The Bartlett School of Architecture


Daniyal Farhani

Image: Composition by Daniyal Farhani, The Changing Fragments, digital, 2022



Acupuncture for a Disciplined Urban Realm: The Case of Sanyuanli Urban Village, Guangzhou

First and second supervisors


The Chinese economic reform of 1978 triggered a movement for development and urbanisation that consumed towns and farms via top-down masterplans and led to the creation of complex enclaves labelled urban villages. As these villages grew complex through informal processes and appropriation, they revealed a mode of urbanism otherwise obscured in organised and planned urban places.

Complex heterotopic spaces and informal qualities render Sanyuanli Urban Village a contingent relief node of activity and vibrancy in a disciplined cityscape. The village provides inexpensive and flexible spaces for migrant workers to integrate into the city. In return, spaces evolve and mature through a reprogramming system of spatial uses and ongoing appropriation processes. These places have creative, vibrant, inclusive communities with atmospherically rich urban spaces. Nevertheless, city authorities are often determined to demolish them for less complex development models.
Insights into Sanyuanli’s processes may contribute to new design and development models that respond to changing conditions and alter the rigid approach to masterplanning in the Asian context. Urban studies by way of design, particularly those that analyse and model complex informal urban villages, are limited in the Asian context. 

This dissertation is informed by empirical findings, spatial analysis, mapping and modelling of varying conditions in the past ten years. It analyses the operation of the village through varying theoretical models, among which A Theory of Good City Form by Kevin Lynch and Of Other Spaces by Michel Foucault are used as key theoretical concepts. By combining and applying the existing knowledge to a new context and in a new set of circumstances and by highlighting Sanyuanli’s obscured urban qualities, the dissertation aims to justify a view that such villages should not be replaced with formalised urbanscape.


Daniyal Farhani is currently a PhD candidate at the Bartlett School of Architecture and the Founding Director at CRAD Studio. His research interests stem from investigating incremental architectural and urban strategies, principally how forces outside the conscious design process shape alternative spaces and vivid atmospheres. He believes these spaces and strategies, as opposed to traditional design and masterplanning, can be used within a world of increasing uncertainty to engage individuals and communities. Daniyal currently lives in London and Lisbon and aims to integrate his research findings and interests into his work in practice.

Image: Composition by Daniyal Farhani, The Changing Fragments, digital, 2022