Progress and Scope

It's been two months since Proletariat Unit was initiated as a project. The beginning stages involved setting up the parameters and establishing a solid foundation of research material. Now, the trajectory is moving towards more directed purpose - much of which is to be achieved through establishing clear modes of comparison among the unit case studies. Already, changes are being made to earlier drawings and standard drawing conventions are being set in place. As the final form of the study is intended to be a printed book, with the website serving as a documentation of the research process, a first pass was made to print a pamphlet including all of the units drawn so far. Although this is a rudimentary pass at what will be the final product, having the study in physical form serves as a useful tool for projecting towards the material that is still missing. This includes the establishment of "brackets" for the individual case studies. The front bracket will feature drawings such as a map and timeline that will root the projects chronologically and geographically. The end bracket will include charts and diagrams that comparatively display the physical, organizational, and architectural qualities of all the units in one place, such as a drawing showing all the unit floor plans at the same scale. As such, future updates to the website will feature material and progress from the content in these brackets, in addition to the posts pertaining to unit cases studies. For now, we've included a few shots of the first pass at a printed pamphlet.




Caoyang Village One

Caoyang Village (曹杨村) is one of the first planned workers’ settlements in Shanghai that underwent several phases of expansion from the early 1950’s up to the 1970’s. The first phase of the settlement was completed in late 1951 and was located at the center of the allocated site. The housing blocks were comprised of two story buildings formed out of combinations of two, three, or four modules. Forty eight buildings containing a total of 167 of these modules were completed, providing living space for 1002 households.


Each module was built for six workers’ families, with three families occupying each floor. Two families each had one bedroom to use as private living space, while a third larger family was given use of a one-and-half bedroom space. The three families shared a kitchen and two toilets on each floor, separated from the private living space by a corridor and stairwell. As the private spaces were minimal, the shared public space on each floor, including the corridor, was put to frequent use as additional storage and socializing space. In addition, the protrusion of the kitchen in plan allocated a space for a front yard outside each living module, which was used for outdoor washing and laundry.  

The inception of the Caoyang worker’s village was accompanied by the construction of a series of public buildings. The housing blocks were organized in plan similar to a curved fishbone, surrounding the central public facilities, which included a kindergarten and primary school, an assembly hall, library, bathhouse, coop shop, as well as indoor and outdoor markets. The village was officially named Caoyang Village One (曹杨一村) on August 12th, 1953, signifying its status as the first development out of many others to come as part of the Caoyang settlement.


Suicheng People's Commune

Suicheng's People Commune (遂城人民公社) was a proposal for an apartment building in Xushui, Hebei, in 1958. The building is an example of a common form of apartment building that was implemented in many rural people's communes built around that time. Common characteristics of such buildings include the relatively minimal footprint and height, as well as the arragement of units along single loaded corridors that were open to the exterior. In the case of the Suicheng building, there were twelve units spread over two floors. The building pursued the ideals of the worker's commune to the full extent, as each unit is devoid of a private living room, kitchen, and bathroom. As such, all cooking and eating were to take place in a canteen situated separately from the living units, usually planned to be built in the center of a cluster of residential units that housed enough people to be served by one canteen.

Rural communes such as Suicheng spread their residents among such apartment buildings in planned communities that drew ideological inspiration from the neighborhood unit concept of Clarence Perry and the microdistrict concept developed by Soviet architects. Such communes were organized around public facilities that served an immediate population, which in turn revolved around another central town that provided public amenities that served a larger population. The rural communes formalized according to radial proximities of housing units to public facilities for living and working. As a result of this potential for multiple clustering, the communes were planned to populations numbering in the tens of thousands. Daily life was emphasized on the collective, with public bulidings such as nurseries, kindergartens, schools, social halls, canteens, sports fields, and gardens making up for the lack of private family life. Workers were grouped according to the type of jobs they held - and housed in proximity to the factory or fields they worked at. Women were to be freed from domestic chores and the care of the young and the elderly, and were expected to join in the proletariat workforce equally as men. Much like the F-Unit in the Narkomfin, this commune type sought to break down the family unit in favor of a worker collective through minimizing the private interior and re- directing life to the communal exterior.

An elevation of the Suicheng People's Commune. Remaking Chinese Urban Form, Duanfang Lu.

