Historical courtyard residence converted into modern workspace in Beijing

Chen Hao
© Chen Hao

The Chinese capital of Beijing has been developing at a breakneck pace for the last few decades, with old buildings being torn down to make way for new ones. But for many, the city's historic hutong neighbourhoods, with their winding, narrow lanes and traditional courtyard residences, represent the cultural heritage of Beijing and have been the focus of a variety of preservation efforts over the years.

So rather than tearing these hutong residences down, many are updating and renovating instead. Beijing-based Minor Lab transformed one of these traditional dwellings in Dongcheng district into a new office space, complete with kitchen, library cafe, and even a guestroom.

Chen Hao© Chen Hao

Chen Hao© Chen Hao

Chen Hao© Chen Hao

As the team explains on Designboom:

We have chosen some common materials and leveraged simple craftsmanship in hutongs. This way, we have tried to harmonize new things and the initial scene and to create some new meanings. rather than just a workplace, this courtyard serves as a laboratory for us. We treat every object, tool, plant and a little animal with curiosity while working, exchanging, cooking, resting and walking around. By doing so, we are discovering how to place and interact with them properly.

Chen Hao© Chen Hao

The scheme is centred around the existing open-air courtyard, which is home to two trees. The interconnected visual and spatial relationship between the different zones of the project is emphasized through the use of transparent rather than solid walls, which in some places seem to form glass-and-metal, box-like zones - a "transparent strip of space" - that mediate between interior and exterior, while playfully reflecting light. Conveniently, the transparent partitions also let in more sunlight into the office, which features a showcase window and a place to hang poster and to exhibit the firm's work.

Chen Hao© Chen Hao

Materials were chosen for their affordability and simplicity, as principal architect Chen Liu notes:

We used cost-effective plywood and OSB board, as well as the galvanized steel sheet, metal mesh and polycarbonate sheet which usually appear in illegal additions to hutong houses. We have tried to take advantage of common and economical materials in hutongs in the hope of realizing their quality and value in most appropriate settings.

The more private zones of the project, the steel, glass and polycarbonate have been used to create a "light and translucent interface" that provides more seclusion, a bit of thermal insulation and also as a way to shade and modulate the incoming sunlight. The kitchen is amalgamated with an office library that has space to take a tea and read.

Chen Hao© Chen Hao

Chen Hao© Chen Hao

Chen Hao© Chen Hao

In addition, there's a guestroom with a comfortable-looking platform bed, perfect for visitors or a nap during an office all-nighter.

Chen Hao© Chen Hao

Chen Hao© Chen Hao

As we've seen with previous renovations of hutongs, the preservation of architectural heritage can take many different forms; here we're seeing a modern, minimalist approach of using glass and steel to lend a new - and hopefully long - life to an old cultural treasure. To see more, visit Minor Lab.

Historical courtyard residence converted into modern workspace in Beijing
A traditional dwelling has been preserved by renovating it to include a new office, library, kitchen and guest room.

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