fbpx Biennale Architettura 2021 | Rural Urban Framework
La Biennale di Venezia

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Rural Urban Framework

Split Lives: Stories from the Underground House

  • TUE - SUN
    22/05 > 31/07
    11 AM -  7 PM

    01/08 > 21/11
    10 AM -  6PM
  • Central Pavilion
  • Admission with ticket

Joshua Bolchover (Birtish, b.1974) and John Lin (Taiwanese/American, b.1975) of Rural Urban Framework (Hong Kong, est.2007)



The dug-out house from northern China is a unique typology that stems from the material constraints of the site—where there was no available stone or wood—and environmental conditions, making it cool in summers and warm in winters. A large central courtyard is excavated in the earth and contains shared family spaces with living spaces carved outwards along each edge. Farming, the livelihood of these original dwellers, however, remains above ground. Today, at many sites, this farmland has been replaced by housing, factories, or infrastructure. Yet, as urbanization encroaches and disrupts the surface, the dug-out houses remain. Some stay as they were, some are only used seasonally, others have changed programmatically, and some lie abandoned. These vernacular earth dwellings have born witness to the radical transformation occurring across China’s once rural landscape. Split Lives elucidates the dialectic between the past and the present, the traditional and the generic, and the rural and the urban that shapes and configures China’s contemporary condition today. Stories of the split lives of these dwellings and their inhabitants reveal a glimpse into what life is like in China today, oscillating between the scale of the house and that of the territory.

Biennale Sneak Peek

Image 1 – How will we live together?
The image is a drone shot from Sanmenxia (Henan, China) showing different buildings “living” together – the rural dwelling and urban housing, the traditional and the generic, the past and the present.
It opens up a reflection on China’s condition today – How can a rural inhabitant become an urban one?


Image 2 – Sneak peek of the project
The image is a collage giving a hint of the video that will be part of Rural Urban Framework’s installation at the Biennale Architettura 2021 – the underground house on the bottom and the rural urbanization of the surrounding landscape on top.
The video will reveal a glimpse into what life is like in rural China today, operating between the scale of the territory and the scale of the house.


Design Trust (an Initiative of the Hong Kong Ambassadors of Design)

Production credits

Authors: Joshua Bolchover and John Lin, Rural Urban Framework
Project Lead: Chiara Oggioni

Central Pavilion
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Biennale Architettura
Biennale Architettura