A Contemporary Take On A Traditional Chinese Courtyard House
The British architectural magazine, the Architectural Review, has given its top prize for house design to John Lin's "contemporary take on a vernacular village house." Lin and his students measured existing houses in the Shaanxi Province, traditionally courtyard designs surrounded by walls, and developed what he calls...
an evolution of an existing form, rather than an architectural imposition. It is a particular design intervention that recognises the absence of a skilled construction workforce, the lack of a defined client and the fact that historically, such buildings have been created without an architect.
The roof is designed to collect rainwater, the walls are made of traditional mud brick that add thermal mass, and most controversially, there is a biogas generator that uses the waste from pigs that are raised inside the boundaries of the dwelling. Witold Rybczynski uncharitably calls it a Potemkin Village and notes:
The magazine press release calls it “a modern prototype of this traditional locus of rural life.” Well, it’s certainly uncompromisingly modern, but I worry that it looks so neat and designy. Trying to imagine it with muddy pigs.
Lin notes that rural China is going through rapid change, and that traditional villages are declining as people move to the cities. He tells AR:
The reliance on a migrant economy is not creating a livable environment. Ironically, as villagers leave to work in cities they continue to send money back home, and floor areas will dramatically increase. What they are building begins to look like a ghetto. Most of these villages have become garbage dumps and there is a slow breakdown of the economy, social and community relationships, politics and the environment.
Whether they still want to live with pigs in their houses is another question. More in Architectural Review.