Travels in China with the Sustainable Rural Construction Forum

Our Green World - November 7, 2015

It was a shock to be invited to speak at a conference on rural sustainability in a small village in China, but I was strangely drawn toward it coming from a small village myself. When I arrived, it was beyond expectations. I was lost to the stereotype many people have of big cities and the idea that China is ‘gone’. China is far from gone. There are villages with a hundred houses and only 8 families left. I visited one of these places, but now people have moved in and are building libraries and restaurants; there is so much opportunity to get out of the big, ugly cities and move back to these amazing old buildings that are still there as are other things. The Chinese people are hungry to get back to the country. I was shown pictures of other villages I didn’t visit that made me dream. One is a two hour walk to reach; only 8 of 80 houses are inhabited. It’s an opportunity to inhabit these villages with new ideas, with organic agriculture, with yoga, with all the things are so important to preserve, as well as the buildings. It was really inspiring.


John was invited to speak at the “FEI ZHUAN YE”  in October 2015.

Below is more detailed information on the forum and the people and places John visited from his hosts in China.

Since 2013,Zhang Lei ,the professor in School of Architecture & Urban Planning & head of theSustainable Rural Research Centre in Nanjing University and an senior architect in practice for over 20 years in China, has focused on rural related issues, explore the originality and locality in rural architecture, with the goal of realizing rural revitalization. On Oct 15, 2015, “FEI ZHUAN YE” Sustainabl Rural Construction Forum was held in Ruralation Shenaoli Library which is completed recently.

China has a large percentage of rural area and abundant, beautiful culture carried within them. But as more and more people moved to cities to make a living, those village are left with only children and old people and are gradually weakening. That’s why more Chinese architects want to bring more attention to these areas and use architecture as a medium of revitalization. Different region has its unique local materials and construction methods mastered by local people. Professor Zhang Lei and the Sustainable Rural Research Centre in Nanjing Universityare currently running a series of projects in the minority nationality of She in the rural area of Hangzhou, China, comprising of bookshop, library, museums and boutique hotel all transformed from old local houses.The newly built project “Ruralation Shenaoli Library” was recently opened to the public in October.

The “FEI ZHUAN YE” Sustainable Rural Construction Forum was held in Ruralation Shenaoli Library , inviting seven guest speakers from different industries but all with local sentiments, rooted in rural lives or have successfully experimented with projects in rural areas. All guests had interesting sharing and explorations of the present and future of sustainable development.

Chinese audiences really appreciated the speech given by John Hardy, the founder of Green School in Bali and they are amazed by Green School ‘s caring for the environment and the next generations, and also the amazing sustainable bamboo building from an architect’s perspective. It’s truly a gorgeous piece of work with completely local and natural materials and also amazing local craftsmanship.


More on the Ruralation Shenaoli Library, Tonglu, China

Ruralation Shenaoli Library is the first completed work of ‘Eshan Practice’, located in the ancient village of Shenao, Jiangan, Tonglu, Hangzhou. The village is developed along with the multiplying of the Shentu family, and has a storied history of more than 1900 years. This ancient village is adjacent to the country town Tonglu, which is just half an hour’s drive from Hangzhou. The unique underground spring and underdrains in the village have been well-conserved till now, as well as more than 40 historic buildings constructed during Ming or Qing Dynasty.

The ancient house Jingsong Hall constructed during the late Qing Dynasty is the main body of this project. In addition, the restoration and intervention of the surrounded vernacular dwellings have been also taken into consideration. While the historic texture is performed by the facades, the traditional architectural layout and exquisite timber carving are conserved; therefore the amenity and contemporariness of the interior space have been realized. From the point of design and construction, the intelligence and building methods of the local craftsmen have been strongly respected — the architect learned construction skills from the local craftsmen; meanwhile the local craftsmen put on a construction performance with different props under the instruction of the architect.

Ruralation Shenaoli Bookstore contains the community library which is open to the villagers, the humanity and folkways exhibition space, and the vernacular cultural creative products store. The rich functions and space together make the bookstore an ideal space for entertainment among tourists, recreation among businessmen and communication among villagers; and a soul salon in which one can experience the memory of hometown and the sense of belonging to the community.

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