Bowen Victor Zhang

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 5-2016




architecture, vernacular, beijing, housing, urban, social, behavior




Architectural History and Criticism | Cultural Resource Management and Policy Analysis | Other Architecture | Urban, Community and Regional Planning


What does the term "vernacular" means? In an increasingly flay world, this thesis seeks to define the essential elements of the vernacular architecture of Beijing in order to propose a contemporary residential archetype.

In the past century, China has experienced unprecedented economic growth and development. Along with the many influences introduced by cross-cultural interactions, the phenomenon of architectural and social gentrification has begun to affect many of the populations living in urban centers. The same gentrifying forces that have drastically changed Greenwich Village and other New York City neighborhoods has rapidly moved to China and has replaced centruries-old vernacular communities and neighborhoods with generic modernist apartment buildings and hosing blocks. Both urbanisms witnessed a "vernacular" architecture of single resident homes become slumified through horizontal densification and then consequently demolished in favor of generic public housing blocks.

The aim of this thesis is to analyze the positives and shortcomings of existing housing typologies and their respective urban strategies in order to create a renewed architecture and urban plan that embodies the best of both sides. By viewing the social behavior of residents in private, public, and semi-public spaces in the urban fabric, the new urban plan seeks to combine multiple typologies to achieve real estate and development goals, while also maintaining the essence of the vernacular. Beyond the physical qualities of the vernacular, such as materiality, the goal is to replicate the lively and colorful interaction and social behaviors of the courtyard typologies in order to maintain or foster the activities and conditions that have allowed the vernacular neighborhoods to remain sustainable.

The contention is that through an integrated incorporation of low-paying, communal, courtyard compounds and high-rise towers, both typologies can coexist in a symbiotic relationship. Those living in the lower courtyard compound typology provide a healthy, interesting ground urbanism, while those living in the towers do no push out and gentrify the existing residents.

It is the belief of this thesis that through the careful integration of both housing typologies into a unified urban scheme, the social gentrification that is rapidly plaguing so many cities can be curbed, and the ideals of both preserving the essence of the vernacular and development goals can be achieved.


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