The University of Huddersfield has for a number of years been undertaking collaborative work (both teaching and research) in China. Through this it has established a number of links with universities, research groups, practitioners and other organisations. As a result of these activities, funding was awarded from the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK to initiate the ‘Sustainable and Creative Villages Research Network – SW China’. This has led to the development of a research alliance with Chinese partners which has considered how to support sustainable redevelopment that is rooted in villages and towns in the southwestern region.
Many villages in this region are located in remote areas and compared with the eastern coastal provinces and urban areas, the relative economic development has been slower, but is being addressed by national policies to support revitalisation of the countryside. At the same time there is a rich cultural accumulation, including the multiculturalism of ethnic minorities, with 30 out of the 55 nationality groups represented in SW China; and colourful dynamic landscapes. These factors provide a rare opportunity to develop and strengthen traditional skills, vernacular design and creative craft industries.
At present, the migration of a large number of rural people to cities has become a well-known phenomenon. From the economic, environmental, and social perspectives, there have been many projects studying urban sustainable development. However, even as the planned urbanization process accelerates, a large number of people (over 500 million) still live in rural areas. The decreasing population, as villagers migrate to cities, has caused imbalances in age and gender, and left a number of dwellings unattended and unmaintained. This situation has affected the sustainable development of local communities, and is also linked to the loss of traditional construction and handicrafts. One of the problems with current village construction and crafts is that where redevelopment does take place industrially produced materials and unsuitable building technologies have replaced the products and technologies produced by local traditional craft knowledge and skills. It is therefore imperative to understand how to disseminate excellent residential construction experience and information, and optimize it by modern means.
This exhibition displays exemplars of architectural, art and craft work tackling the need for a more sustainable approach to construction and the built environment generally in these villages and towns. This also supports local heritage craft and design skills. They aim to show what is possible, both in terms of buildings that are efficient and have a low ecological impact and in terms of development that aims to make the most of each community’s unique nature, heritage and culture. A key focus of the technology of the buildings is for them to be buildable and repairable with local skills whilst offering contemporary levels of comfort and usability. The work presented has been undertaken by a number of universities along with professionals from design practices and other organisations in China collaborating with researchers from the University of Huddersfield.