Fairy Water: visiting existing kindergarten and primary school

The village development project has currently planned for a kindergarten to be built next to the Guest House in order to regenerate it and give it a new function. However, we still need to find out whether that programme is feasible and appropriate. Visiting an existing kindergarten and primary school in the next village (30 minutes away by walking), it was interesting to step out of the project and evaluate the most appropriate way to conserve the Guest House and whether the solution is really to build another school in the area.

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Kindergarten, with school bus that picks up kids from Fairy Water Village.

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Primary school.

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Fairy Water: mind maps

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We ran a small mind map workshop with some villagers. While talking to them and doing the mind map, it was obvious that there was a main road that connected the different villages together (in most of the drawings, this road was in the middle). Fairy Water Village and the market is usually at the centre of the drawing. Then following that there is a branch down south to reach the Guest House. When further questioned, it was interesting to find out that for them, the centre of the village was the market area, not the Guest House. If we are to inject public programmes into the Guest House, a kindergarten for example, how do we make sure that the Guest House is not so out of the way that people will not actually come to use it? How do we then attract people to go out of their way to use the building?

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Fairy Water: the village and the Guest House

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Welcoming session at the Guest House.

Fairy Water Village and the Guest House.

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Graphs from HKU.

The social situation in Fairy Water Village is a typical phenomenon in China’s rural villages. People have moved out of the rural village in search for jobs in the cities (they often live in urban villages). The ones left behind are children and old people, resulting in the social phenomenon called ‘village without a heart’.

Living conditions in the village, during house visit with families in the village.

Ma Guest House is located inside fairly water village and grew to its current size over a period of 300 years. Built initially as a family house, the Guest House during the Cultural Revolution was redistributed to all villagers who then started living in the building since then. Until now, there are still 3 households who stay inside the Guest House. Villagers who have a bit of money have moved out of the Guest House to build new houses near other places in the village.

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The total floor area of the Guest House is around 2,450 m2. The entire building spread along the central lobby, including 15 lobbies, 330 rooms and 24 light wells. At its peak, there were more than 300 people living in the Guest House at one time.

Fairy Water: the project

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Taking the train from Guangzhou to Shenzhen, I will be meeting a group of HKU students and participating in a workshop in a rural village called Fairy Water Village in Hunan Province. From what I understand, the workshop will be working on the conservation of a historic Guest House in the village and building small structures in the village using traditional construction skills and craft.

Objectives of the HKU workshop (from the programme booklet):

Students will experience the current Village modernization (新农村建设) in China through the educational and research activities for exploiting new vernacular architecture that synthesizes the innovative design and the new technologies with the traditional craftsmanship, based upon the study of the culture and local architectural context in Fairy
Water Village in Hunan Province; b. Students will learn both the knowledge and the skills on understanding vernacular architecture, passive design approaches, and building tectonics with local materials and crafts. Activities include survey drawings of historical houses, data collection and analysis with drones and photogrammetry techniques.. c. Students are expected to experience the design and build exercise of some small structures for the village community through experimenting propotypical design methodologies.