Type and the Developmental City: Housing Singapore

The article proposes to revalidate the instrumentality of type as a heuristic device and in so doing, uncover the cultural, social and political reasoning behind the architecture of the developmental city in Far East Asia. The question of type in the context of the discussion of the city was last raised in Aldo Rossi’s L’Architetura della Cita, 1966. This understanding of type and typology was fi rmly based on the architectural theories of the Enlightenment and the historical European city. I would argue that this is inadequate to describe, conceptualise and theorise the contemporary East Asian City, exemplifi ed by Singapore as a developmental city state, from the 1960s to 2000s. I will show that this seemingly new phenomenon has a long history, in fact, and is tied to the way in which the city, as an extension of the conception of family and state, is conceived in the culture and philosophy of ancient China. This will crucially serve to further the discussion of the dominant type and the idea of the city, and to show that the former can be understood as a common framework, a shared architectural knowledge and social contract.

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Common Frameworks: Rethinking the Developmental City in China

The Harvard GSD AECOM Project on China was a three-year research and design project premised on two fundamental ambitions: recuperating an idea of the city and pursuing alternative forms of urbanization in response to the challenges posed by the developmental city in China. Each year, the Project on China focused on a theoretical problem and practical challenge posed by the model of the developmental city in China, using a particular city as an exemplar: the megaplot with Xiamen as a case study; the future of the city in city-regions and the effects of cross-border urbanization, with Macau as the paradigm; and the status of the countryside in the context of state-driven initiatives to urbanize rural areas.

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Harvard Graduate School of Design Option Studio Fall 2014

For the final year of our three-year sponsored research and design studio on China, the research focused on the transformation of China’s rural villages into towns, with the villages of Zhongmou County, at the outskirts of Zhengzhou, as the site of investigation and proposition. With China’s rate of urbanization reaching the 51% mark in 2011, the next phase of economic and social development will now be focused on the urbanization of its rural areas. In Premier Le Keqiang’s recent announcement, the state’s urbanization target of 70%, affecting 900 million people by 2025, will not come from the further expansion of large cities but will instead be focused on the growth of rural towns and small cities. As a continuation of the ‘Building a New Socialist Countryside’ program of 2006, developed against the backdrop of rural unrest and the urgent need to secure food production, this drive attempts to reverse the migration of the rural populace to the city, uplift the living standards in the rural areas, and to safeguard farmland from further speculative developments.  

At present this form of urbanization can be divided to three categories, the redevelopment of villages stranded in the city into higher density developments; the demolition of villages to make way for urban developments at the edges of the city; and the wholesale demolition, amalgamation and rebuilding of villages into new towns. 

China’s rural urbanization should not be mistaken with the process of suburbanization of the United States or the creation of low-density picturesque garden cities in Britain. It should neither be the transformation of rural areas into dense urbanized cores, with the glut of speculative housing as the primary economic driver. Beyond the upgrading of basic infrastructure and sanitation, the challenge here is to imagine a self-sufficient place that can support a dynamic economy in the countryside, provide cultural and intellectual stimulation, and offer a respite to the inequalities and divisions that plagues the developmental city; in other words, the city as a space of equal and plural coexistence.  

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