Living in a Super Block

Master thesis; Technical University Delft, the Netherlands.

Beijing experiences the fastest urban development in its history. The growth of the population, because of migration from the countryside to the city, and the decay of the old courtyard housing stimulates new urban developments. An increasing demand for new housing has led to standardization of high rise apartment buildings, resulting in a so called ‘block attack’. Where Beijing used to be dominated by one storey siheyuans (hutongs), now, especially outside the fourth ring road, Beijing is dominated by super blocks; standardized high rise apartment buildings organized in enclosed compounds.

In the West, in thesis mainly represented by the Netherlands and the United States, the ‘block attack’ and the new typology of the Chinese super block, are received very critically, sometimes even with contemptuous irony. Publications about the Chinese building process have more often a negative rather than a positive connotation; the urbanization is going too fast, the Chinese people are not handled humanly and the new super block typology reminds too much of the failed modernistic housing blocks or the currently growing amount of hostile gated communities. Especially compared to the lively public sphere and the strong social cohesion in the old traditional communities, the transition to the super block is understood as decline rather than progression.

But, a visit to the Hua Qing Jia Yuan, a super block community in the North-West of Beijing, immediately shows that western expectations can be adjusted. For ellaborate information on the complete research Living in a Super Block – the Beijing community in cultural and historical perspective – feel free to contact us.