Upcoming Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Exhibition Addresses Affordable Housing in China

April 23, 2008
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In October, the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum will address the growing global concern and need for affordable housing through a special installment of the "Solos" series. The exhibition will present a housing prototype currently under construction in China, the world's most populous country. "Solos: Tulou/Affordable Housing in China," on view from Oct. 3 through May 8, 2009, is organized by Matilda McQuaid, deputy curatorial director and head of the Textiles department.

On the heels of the high-profile 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing, Cooper-Hewitt will focus on one of the most pressing issues facing the people of China everyday: housing. The exhibition will spotlight one design solution for affordable housing by the Chinese architectural practice Urbanus and present contextual materials to examine the unprecedented building boom in China; the effects of the large-scale migration from villages to cities on the country's housing, infrastructure and services; and the government policies that often determine design solutions.

"As the Smithsonian's National Design Museum, Cooper-Hewitt has a responsibility to show the impact of design internationally and raise awareness about the mounting urgency for designers to develop affordable solutions for people around the world," said museum director Paul Warwick Thompson. "By showing the Tulou project, Cooper-Hewitt will unveil a world few people in the West have witnessed and spotlight a paradigm for future living that may well hold clues to the new direction of affordable housing in other emerging economies."

Urbanus' Tulou housing project is being built in the city of Guangzhou, which is the third largest city in China, with a total population of more than 9.5 million. Developed by Shenzhen Vanke Real Estate Co., one of the biggest housing developers in China, the project is slated for completion in late 2008 and will include 245 apartment units, a dormitory, small hotel, shops, gymnasium, library and various communal and public spaces.

A typical unit in the housing project accommodates up to six adults and is approximately 33 square meters (about 355 square feet). The unit includes two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, living area and balcony. For the exhibition at Cooper-Hewitt, Urbanus will display two full-scale bedrooms, with additional areas of the unit outlined on the gallery floor and walls, in order for visitors to fully experience the often cramped—compared to Western standards—spatial interior of a typical Chinese apartment. Current government regulations dictate that, in new construction, no apartment can be larger than 90 square meters (about 969 square feet). By comparison, the average square footage of new one-family homes in the United States is nearly 2.5 times as large, measuring 2,469 square feet, according to 2006 census data.

The Tulou prototype is based on a traditional Chinese circular and clay-constructed dwelling type of the same name. The distinctive circular form provides an alternative to the typical slab housing ubiquitous in China and all around the world. By integrating this housing design into the existing fabric of the city, Tulou also offers a remedy for urban sprawl. The exhibition will be on view in the east wing of the second floor and runs concurrently with the exhibitions "Wall Stories: Children's Wallpaper and Books" and "House Proud: Nineteenth-Century Watercolors Interiors from the Thaw Collection."

"Solos: Tulou/Affordable Housing for China" is made possible in part by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency. Additional support is provided in part by Tishman Speyer; Agnes Gund; Deedie Rose; Mrs. Gerald S. Kunstadter; The Solow Foundation for Art and Architecture; and the Albert Kunstadter Family Foundation.

About Urbanus Architecture & Design Inc.
Based in Shenzhen and Beijing, Urbanus focuses on urban, architectural, landscape, interior and exhibition design. Founded in 1999 by Xiaodu Liu, Yan Meng and Hui Wang, Urbanus has been recognized as one of China's leading young design firms. The collaborative practice works to develop architecture and design solutions in the constantly changing urban environment. Recent projects in China include the Nanyou Shopping Park in Shenzhen, the Sun Plaza in Beijing and the Sonshan Lake headquarters in Dongguan. The firm's work has been widely exhibited at prestigious shows, including the 2005 San Paulo Biennial in Brazil, the 2006 "China Contemporary" exhibition by the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and the 2007 Lisbon Architecture Triennale in Portugal. In 2005, the firm was featured by Architectural Record as one of 10 global "vanguard architectural firms." The three partners received master's degrees in architecture from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and both Meng and Wang also have master's degrees in architecture from Tsinghua University in China.

About the "Solos" Series
The "Solos" series was launched in 2003 to showcase innovations in the field of architecture and design, including designs new to the market or to construction or new design in the research and development stage. Each installation explores a singular work or theme and examines its development, creative process and innovative qualities. Past exhibitions in the "Solos" series include "SmartWrap" (2003); the architectural prototype "FutureShack" (2004); "New Design from Israel" (2006); and "Matali Crasset (2006).

About Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Cooper-Hewitt is the only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. The museum presents compelling perspectives on the impact of design on daily life through active educational programs, exhibitions and publications. Founded in 1897 by Amy, Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt—granddaughters of industrialist Peter Cooper—as part of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the museum has been a branch of the Smithsonian since 1967.

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum is located at 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue in New York City. Hours are Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Fridays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Public transit routes include the Lexington Avenue 4, 5 and 6 subways (86th or 96th Street stations) and the Fifth and Madison Avenue buses. General admission, $15; senior citizens and students ages 12 and older, $10. Cooper-Hewitt members and children younger than age 12 are admitted free. For further information, please call (212) 849-8400 or visit www.cooperhewitt.org. The museum is fully accessible.

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