ARCHITECTURE AS SOCIAL LABORATORY: Modernity, Cultural Revival, and Architectural Experiment in Peri-urban China


This article engages with the emerging scholarship on experiments in urban and regional contexts to investigate an architectural experiment overseen by Wang Shu, a renowned Chinese architect, in Wencun Village, a peri-urban village on the fringe of Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. In particular, we examine how architectural projects are mobilized to provide a solution to rural decline amidst deepening urban–rural integration. Architecture is supposed to generate knowledge about the relationships between built forms and positive social and cultural changes, in this case involving the revival of rural cultures and identities. Empirically, this article provides a novel study that investigates culture-based interventions into the revival of peri-urban regions in the context of intensifying urban–rural interactions. Theoretically, it contributes to the study of experiments in urban and regional contexts by, on the one hand, correcting the urban bias inherent in this corpus and arguing for the relevance of experiment to peri-urban and rural contexts. On the other hand, while this study reaffirms the importance of using relatively bounded sites of study and controlled parameters to produce plausible knowledge about regional transformation, it equally calls for attention to the contingencies and surprises that exceed and destabilize preconceived theories, epistemological frameworks and hypotheses.