The Vertical Village

| October 14, 2011

How can design adequately address social and cultural issues? Check out this fantastic project by MVRD, a Dutch architectural office that has boldly and beautifully addressed an issue of urbanization in East Asia.

In recent years, many cities in East Asia have been experiencing pressure to accomodate the influx of people into cities. In an Inhabitat article Bridgette Meinhold writes, “Low-rise traditional villages have been razed to make way for giant buildings, faceless towers and nondescript slabs. Often these buildings have been constructed with little regard for aesthetics, and have poor indoor environmental air quality, little sustainability and even, at times, issues with structural integrity and safety.” The pressure to build fast has replaced traditional dwelling and living styles with mass-produced building projects.

How can designers address this issue? MVRD’s solution has been a creative project with dual implications–they combine the aesthetics of architecture and the aesthetics of presenting information to effectively communicate their idea: The Vertical Village.

The Exhibition

In essence, their proposal is that city architecture can be designed in a way that preserves the qualities of traditional urban villages rather than the same old identical-block apartments that are sprouting up today. Toward this end, researchers gathered data about these traditional urban villages, as well as architectural plans for new construction. Then, they created an exhibition to illustrate how such plans might be executed.

The exhibition opened just last week in Chung Shan Creative Hub of Taipei as a part of the Museum of Tomorrow and it will run until January 2012. It includes presentations of the analytical research, a grid of physical building models, a series of films and software packages to visualize the research and a large, colorful six-meter tall installation that represents a possible Vertical Village. In addition, they designed an interactive platform called “The House Maker” with The Why Factory, where visitors can design their own ideal home. Finally, research and color illustrations are presented in a 528-page book with detailed case studies of urban dwellings in Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, Djakarta, Seoul, and Bangkok.

A Three-Dimensional Community

The project’s breadth is two-fold because the designers at MVRDV manage to illuminate the potential for a city to preserve the important dimensions of urban villages in both the exhibition and, in turn, in an actual city. It’s a powerful way to solve the problem of communicating complex information through this combination of innovative technological and artistic mediums.

MVRDV explains that a contemporary Vertical Village is a three-dimensional community that preserves the social connections and individual identities that coexist in, for example, the traditional Hutongs of Beijing, or small wooden houses or Tokyo, or villages of Singapore. Rather than providing “faceless replacements packed with identical apartment units [that] offer a Western standard of living for an affordable price,” the exhibition shows that the Vertical Village can bring “personal freedom, diversity, flexibility and neighborhood life back into East Asian and maybe even Western cities.”

The “data” in this project is actually a deep understanding of the rich social and architectural histories of these locations and it is presented in an exhibition that is just as beautiful as the cities are envisioned to become.