A neighborhood site plan of the Xiaozhan People's Commune in Tianjin shows the placement of residential blocks around a central square of public facilities. Remaking Chinese Urban Form, Duanfang Lu.

Key: 1- canteen and club; 2 - office and post office; 3 - shops and library; 4 - nursery; 5 - kindergarten.

A site plan of a commune of 1,208 residents outside of Shanghai in 1958 shows the mix of residential, public facilities, industry, and agriculture. Remaking Chinese Urban Form, Duanfang Lu.

Key: 1 - office; 2 - club; 3 - department store; 4 - central square; 5 - canteen; 6 - storage; 7 - sunning ground; 8 - nursery; 9 - kindergarten; 10 - clinic; 11 - middle school; 12 - primary school; 13 - toilet; 14 - bathhouse; 15 - sewing workshop.

Illustrations idealize rural life combining home life, agriculture, and production implemented under the commune system in China in 1958. Remaking Chinese Urban Form, Duanfang Lu.

Anhua Lou

Anhua Lou (安化楼) was constructed in Beijing in May 1960, following Mao Zedong's proclamation that "People's communes are good," during the height of the Great Leap Forward. The people's commune movement proliferated in the countryside but eventually made their way to the cities, where they manifested in the design of a "high rise commune." The building's organization exemplifies many of the ideal reforms for the worker's domestic realm in striivng towards a stronger communist society. People's communes sought to create cohesive communities of laboreres whom shared their home and work lives. Most were organized around a basic unit of 2,000 people - the ideal number served by one dining canteen. Children and the elderly were to be taken care of by the community, and housework such as washing and sewing were also to be carried out in the company of others. Therefore, Anhua Lou did not include any kitchens in the individual living units. Instead, the entire first floor served as a canteen which served the building's residents. Club facilities occupied the center of floors two through eight, and the top floor served as an additional meeting room. Other amenities included a general store, a collective washroom, a kindergarten, and a gym.


An Hua Building. Ego/Structure Red Dwellings, Wang Di.

What was once the canteen is now used as bicycle storage. Ego/Structure Red Dwellings, Wang Di.

The building was one of three official model commune buildings constructed in Beijing - the other two have since been demolished. A 2011 article in the Global Times featured an interview with Shang Wenjiang, whom has lived in the building for fifty years. His lamentations of the loss of the sense of community in the building echoes how out of place Anhua Lou's once socialist goals seem amid Beijing's fast changing economic and social landscapes. He reminisces about the days when the residents lived as one family, celebrating weddings and mourning funerals together and helping each other with chores. He says, "We never used to lock our doors and it was okay. Now we barely know our neighbors." (Global Times)



The lilong (里弄) is a form of urban row housing that first appeared in Shanghai in the 1840's and continued to develop according to the shifting demands of city residents until the early 1950's. It was one of the first forms of mass commodity housing to develop in China. In Chinese, "li" means neighborhood and "long" means lanes. As such, the units were organized to feed into side lanes that fed into main lanes, which served not only as circulation but also as the social and economical hubs of the neighborhoods. Housing units along the perimeter and some within the interior of a lilong neighborhood served as shops and home businesses that provided various goods and services to the residents. The proximity to an active street life and amenities enriched the close knit social fabric of the settlement.

The lilong underwent various changes of width, height, and interior configurations in response to changing economic conditions and demographics in Shanghai. The type drawn above, known as the new shi-ku-men lilong, was built in large quantities in the 1940's to accommodate the astronomical growth in numbers of manufacturing workers in the city. This particular type of lilong valued above all spatial economy - restricting the footprint to the width of one room, but still preserving the characteristic courtyard in the front that fed into the public lane. In later and even harsher economic periods of the 60's and 70's, several families would share the use of one lilong.

An ariel view of a lilong settlement, with shops on the perimeter. Modern Urban Housing in China, L. Junhua.


Views from within and outside of new-style shikumen lilong housing. Modern Urban Housing in China, L. Junhua.


Today, lilongs are fast becoming left behind in history in the wake of Shanghai's rapid rise in property values. They are either being demolished to make way for new developments or repurposed as historical relics ironically serving the very source of their destruction in commercial developments such as Xintiandi.