Panyu People's Commune

The design of the Panyu People's Commune (番禺人民公社) in Guangdong province was featured in the 1959-2 issue of Jianzhuxuebao (建筑学报), a scholarly paper for architecture published in China since 1954 and an invaluable source of information thus far on topics pertaining to the design of people's communes. As the people's commune movement gained traction in 1958, there was an explosion of articles in the journal covering topics of new construction of the typology, primarily as new village in outskirts of cities or rural areas. For the Panyu commune, the architects drew up designs for a series of low-rise housing blocks featuring minimal private dwelling units clustered around shared public facilities. The commune provided housing for approximately 6232 residents in 1787 households, with housing, public facilities, and light industry stretching along a main road that formed a boundary between a more rugged topography and a large swatch of flat crop fields.

In each of the housing blocks, families on the same floor shared use of a kitchen, restroom, as well as flexible community meeting rooms. Much like the Suicheng commune, the housing units were accessed via an open air passageway, suitable for the warmer climate of Guangdong province. The layout of the housing block profiled in detail in the journal forms a orthogonal zig-zag shape that results in the creation of two courtyards, presumably used for outdoor activities such as clothes laundering and gardening.

The majority of private rooms were fairly economical, being comprised of two rooms in a linear layout. Such rooms were to designed to provide accommodation for 2 to 3 people. The back room served as a bedroom, while the front room served the purpose of a living room but in some cases doubled as a bedroom as well.


Photographs of a living block in the Panyu commune. Jianzhuxuebao.

Site plan of the Panyu commune, showing the line of buildings built at the edge of crop fields and a more rugged topography. Jianzhuxuebao.

A series of diagrams shows the amibition of the designers and planners in providing a flexible kit of parts of units that could be assembled in various housing block configurations. Jianzhuxuebao.

The architects and planners of the Panyu commune did not stop with the design of a single repeatable housing block. As evidenced in the journal, they drew up plans for a series of housing block layouts, using a kit of parts of private dwelling units that varied somewhat in size but for the most part conformed to either a 2 room linear configuration or a 3 room l shaped configuration. The housing blocks, while varied in plan, shared the characteristic of arranging a series of public rooms either in the center or on the end(s) of the housing block. The design of the Panyu commune revealed an ambition and acknowledgment to flexible living arrangements, but always keeping in mind the relation of the private dwelling unit to the shared public facilities. The latter was always given organizational prominence, through methods of centering, protrustion, or a mixture of both. In each case, the communal area determined the overall organization of the housing block, and it was clear that the designers intended for such spaces to be at the focus of the residents' day to day lives.