Architectural Acupuncture

March, 2022

Reuse, Renew, Recycle: Recent Architecture from China is an exhibition at MoMA New York until 4th July that showcases a new generation of architects that champion social and environmental sustainability over urban megaprojects. At the forefront of this movement, Xu Tiantian and her practice DnA_Design and Architecture are transforming rural China with precise, light-touch interventions that use local tradition and heritage as a tool for dynamic regeneration.

01.Tofu Factory

This Tofu Factory in the small village of Caizhai is one of a cluster of works built by DnA_Design and Architecture in Songyang County, Zhejiang province, with the aim of regenerating this rural region using light-touch, targeted interventions in a strategy that founder Xu Tiantian has named Architectural Acupuncture. The ‘Songyang Story’ refers to over 25 projects across the county, each one intended to revive interest in intangible cultural heritage in rural communities that have been in steady decline over recent decades.

02. Brown Sugar Factory

Xu Tiantian believes that local vernacular is first and foremost about social and societal structures and her work seeks to galvanise communities by reigniting pride in shared memories and a sense of place. Xing Village is a place famous in the Songyang region for its brown sugar production, but the culture has been waning as families replace their sugar cane fields with tea plantations. Xu Tiantian has revived the industry in this theatrical factory building.

03. Community Production and Traditional Tools

Caizhai Village is famous for its tofu production but the quality did not conform to food safety standards. The new factory brings together individual family workshops into a central community kitchen, raising production standards. The factory is built down a slope alongside the river that runs through the middle of the village. The programme follows the production process and includes a preparation room, grinding workshop, boiling workshop, deep-frying station, drying studio and tasting hall.

04. Inspired by Vernacular Architecture

A covered walkway runs alongside the airy workshops, allowing visitors a clear view of production activity; natural light and ventilation, and a rainwater collection system mean that the building contributes to the economy of the community. The building is a prefabricated assembly timber structure system based on the tenon and mortise structures found in farmhouses throughout Caizhai Village.

05. Atmosphere and Theatre

As well as a factory, this is also an alternative rural museum where the tofu production is also a performance. The smell, steam and taste of the tofu all contribute to a multi-sensory theatricality that enhances the spectacle. The production methods use traditional technology made from wood and stone, in keeping with the materiality of the rural context.

06. Shimen Bridge

Typical of Xu Tiantian’s light-touch design and desire to avoid the creation of unnecessary new structures, in Shimen DnA_Design and Architecture built a new wooden canopy for a bridge across the Songyin River that had fallen out of use because it is not suitable for heavy vehicle traffic.

07. New Public Space

Throughout her work, Xu Tiantian asks ‘What is the purpose of architecture?’ The simple act of covering the bridge has created a viewing platform for the river, as well as a new public place that brings together communities from either side of the river.

08. Hakka Indenture Museum

For a museum that preserves the history and legacy of the Hakka minority in Shicang Village in the south of Songyang County, Xu Tiantian drew on local building traditions to create massive walls of roughly hewn stone. Connecting with the outside landscape, a channel of water runs through the building. A corresponding opening in the roof means sunlight and rain enter through the ceiling, creating a rainbow effect when the conditions are right. The atmosphere is of a cave, the setting of a mythical story important to the Hakka people.

Photographs by Wang Ziling