Travelling urban form: the neighbourhood unit in China

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First formulated in the USA in the 1920s, the neighbourhood unit schema provides a model layout for an integral residential district. Over the past eight decades, the neighbourhood unit plan has traversed national boundaries and spread widely throughout the world. This article traces the multiple involvements of the schema and its variants in the process of modernization in China. Drawing upon Edward Said's concept of ‘travelling theory', the study reveals the complexities surrounding the appropriations, interpretations and reinventions of the neighbourhood schema in a constant flux of historical practices. The article shows that the domestication of the concept in China was a continual process of translating, selecting, combining and reinventing, instead of a direct borrowing of foreign ideas. It is concluded that the neighbourhood unit schema is far more than another sign of globalized repetition; instead, it is constantly tamed into different programmes of modernization in new times and places.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Faculty of Architecture, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia

Publication date: October 1, 2006

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