Collaborative Project Description

In concrete terms, this collaborative project focuses on the study, protection and enhancement of the wooden vernacular architectures of the autonomous Tujia and Miao minorities, which are two of the 55 ethnic groups recognized by the Chinese government. As a first step in the thinking process, the Chinese partners selected three traditional villages of the Youyang County, considered as having national historic and cultural value. While they have certain common denominators, these villages present distinct features, whether from the point of view of their landscapes and natural environments, their architectures or their economic, social and cultural contexts. The three villages that were selected for this first study are : HEJIA YAN, SHI QUAN MIAO and KONG HU XI.

Hejia Yan


Shi Quan Miao


Kong Hu Xi


General Program of the Mission

The mission started in May 2016. It consisted in guided tours, surveys, researchs and brainstorming to finally draw some initial conclusions from this first exploratory mission and to give practical form to our collaboration agreement with the County and to present and discuss the initial findings of our exploratory mission and propose a statement of partnership between the Chonqing Jiaotong University and the LOCI faculty of the UCLouvain.

Collaborative Project Proposal

As did Gion A. Caminada’s thesis for strengthening peripheral territories, examining the patrimonial issue would lead more broadly to the following questions:
• Can the area concerned and its villages become self-sufficient and independent, which would grant them stability while strengthening their spatial and social identity?
• What improved access should there be to these villages, if we consider the fact that improved accessibility isn’t necessarily a source of increased well-being ?
• With its Tujia and Miao entities, Youyang County is rich in tourism potentialities, environmentally as well as architecturally. At this point, however, these resources have barely been tapped. The goal should be to meet the demand of the tourism market by providing high quality products, geared, for example, towards rural tourism. The challenge then might be, once the meaning of rural tourism is clearly established, to develop it under the best possible conditions so as to strengthen the local economy and to ensure that it makes sense for the inhabitants of the concerned territories.
•Both landscape and architecture are shaped by humans to suit their needs. They should be seen as processes in constant transformation, which has for consequence the merits of, preserving traces, memory.

But to intervene in the act of building means designing a new space/society relationship not just from an existing building, but from a former existing relationship. This entails questioning the place of an action in the history of a place in a comprehensive way, because the simple constructions of the villages that were visited result from places and local realities which they transcend. How then can a symbiosis be achieved between tradition and innovation, knowing that the constants of a place determine the bases of a new architecture?

If therefore our answer can begin with a description of the statutory and operational arrangements set up in our regions in the realm of heritage, it should, in our opinion, apply to the processes rather than to the object. Accordingly, our thinking should focus as much on how as on what to do.

Moreover, the particular socio-economic context of the territory under study requires that things be seen through a prism lending an interdisciplinary dimension to the issue: economy, agriculture, sociology, history and anthropology are to be summoned to complement the architectural and urban disciplines, to enrich the answers and to anchor them in a complex reality.


The collaborative project is articulated along three phases and three complementary scales :

  •  In the short term : We gave to outstanding buildings:
    o architectural and typological surveys on site in all three selected villages
    o recording (memory) of any construction technology still practiced by older inhabitants (carpentry, for example). Work on the house in ruins in the village of Kong Hu Xi and study of the compatibility between old buildings and modernization with, full-scale feasibility test.
  • In the medium term : We raised the locals’ awareness and tried
    o defining criteria of authenticity in the specific context under study
    o programmatic thinking conducted by incorporating the concept of mixed economies – global and local (glocal)
    o listing of existing customs in the dwellings as well as in the spaces between the buildings of a village – the in-between zones that host the surrounding nature, spring water flowing down a valley, families’ herb gardens, courtyards where grain is left to dry.
  • In the long term : We will suggest strategies on the scale of the territory
    o drawing a mental map of the territory,
    o defining programs in line with strategic points and interfaces and limits of the landscape that requires both protection and also integration into a contemporary dimension, thanks to the learning from the great ecological agricultural practices that energize a changing society and manufacture an integrated landscape
    o cross-checking the lessons obtained through observation in each village in order to propose integrated strategies.