Siheyuan Model

In Singapore, a large residential project reinterprets the traditional Chinese courtyard house of the northern regions in a contemporary way, opening it towards the surrounding landscape. By the firm Neri & Hu, based in Shanghai 


Project Neri & Hu Design and Research Office
Photos Estudio Pegenaute – Article Matteo Vercelloni


A reflection of the hierarchy of the family structure, the domestic model of the siheyuan remains a constant point of reference in the history of Chinese architecture. A model that expresses the relationship between the perimeter and the central nucleus (the courtyard) around which to organize the spaces of family life.

This tradition rich in variations that always link back to their planimetric system of reference forms the background for the architecture firm Neri & Hu in their project for this large house capable of containing four families of three different generations.

Due to the Chinese roots of the clients and the multi-family functional program, Neri & Hu have decided to pay homage to the multilinear history of the siheyuan, a solution for family dwellings that has been passed on across the ages, through its reinterpretation and redesign in a contemporary approach.

The enclosed courtyard of the traditional model, in this case, has been interrupted to open the opposite corners to the surrounding landscape, on which the entire construction – composed of two L-shaped volumes set at 90° – is placed, following the topography of the terrain.

The two volumes form a balanced set that generates the central courtyard, which contains an abstract excavated space, a sort of geometric rock garden that leads, with steps in the same material, to the lower level.

The compact volumes of the ground floor, clad in Vals quartzite on the outside, evoke the ancient typology of the enclosure, presenting large windows towards the courtyard that make the entire system of the various living areas permeable and unified.

A sequence of spaces that open towards the courtyard, enhanced by pools of water, are projected outward thanks to two interruptions of the architectural continuity, corresponding to the extremities of the diagonal of the central space.

A winding path surrounds the construction, offering views of the inside, joining the spaces of the house with those of the landscape. The first floor is for the various bedroom zones and small studios. The entire raised volume is like a porous solid perched on the stone and glass base of the ground floor.

Clad with vertical strips of ebonized teak, the whole first floor displays a light architectural skin, enhanced in the evening when the internal lighting makes the whole volume seem delicate and transparent.

The fixed portions of the facade alternate, in a coplanar arrangement, with the shutters that match the same overall texture, underscoring the uniform image. The interiors are organized with double-height episodes of luminous paths and spaces, where the light is also captured from above thanks to large openings in the flat roof, with wide linear cuts.

With this project the original siheyuan model opens up to new possible materic and compositional variants, transposing the tradition into figures that clearly belong to our present.