One Grid, One Community: Zihao's Story

Zihao’s new visualization, featuring a dog, and a grandmother feeding their child

Waterloo isn’t the only city nearby that’s bustling with UWaterloo academia.  Soon-to-be pharmacists populate the School of Pharmacy, while architecture students are settled half an hour away from our main campus, in the heart of downtown Cambridge. 

There is so much designing and planning going on, whether in the form of capstone projects, small assignments, or even competitions – specifically the Modern Collective Living Challenge.  Zihao Wei recently took part in this competition to design some replacement housing for the Chinese suburbs and countryside, and took home third place! 

Q: What program and year are you in?

Zihao: I am from the school of Architecture and I just finished my 2B term in August!

Q: How did you hear about the Modern Collective Living Challenge?

Zihao: This is a competition held by an organization called Bee Breeders that hosts interesting challenges all year around. I subscribe to their newsletters, so I got a notification when this challenge came out.

Q: Have you done any other projects similar to this?

Zihao: In my 2A term we had to get involved with the design studio and the topic was social housing, which is similar to this project. The discussion on how the private space interacts with the public space really interested me and it actually inspired me a lot when I started this project.

Q: What inspired you to get involved with the challenge?

Bird’s eye view of villageZihao: The competition brief excited me because it talked about urbanization in China! To be more specific, as the city expands, villages in surrounding suburban areas or in the countryside will inevitably be removed. The rapid process leads to a problem of how and where to relocate villagers.

The competition challenged participants to come up with a new type of replacement housing, which could not only re-accommodate villagers but also help them maintain their traditional lifestyle. I have been always interested in Chinese traditional housing and I thought it would be a great study opportunity as part of the process.

Q: Guide me through the process that led you to design “One Grid, One Community.”

Zihao: In the beginning, I studied and analyzed various typologies of Chinese traditional housing.  Here are some examples:

Then, I decided to levitate all private dwellings, thus an expansive communal area could be created on the ground level. To intensify connections between neighbours and dwelling units, courtyards of various scales are created. There are small courtyards in each unit, medium courtyards between units, and a large courtyard as a central community gathering space. It breaks up the traditional configuration of replacement housing which designates public space between private houses.

Based on my personal experience, all replacement housing projects are still located in the countryside due to unaffordability in the big city. Thus, a space for villagers to cultivate is rather important. In this case, courtyards are intended to be multifunctional, so residents can farm, plant and continue their traditional activities.

Q: How does winning third place (and any other awards along with it) make you feel? How has this helped you to be successful as a student?

Visualization of villagers using community areas outside for physical activityZihao: It is a great motivation. I learned a lot from the experience. I won’t say this helped me to be successful though.

It’s like I’m playing a basketball game: This is just one of the shots I make, but if I want to win the game, there is still a long way to go!

Interested in more Engineering and design student success stories?  Check out the Architecture and Engineering tag on the UWaterloo Life Blog.

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