Another example of self-construction in Bernard Rudofsky’s Architecture without Architects
Dwellings below, fields upstairs
One of the most radical solutions in the field of shelter is represented by the underground towns and villages in the Chinese loess belt. Loess is silt, transported and deposited by the wind. Because of its great softness and high porosity (45 per cent), it can be easily carved. In places, roads have been cut as much as 40 feet deep into the original level by the action of wheels.
The photographs show settlements of the most rigorous, not to say abstract, design near Tungkwan (Honnan). The dark squares in the flat landscape are pits an eighth of an acre in an area, or about the size of a tennis court. Their vertical sides are 25 to 30 feet high. L-shaped staircases lead to the apartmments below whose rooms are about 30 feet deep and 15 feet wide, and measure about 15 feet to the top of the vaulted ceiling. They are lighted and aired by openings that give onto the courtyard. “One may see smoke curling up from the fields” writes George B. Cressey in his Land of the 500 million: A geography of China, even though there is no house in sight; “such land does double duty, with dwellings below and fields upstairs.” The dwellings are clean and free of vermin, warm in winter and cool in summer. Not only habitations but factories, schools, hotels and goverment offices are built entirely underground.