Towards Design Strategies for Requalifying the Rural: A Comparative Study of Hollow Settlements in China and Italy


Smallsettlementsincountrysideareascallforagrowingnumberofchallengesagainst the backdrop of global rural-urban transition. In this paper, we focus on the processes of depopulation and building abandonment in rural areas of China and Italy. We consider two similar experiences taking place in different contexts, and suggest useful design tools for strategies of architectural requalification. In China, we study a small village in Fujian Province as a paradigmatic example of the well-known phenomenon of “hollow villages.” The word hollow refers to the emptying of dwellings in the central parts of rural settlements, while, paradoxically, their fringe areas are the object of residential land expansion. This notion was coined in the early 1990s to describe the spatial, social and economic consequences of the combination of a rural exodus and a rampant urbanisation. In Italy, we consider a case study in the Province of Trento, where the evacuation of village central cores follow the sprawling towards the village’s outskirts. Even though the recent trends show that the demographic haemorrhage away from the village is declining, the abandonment of old houses in favour of the construction of new ones seems relentless. Such issues gather a growing interest by cultural, political and academic institutions. Never the less, little attention has been paid to the similarities of architectural experiences across national boundaries. Aiming to bridge this gap, we compare the results of our studies on the architectural requalification of rural settlements in both China and Italy. Our methodology embodies a graphic representation of our fieldwork, examines the relationships between the built form and its natural framework and analytically assesses the physical condition and use level of the existing buildings. Despite local specificities, there are significant overlaps from which these and other cases can gain insight. We observe that similar transnational issues can be stimulated by global transition processes driven by local forces and context-related patterns of spatial transformation. More specifically, the intensity and the extent of hollowing of Chinese villages stimulates the broad testing of a spectrum of methodologies and knowledges. These can be both inherited from other contexts or experimented with as innovative approaches. From this perspective, the Italian experience, where the abandonment dates backwards in time, is a fruitful source of comparison.

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