The Dali Project is a platform for exchange with the community of people who live in Dali village, Guizhou. Dali is home to a Dong 侗族 ethnic minority group who speak Dong language, and cultivate a culture that finds its expression in a specific style of dress, architecture, music, and spiritual belief, amongst other things. The village is located in the mountainous southeastern quarter of China’s Guizhou province (Qingdongnan), and is part of a larger regional network of villages and townships shaped by Dong, Miao, and a number of additional ethnic minority group communities. The project’s aim is to support the continued practice of traditional material culture in Dali and in doing so to help preserve and evolve knowledge of these practices.

The project began with a focus on textile production— which lies within the domain of the women in the village. It started in a simple way, by asking how these skills could find new outlets in a contemporary context. In recent years, as younger generations have migrated from the village to urban centers to find paid work, fewer and fewer people practice or take time to learn these material skills. To counterbalance this flow the project has sought to create value and an economic basis for continued textile production.

As the project has grown in scope over the past two years, these efforts were reinforced by the construction of a community center that also houses the nascent textile cooperative. The design and development of the center brought an opportunity to explore the traditional carpentry and masonry practiced by the craftsmen living in Dali and to re-imagine a contemporary use and articulation for traditional building and public space.

With a unique culture that blends pre-industrial practices with the growing demands of modern life, Dali village is a place that is both dynamic and continually changing. The practice of traditional material culture naturally evolves as a part of this change—and yet it is recognized that valuable parts of this culture are in danger of completely disappearing due to the competition for attention and resources being brought to bear by the dominant forces of contemporary socioeconomic development and mainstream global culture.

Born as a collaboration between the residents of Dali village, Beijing-based ATLAS Studio, and American NGO, Global Heritage Fund, the Dali Project is a means of valuing the potential inherent in this place, its culture, and community. Through the process of sharing knowledge, expertise, and resources the project has developed as a site of exchange and connection to knowledge about how to intimately translate landscape into culture.