The Chinese have lived in single-extended-family courtyard houses in many parts of China for thousands of years. The earliest courtyard house found in China was during the Middle Neolithic period (5,000-3,000 BCE). However, the 20th century was a significant turning point in the evolution of Chinese courtyard houses. This presentation provides an overview of this transition and evaluates some of its causes. Based on Dr. Zhang’s empirical research and analysis of six multi-household renewed and new courtyard housing experimental projects built in Beijing and Suzhou since the 1990s, she observes that, although the new communal courtyards can facilitate some social interactions, neighborly relations are only partially influenced by the form and space of the courtyard housing, and are perhaps influenced even more so by China’s changing and polarizing society as manifested in these specific residents’ socio-economic levels, housing tenure, modern lifestyles, community involvement, common language, cultural awareness, and demographic backgrounds.
Dr. Donia Zhang is a graduate of Oxford Brookes University (Barch, MA, PhD) in the UK and Brock University (Med) in Canada. Her area of expertise is in courtyard housing development in China and North America, China’s heritage preservation policies and practices, cultural sustainability, and architectural multiculturalism.