Darryl Chen, 03 03 13

Darryl Chen’s New [Socialist] Village is a research project that asks whether China could teach the UK how to plan. It was exhibited at the 2012 Venice Biennale British Pavilion as part of the Venice Takeaway: Ideas to Change British Architecture research project; and at RIBA London from 26 February until 27 April.

Quoting Mao Zedong, imagining Ai Weiwei as an urban strategist, and citing Communist China as a model of flexible governance, the New [Socialist] Village proposes handing revolutionary power back to local people while co-opting the entrepreneurial skills of Richard Branson to create a model entrepreneurial village for the UK.

The Communist Party of China and the UK coalition government are aligned in their declaration to empower local people. Each has embarked upon an experiment to decentralise planning. At the heart of the N[S]V project is Caochangdi, a thriving diverse community where bottom-up opportunism meets top-down regulation. The village is, in government parlance, an atypical ‘new socialist village’ and an anomaly amongst the city’s singularly masterplanned mega-developments. Between the gaps of the government’s evolving planning laws, the village’s growth has been subversively driven by the survival instincts of local residents and the bohemian opportunism of artists. Between them, they have redefined what a village can be and look like.

A failing high street located on the fringe of the periphery of a UK city is a perfect location to trial an experiment in village-making. Empty council-owned car parks are divided into micro-plots and sold to individuals borrowing from Big Society Capital on the strength of their business plans. Obsolete shopping malls make way for a new wave of entrepreneurs who collectively redevelop sites with a multitude of small self-built structures. The village fosters the perfect conditions for entrepreneurial startups. A range of product innovators move in on the promise of being able to build freely and network among like-minded innovators. Business enterprises include value-added lifestyle products for the middle-incomes representing all stages of a family’s lifecycle from early to elderly years. The village creates a self-sustaining economy based on exports of value-added consumer products trading on its Britishness as a globally recognised brand.

UK project team: Darryl Chen, Nii An, Dean Walker, Luciana Martinez, Anna Gkiza, Atakan Guven, Yunlong Wang.

China project team: Ruishi Ge, Xiaoting Chen, Binwei Liu, Peichen Hao.

In collaboration with Hawkins\Brown.

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