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Incremental Village: Elevating the Urban Vernacular of 21st Century Guangzhou, China

Elaine Yolam Kwong (Harvard GSD / Urban Design Thesis with advisors, Anita Berrizbeitia and Christopher C.M. Lee) / United States

邝玉琳(哈佛设计学院城市设计毕业设计项目,导师:安妮塔•贝瑞斯贝莎, 克里斯托弗•C•M•李) / 美国


Incremental Village unpacks the intricate layers that exist historically, socially, economically, and spatially in a typical urban village in Guangzhou, China. The exhibition takes the visitor through a sequential path, physically experiencing the village's incremental development over time. As you experience the past and present, more layers are unfolded, finally arriving at a projection into the future. Guangzhou urban villages are mid-rise, hyper dense, unregulated built areas in the city that emerged as by-products of urbanization. They are not a project, but the outcome of a series of consequences. From agricultural landscape to manufacturing powerhouse, urban village's productive role continuously evolved and adapted with Guangzhou's major stages of development. These self-built communities are in a constant transitory state, continually regenerating by addition and revision of parts to form a truly dynamic and open-ended collective entity. This exhibition maps an urban landscape that is built incrementally and sustained through an inherent autonomy of self-generating dynamics. Seeking to transform existing vernacular order into contemporary urbanism, the designer asks if there is an alternative that can reconcile the deterministic object-oriented conventions of the formal city with the indeterminate open structure of the urban village. With such an alternative, how might a framework maintain village autonomy and integrate existing human associations in a new commons that provokes the active unfolding of city life?


Elaine is a Chinese-American Architect and Urban Designer. She graduated in 2017 with a Master of Architecture in Urban Design from Harvard University and earned a Bachelor of Architecture from University of Southern California. Prior to graduate school, she gained considerable experience working on mixed-use and master plan projects across China. Elaine currently lives in Tokyo and works at Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects.