
Year/Term: Fall 2015
As the needs and desires of society change, civic structures once at the centre of culture become marginalized. In China, following massive urbanization, schools in rural areas have progressively been abandoned. The numbers are staggering: 60% of elementary schools in rural villages have closed, from 550,000 to 210,000, leaving over 300,000 of them empty. These abandoned schools were the byproducts of Mao’s demographic strategies, which encouraged childbirth. Society changed since then, as China modernized and adopted its infamous one-child policy. This resulted in a dwindling fertility rate and enrollment rate, forcing many schools into closure. To make matter worse, many younger and middle-age farmers chose to leave their hometown towards the city. This has caused a severe aging problem in villages, the percentage of seniors in villages rising to 18.3%. A great number of primary schools in rural areas have therefore little chance of being revitalized in the future. But these civic assets remain a collective memory, not only for the students once enrolled, but for the teachers and villagers because of their sentimental value. They shouldn’t be thoughtlessly destroyed.
As an architect and a member of society, I have been driven to research and clarify the role of architecture in the context of an aging society. How should we plan, design and build for specific rural condition, respecting the natural and physical context, and learning from the vernacular. I propose to transform primary schools in the empty core of villages into something that induces community renewal, while providing a sanctuary or retreat for the city-dwellers of all ages and redefines the meaning of educational buildings in a new era.