Interfamily Living: Building A Community of Public Housing in China

Huajing Wen


The Economic Reform of China in the past three decades put an end to work unit and state-owned housing. As housing is no longer provided by the state for free, the issue of public housing rises, along with a new system of service provision based on modern housing. Predominated by commercial housing that driven by market, the main housing typology fails to coordinate with changing demography as well as to help to form an efficient service provision system.


The façade of the linear type.


After the privatization of housing that followed the establishment of Open Market Economy, landownership pattern changed as land use right was divided from landownership to enable private capital investment in housing market. As a result, design and management of a specific neighbourhood are no longer the concerns of the government, but are assigned to private design companies hired by developers. Housing privatization leads to the situation that the government has little control in neighbourhood scale, which means public service cannot be part of neighbourhood anymore as it was in work unit time. Community Committee was put forward to replace the old danwei and take over the duty of providing public service. However, lacking in subsidy and independency makes most of the community committee a politic symbol. And community service also becomes a slogan with only a few group of people are benefited. These result in the current inefficient service provision system.


The timeline shows the transformation of housing typology in China since 1949.



The relationship between the concept of administration and the concept of urban planning.
The vicious circle of the missing interfamily scale.

Many social problems rise due to the inefficiency in public service. Demographic change, urbanization, ageing society, expensive housing price, changing policy, etc., bring about the problem of changing household structure – the consolidation of extended family, which furthermore points to the problems of elderly care and up-bringing of children. As current service provision system fails to deal with the problems, they become the responsibility of every family. However, the current housing typology fails to provide useful space and facilities as well, with its limited size, insufficient unit and generic function.


Public housing, with its different ownership pattern, could be an opportunity for both the government and designers to rethink the potential of a new service provision system and introduce it again into the scale of neighbourhood. However, with nowadays most of the public housing becomes a small version of market housing and follows the same development mode, it is urgent to introduce a new housing typology that can improve the situation of both housing and service provision.


The scales of interfamily living.


Following the context, this dissertation proposes interfamily living, an experimental housing typology based on a new way of public service provision. Interfamily living is not a scale, but multiple scales that lie between the units and the community, which are missing in current housing typology. By introducing social life and public facilities between families, the project tries to fill up the current gap of service provision between urban, neighbourhood and architectural scales, and improve the efficiency of service provision system by distributing the responsibility from the state to every individual.


the problems of flexible extended family can be transferred to the problems between several nuclear families, in which the in-between space of interfamily living provides facilities to help them better deal with the elderly care and up-bringing of children. This also offers more flexibility for the changing household structure.



The project uses changing household structure as the entry point of spatial design. Instead of designing a larger unit for consolidated extended family, a module that consists of several small units and in-between shared space is introduced, and every single unit is designed for different types of nuclear family. This offers certain flexibility within the module, where units can be occupied by different generations or families of different sizes according to demand. Flexibility are also offered within the units as they can be combined, divided or extended by need.



The in-between space serves not only as the circulation space, but also as functional space by increasing its dimension, which makes the activities of circulation also become interactions with common facilities and people in this space. The in-between space also serves as the extensive space of daily life, as the compensation of small individual units. It is not only a physical space for public service to be inserted, but also a space for interaction, communication and negotiation. Through these process, residents are more easily to be engaged in public service, in terms of improvement, self-management and taking part of the responsibility of it.



Floor plan of the linear type.


Other facilities are also inserted into the scales of floor, neighbourhood and community. The project chooses two typical sites for the design experiment. Site 1 is about city renewal in the central area of Shanghai, which has limited area and focuses on the relationship between neighbourhood and the surrounding urban environment. A lifted garden is designed to coordinate the service of the neighbourhood and the service for surrounding area. Site 2 is about city expansion in the periphery of Shanghai, which is an urban design aiming at building public facilities along with initial construction of housing.


Site 1 is a combination of residential and public service and commercial. As public housing, the neighbourhood is open to the urban environment with no wall or fence. It is consisted of two major parts, the residential part on the top, and the public part on the bottom. In the middle, a lifted garden is the common facilities of neighbourhood scale that shared by the residents only.



In Site 2, with the common facilities of residential part on the top, and the general public service and space on the ground, each building itself is the combination of residential as well as the provider of service provision. As a result, when these housing are built, the infrastructure and public facilities are built along with them, which will solve the problem of lacking infrastructure and services of a newly developed area.


This dissertation enters the problems from the scale of interfamily living, proposing a more hierarchical service provision system that reach down to the bottom of people’s daily life at multiple scales of interfamily living, providing them with facilities that meets their demands and can actually be used, as well as encouraging the involvement of the general public. The research provides an angle of understanding housing as a more complex subject related deeply to ownership pattern, privatisation, service provision and urban governance, which should be considered in the process of decision making and planning of public housing by the government. While the design offers one example solution, there are many other possible ways to approach these problems, either through interfamily living or not, which shall be proposed by future researchers and scholars.


Photograph of sectional model at the exhibition.


Read the whole dissertation here.


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