Shenzhen Urban Village

—  by Weiping Wang —-

 From its beginning 30 years ago, Shenzhen in southern China, has rapidly development from a small village to an international city. During this process, a large number of land parcels, which used to be farms, have been transformed to make way for modern buildings. However, many local residents still possess their rights to their houses on that land; in fact many have no other ways to feed themselves except by collecting rent from their houses.

 Alongside the development of the Pearl River Delta, a lot of migrant workers flooded into Shenzhen giving the original Shenzhen area residents a chance to change their urban villages into higher density areas. This article will select one of the typical urban villages in Shenzhen, Hubeicun to demonstrate the residential typology in four aspects; building typology, street form, layout and daily usage.


Shenzhen, Hubeicun urban village typology

In Hubeicun, all the land is separated into loose grids. From the satellite picture, it can be seen that most buildings follow the shape of the partitions and are fabricated into neat squares. As the upper levels of the buildings protrude over the street to maximize floor area while keeping the footprint to a legal size, the distance between each building is small. Usually, this gap between buildings is commonly about just 300 to 600mm and sometimes there is no gap at all.

The ground floors of the houses, which form the street frontages, usually have no walls as such and are opened up as shop recesses. The average height of these buildings is 7 floors (20m), which is higher than that of other urban villages in China.


Satellite View

To save lands for buildings, the alleys of the urban village are also very narrow. The water pipes, sewer lines, electricity and internet cables are all crowded in these alleys. However, these narrow alleys perform much as the community centre for the urban village instead of simply being a traffic route. The houses along the alley are open and provide fruits, meat, vegetables and daily service for the residents. Despite the hot and humid climate in summer, and with unpleasant smells spreading through the alleys, it is still an great place for the kids – who were born in the village – to play in. The streets not only connect buildings but animate the village.


view of streets


view of streets

 In spite of their similar shapes, the interior of each building varies. The common structure of the buildings is formed from a concrete frame so the owners can change their plans level by level. Staircase links these levels with a normal width of 600mm. The most popular house types are either: the two bedroom type with a single living room; or one bedroom with one living room (as shown). The toilet and kitchen (which both are very small) are located side by side to each other in order to relieve the difficulty of water and sewer construction. To maximize the actual interior useable area, there is no difference in saving space of buildings in the urban village.


Group housing plan


Close-up of a typical housing unit

The residents mostly are migrant workers and they are usually with families. They are provided with living space no more than 50 square meters, and their beds are put everywhere. Beds in the living room perform as sofas during the daytime. Even though the area is limited, it still can meet the basic needs of their daily lives.

In conclusion, the owners of the buildings in urban village tried their best to utilize every inch of the land, and maximized the height of their houses to create more space for renting. All the buildings were built by unknown construction corps, but apparently, even though these are not great places to live, these spontaneously arising additions and alterations to the block houses help to meet the demands of migrant residents. However meagre, they seem to be providing migrant workers a chance to stay in Shenzhen.


This initial research was carried out by Wang Weiping and Li Sheng for Professor Dong Yiping