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Breaking Down the Rural Paradigm

lab 1:
Reimagining Rural Innovation

Social Innovation in rural China is hardly new ground within the fields of philanthropy and social enterprise.

However, as confirmed by the governments renewed commitment to “vigorously implement the strategy of village rejuvenation” it is both relevant and timely that the subject is tackled by change-makers and authorities alike.

Super(Rural)Market is a call for action in addressing rural exclusion through the development of new hypotheses for Rural Innovation.

The premise being, can Rural Innovation drive an indigenous entrepreneurialism of products and services by the rural, for the rural?

Through different scales breaking down the imaginaries of the rural, (or more precisely the non-urban) we arrive at “the market” as the archetype of a rural incubator for local entrepreneurs.

The lab sets out to create 4 hypothetical products or services within this non-urban reality and market context. As a hypothesis, the product or service is not a solution, but rather the outcome of applying relevant know-how from different fields of expertise.

The intent is for this cross-pollination of thought-for-good resulting in new or interesting ideas and processes, opening up a more nuanced understanding of how Rural Innovation can be encouraged, and what it can achieve in todays China.


Neill Mclean Gaddes (SANS practice)


Benjamin Beller (bAo Architects)


The Side is the New Centre


Rural and peri-urban areas are high priorities in the building of modern China, and can be seen as holding the greatest potential for economic growth within the country. However, local actors are often ill-equipped to engage with this potential and paradigms of modernisation upon which the metropolises were built seem ineffective when confronted with the countryside’s challenges and realities. While infrastructural development, real estate, speculation, and protectionism all helped to foster urban growth, rural and peri-urban growth is going to be built upon new technologies (such as blockchain) new economies (such as the sharing economy) and new ideologies (environmentalism and glocal-ism).


New modes of thinking and new methodologies, breaking away from the condescending and increasingly flawed view of a rural population being a backward third wheel in need of alleviation, are crucial.


What if we could have a healthier perspective on a countryside that has, for better or worse, already escaped the nostalgic rural stereotypes and is an extremely diverse, rich, and dynamic place?

What if, building upon this reality, we were to consider the Side as potentially one of the most progressive territory in the country?

What if the side is the new centre?

The Xian - Towards a New Rural Ecology


The Xian has grown over the past thirty years into an ambiguous urban construct with few precedents. Neither a city in the grandest sense of the term nor a village with its associated qualities of rural life and cultural authenticity, the Xian has been almost entirely left out of the debates and treated as an urban sub-product that simply had to follow the models formulated by its larger metropolitan neighbours. Caught between

the two China cultural postcards, the Xian is left...over to itself.

A closer look at this unique social and spatial phenomena is warranted.


The Xian has been and continues to be the true locus of the Chinese urban

transformation as well as the key actor within rural development. Being physically, and economically, right at the core of the rural realm, it not only offers a potential for the formulation of new urban models but also for the reorganisation of the wider rural commercial, agricultural, financial, manufacturing, and services ecology.


How could the Xian become an even more effective driver of the revitalisation of its surrounding territories? How could it become an even more dynamic player within the creation of alternative rural models? What kind of infrastructure would be needed to enact a healthier and more balanced development in the rural city and the rural areas?

The Market - A New Type of R-Urban Infrastructure


Food markets have always been at the very core of communities all over the world and have been fulfilling a truly central role in Chinese society. Markets are interesting not only as intense spaces for localised social interaction but also as open platforms linking together local producers, local vendors, local consumers, manufactured products, distribution chains, local services, and local entrepreneurs.

What if the Xian market could become more? What if it could act as a new type of rural innovation incubator? What if, instead of simply being a space for commercial exchange, an output for production, it could act as an infrastructure capable of reforming the production and supply chains? What if we consider it as a social enterprise, an expanded service centre, who’s goal it is to empower local communities, enable alternative business practices, and support the formation of a more balanced local ecology?


The Lab would take these questions as a departure point to study and speculate on the influence the Super(Rural)Market could have on the wider rural innovation and entrepreneurialism ecosystem.

Each group would focus on at least one relevant topic, a program/subject/product/service that could be plugged-in to the Market and have a larger impact on the rural itself.


The lab would work simultaneously with two scales: the type of amenities/services located within the market itself and the subsequent redesign of the supply chain or business models it enables in the wider region.

Within each group the outcome is to co-create speculative products or services for the rural/peri-urban as well as reconsidering systemically the way they are produced and the impact those practices would have locally.


The market/rural incubator is predesigned conceptually before the design festival (nb: not architectural design) so that it would be a given “tool” or “container” for the students to work with and start speculating on the topics they feel comfortable engaging with.

The desired outcome will be a mixture of processes, conceptual references, strategic diagrams, mapping, stories, and business plans depicting the whole chain of relations and reactions from the market to the village (or vice-versa.)

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