Transforming China’s Historic Neighborhoods One Plug-In House at a Time

Prefabricated plug-in houses designed by People's Architecture Office are starting to breathe new life into Shenzhen's historic neighborhoods. They safeguard old houses from demolition and encouraging human-scale urban redevelopment.

As new standards prohibiting demolition of historic neighborhoods come into effect, offbeat approaches to the revival of old town depopulated areas are in high demand. People’s Architecture Offices’ ‘house in house’ structures preserve the features of the old houses while introducing modern extensions.

As previous experiments from Beijing show, all one needs is a spanner to align prefabricated panels and turn a derelict house into a new, fully insulated, wired, and plumbed home within a day. Since most of these neighborhoods aren’t connected to sewage lines, these new installments also offer off-grid options for handling sewage and electricity. ‘Plugging in’ is an affordable solution that works for Chinese municipalities that are all legally bound to renovate uninhabitable properties with collapsed roofs, and for the residents who decide to use the plugin system within the subsidy scheme.

One of two newly installed plugin houses in Shangwei village, Shenzhen
An inside of plugin house in Dashilar, Beijing

The cost of the plugin house is thirty times less than buying a typical apartment in Beijing. It is half the cost of renovating and about a fifth the cost of building a new courtyard house in a Beijing neighborhood like Dashilar, where within the span of a year house plugin expanded from an experimental prototype to a systematic solution.

Map of Shangwei village, Shenzhen revealing its potential for plugin installations

In Shenzhen, where half of the population lives in urban villages, plug-ins present a great potential for long-term socially driven development. Considering the plugin house is waterproof and can also be used outside of an existing structure, there is a possibility to increase the density and residential mix of Shenzhen neighborhoods allowing new residents to move in.