I had a great time today in the workshop, … well, I couldn’t tear myself from it. It’s such a beautiful work! I couldn’t move my eyes from it, … This is the first time I have made such a big stuff in my childhood …
This quote is from the diary of Xia Yu, who is one of members in Sunners · Space Installation Construction Summer Camp in Yilong (Nanchong, Sichuan Province), and also one of local left-behind children. During the camp, 24 children had designed and put up a series of space installations by themselves for the first time. At the final day, these beautiful works had attracted many local residents and students, which seemed to become a carnival, as lively as Spring Festival.
In recent years, small mountain villages like Yilong and Enshi, has been in really dire straits. Smallholding in the hills could not support a large family, so people have to move to towns and cities far away for a better life. As a result, many children are left behind to their older grandparents, turning into ‘de facto orphans’. [de facto orphans means children with one or two parents alive but unwilling or unable to raise them]. In spite of being labelled as ‘de facto orphans’ or ‘left-behind children’, these children are living a totally different life.
Left-behind children in Yilong and Enshi represents different states of living, comprising of social welfare, learning environment and psychological health.
In Yilong, most of these children are 12-15 year-old, and more than 60% of them are illegitimate children. Many of them didn’t have basic hygienic habits when they came to the summer camp first time. Volunteers need to teach them how to wash face and hand patiently. They are thirsting for love, but their sense of social propriety is eroded. Once the volunteers try to build goodwill, they would ask for our mobile phone or camera, even rummage through bags without permission. On the other hand, they may immediately get lonely if we don’t response to their need. Their precocious make us weep.
In contrast, the situation in Enshi are much better. They are younger, at the average of 12, and most of them lived in an unbroken family. Without the long-term parents’ accompany but with sufficient living condition, these children are well taken care of the school and family. They are warm and lively, wowed by new wonders, and have youthful sensibilities.
these special children, with no precedent for reference. For the children with different physiological and mental state, ‘Raise Me Up’ camp was set up to explore the unknown:
Are they able to construct an ‘Building’ or ‘Installation’ all by themselves?
Could they get involved in the whole construction progress without teachers or parents’ help?
Where is the balance between the self-creation and teachers’ interference?
How to adjust the courses according to children with different physiological and mental state?
Could construction course be popularizing and become a foundation course?
When looking for some inexpensive construction materials, we find an interesting material — ‘Lean Tube System’. With the beginning of industrial age, lean tube system was widely popularized and used for its usability and security, and developed from the Lean Manufacturing Idea (simple, to cut the costs and increase the efficiency) popularized throughout the latter half of the 20 century. Now, lean tube system is commonly used to build a structure system working in those factories in southern China, where most of these left-behind children’s parents worked.
Lean tube system provides more than 10 component connection methods. They are plentiful and cheap, with more resistant to failure, and could be setting up without considering too much precise data and structure rules. Compared with common building steels, they are lighter and easier to constructing small-scale installations.
In Enshi camp, we set some basic rules: every group has 16 lean tubes to build a shelter in an octahedral pyramid form. The children can complete it all by themselves. Even some connection components may not be structured well, it won’t affect the stabilities of the whole structure. Moreover, these shelters could be assorted independently, making a spatial form of settlement.
After the main structure finished, the children got fully free creation by using the polycarbonate hollow sheet and hemp rope as decoration and enclosure, forming amazing variety of space closures. Polycarbonate hollow sheet as canvas, ticker tapes as pigment, scissor as pen, just like playing a game of colors in the sunshine.
In Yilong camp, we chose bamboo instead of lean tube for older children to reduce transportation cost. Every group use 36 bamboos to construct a more complicated form.
From a general point of view, these shelters are sorely stretched to describe as ‘building’. They are not inhabitable, with no certain function, and hardly shelter people from rain and wind. While, during the six days, all the children had acquitted themselves of various architects’ duties splendidly: got assignment, defined the site conditions and design requirements, used sketches or summaries to propose their ideas, and then finished the construction with team.
Initially, we considered to use volunteers’ works as example in order to instruct children, but we change our mind when the camp start. All the children had finished the work perfectly at twice the speed that we expected, having no ‘understanding’ or ‘communicating’ issues. Five-day intense creation work gave a chance for children to build their own space installation, which was a meaningful practice even most adults may never have experienced.
During the camp, even people living far away from school inquired about those six shelters: ‘Is that true? Our children will build six houses?’ We felt so pride and joyful, not only for the camp becoming a big thing in the small village, but children becoming central character. In the summer camp, they are ‘On Site’!
The volunteers coming together from all over the country are also ‘On Site’!
‘I thought architects build rather than design houses just like what we usually see in the city,’ a volunteer said, ‘I didn’t known architects are able to do so much interesting things until today! Maybe architect would be one of my career choice in the future.’
In camp, volunteers may not just give their goodwill, but also grow up with these children together. Everyone is equal, in this ‘little’ case.
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up
To more than I can be
(Yilong) Yang Xinyu, Li Jinman, Li Hongcheng, Yuan Xiao, Hu Fuquan, Li Ruiyan, Xu Liang, Liu Jiao, Wang Yilian, Yu Jie, Chen Shuang, Xu Junxian, Zhang Tao, Yuan Yuan, Wu Wenhai, Wang Kun, Huang Wei, Wu Mingqin, Li Chunmei, Zhong Si, Wang Jinlong, Xia Yu, Chen Ting, Liu Xian
(Enshi) Liu Yanjiao, Wang Jingjing, Jiang Yongcheng, Zhang Yanping, Luo Wenhui, Zhang Zhiduo, Wu Jingxing, Jiang Shouyu, Zhang Jian, Luo Jingyu, Yang Chunhao, Yan Yujiao, Chen Yulan, Liu Jiayu, Liu Wei, Liu Hao, Zhang Chengfeng, Zhang Yajuan
Camp Design: Sunners
Course Design: One Take Architects
Cooperative Institution: Yilong Development Association, Enshi Wangping Primary School
(Yilong) Ran Weijun, Jin Jiatong, Tu Chongyan, Luo Yiting, Wei Xiya
(Enshi) Li lu, Wang Wenli, Qiu Dezhi, Li Kai, Pan Bingqian, Miu Xijing, Zhang Yue