Beijing architect’s Henan village project gets back to the basics of caring for humanity

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Beijing architect’s Henan village project gets back to the basics of caring for humanity
The Xihe Cereals and Oils Museum and Village Activity Centre in Henan province.
Beijing architect’s Henan village project gets back to the basics of caring for humanity
The Xihe Cereals and Oils Museum and Village Activity Centre in Henan province.

Architects don’t always think big buildings and bright city lights. For Beijing-based He Wei, the project he was keen to put his name to was a clutch of old warehouses in a remote rural village of just 150 people – the plan being to give new life to a community through good design.

When he first visited Xihe in Henan province as part of a government rural poverty alleviation programme in 2013, He looked beyond its population of mostly left-behind old people and children – who didn’t have Wi-fi or mobile phone coverage, let alone viable means of support – to the adaptive reuse potential of an abandoned granary complex. Within its five pitched-roof masonry buildings clustered around a courtyard – which were still structurally sound and had vast interior space – He saw a vehicle for his belief that contemporary Chinese architects should go back to basics and start from the core ideal of architecture – care for humanity.

On a shoestring budget and using labour from nearby villages, He and his team led the conversion of the 1950s buildings into a community facility and tourist attraction as a cooperative project. The Xihe Cereals and Oils Museum and Village Activity Centre, completed in August 2014 and already generating income, received a top award last month at the Golden Pin Design Awards, Taiwan’s international design competition.

The biggest building – a 7,300 sq ft warehouse – was earmarked as an activity centre for village meetings, and special events such as weddings. A smaller, 4,500 sq ft warehouse was envisaged as a museum displaying the use of traditional millstones, oil presses, and other farming implements. A shop was set up with the aim of one day selling locally grown organic produce, including tea-seed oil, a traditional staple of southern Chinese cooking. And in the courtyard beside a stream, an existing pool was refurbished as a place where children could splash and play. […]

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