Design Trust Grantee Project Highlights on now at The 17th International Architecture Exhibition Venice Biennale, and 2021 London Design Biennale exhibition.

25. 6. 2021

The 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia


Design Trust is delighted to share Feature Grant project “Split Lives: Stories from the Underground House” led by University of Hong Kong Department of Architecture academic and architect researchers, Joshua Bolchover and John Lin of Rural Urban Framework, is  featured in the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. It examines the process of rural to urban transformation of China and Mongolia through built projects, research, exhibitions and writing. Stories of the split lives of these dwellings and their inhabitants reveal a glimpse into what life is like in rural China today, operating between the scale of the house and the scale of the territory. The exhibition experience includes a 1:1 installation model and video projection to allow the visitors to experience the space of the underground house. The project elucidates the dialectic between the past and the present, the traditional and the generic, and the rural and the urban, that shapes and configures China’s contemporary condition today, as well as reveal a glimpse into what life is like in China today.

Click this video to know more about the process of rural to urban transformation.


Old vs New: underground houses surrounded by new apartment blocks (Shaanxi, China). Image courtesy of Rural Urban Framework.

The image is a drone shot from Sanmenxia (Henan, China) showing different buildings “living” together – the rural dwelling and urban housing, the traditional and the generic, the past and the present. Image courtesy of Rural Urban Framework.

The Chinese countryside in transformation (Shaanxi, China). Image courtesy of Rural Urban Framework.

Underground House (Sanmenxia, China) Room entrance from the courtyard. Image courtesy of Rural Urban Framework.

“In the past, many rural communities collectively built houses for their individual members. The process of house-making directly strengthened the community. The design of vernacular dwellings embodied the ingenuity of everyday house builders and explored their ability to respond to a rich diversity of challenging environments with limited resources. Today, processes of urbanization have transformed how people live together. Driven by demand and economy, new rural housing looks the same the world over, built with hired workers following generic construction techniques. The culture and craft of house building is becoming increasingly obsolescent as tradition is eschewed for industrialized materials and means of construction.

The dug-out house from northern China is a unique typology that stems from the material constraints of the site—where there was no available stone or wood—and environmental conditions, making it cool in summers and warm in winters. A large central courtyard is excavated in the earth and contains shared family spaces with living spaces carved outwards along each edge. Farming, the livelihood of these original dwellers, however, remains above ground. Today, at many sites, this farmland has been replaced by housing, factories, or infrastructure. Yet, as urbanization encroaches and disrupts the surface, the dug-out houses remain. Some stay as they were, some are only used seasonally, others have changed programmatically, and some lie abandoned.” 

Excerpted from

“Sandtable” is now on view at London Design Biennale Hong Kong Pavilion until 27th June 2021. As a portal to the interconnected histories of Hong Kong, the Pavilion acts as an interactive and generative space. “Sandtable” is curated by Design Trust Feature Grantee members from Hong Kong Design History Network: Sunnie Chan, Mina Song (also 2017 and 2018 Design Trust / RCA Design in Curation Fellows), Vivien Chan, Juliana Kei (former M+/ Design Trust fellow), Janice Li and Jennifer Wong (former curatorial member at M+), along with designers aona (Charles Lai and Ricky Suen), K2 (Teresa Dermawan, Amy Un and Alex Tsoi) and Trilingua (Adonian Chan and Chris Tsui Sau Yi), responding to the theme of Resonance by the Artistic Director for London Design Biennale, Es Devlin this year. Captured in sand, visitors’ written strokes will be projected in the installation, forming an archive of resonance on site and online, encouraging collective speculation beyond digital space and physical space.


Photos by Jimmy Ho @groundhooo