The Tulou are vernacular dwelling types constructed between the 14th and early 20th centuries in Fujian, China. Although they were not conceived during the same political environment of the other buildings studied, a number of them functioned as people's communes and are still in use today, albeit more so exisiting as tourist destinations. The insular nature of the Tulou fostered a tight knit community within its thick walls. Families did not only share use of public facilities and an ancestral hall in the center of the courtyard: since the typical functions of a home were divided across different floors, they had to use the public open-air passageways to move from one room of their homes to another. Much like in Bentham’s Panopticon, residents of the Tulou were in constant view of each other, and this helped reinforce their lifestyles as resembling that of one large unified family.


A view of a Tulou from the interior courtyard. Image: agraphia.

The typical functions of a home are split by level - with one family occupying different rooms on several floors. Image: Martin Tai.

The centercourtyard contained communal functions such as a library and an ancestral hall. Image: Martin Tai.

 In 2008, the Shenzhen based firm URBANUS designed an affordable housing complex with 245 apartments, deriving the form from the traditional Tulou typology. Unlike the original Tulou building, the URBANUS building provides residents with more privacy by giving them each their own apartments on a single level, instead of splitting up the rooms of a typical home into multiple levels as is the case in vernacular Tulou. However, the URBANUS building follows the communal objectives of the Tulou by incorporating a variety of other public functions into the building, including retail space, a gym, library, and other gathering spaces. URBANUS has taken the collective qualities of the Tulou and updated them to a contemporary context, where the line between public and private space is more sharply drawn. It will be interesting to also test out some of the more unconventional combinations of public and private space as seen in the orignial Tulou typology.

Tulou Collective Housing in Guangzhou. Image: Urbanus.

Tulou Collective Housing in Guangzhou. Image: Urbanus.

An vision of Tulou in the contemporary cityscape. Image: Urbanus.