The courtyard building has roots in the Chinese architectural and urban tradition. Precisely in Shanghai, location of the project shown in this article, over time the model of the siheyuan (the quadrangle house) generated the precious, dense pattern of the famous hutongs, with narrow streets in the historical center, most of which have now vanished.
The siheyuan is an architectural type directly related to the anthropological and social structure of the country; its symmetrical layout can also be seen as a translation, in architectural form, of the laws that govern the life of the family nucleus, the ethical underpinning of the society and the state. The Chinese family, at least until a few years ago, was a compact microcosm, a ‘miniature state’ with rigid rules of hierarchy; the house became a sort of small city, an introverted and precise structure, bound by continuous, silent walls to protect it from what was happening outside, in the streets of the city or in the countryside.
While the structure of the state was similar to that of nuclear families, the typological foundations of the house were those of the palace, configuring a single morphology defined by an internal courtyard placed on a central axis of reference. Over time this typology marked both rural and urban dwellings, as well as grand palaces, imperial tombs and temples. In the general repetitivity of figurative, formal and artistic motifs of Chinese culture, the siheyuan model - flexible in size, interpreted on different scales - was repeated in interlocking units, forming the hutongs, the fabric of the historical city.
This house too, with a different planimetric solution calling for a larger volume juxtaposed with a small corner construction, separated by a garden and an outdoor zone with a wooden deck, links back to the historical model in the definition of an introverted space, protected by boundary walls and accessed by means of a single large gate revised and designed as a precious threshold, a filter between public and private space. Rethinking the existing constructions in a long process of development and reflection lasting six years, Wutopia Lab & Sunyat have defined the guidelines of the project, adding a small tea house in the smaller unit to the domestic spaces organized on two levels. Now flanked by a narrow staircase leading to the flat roof, the tea house offers a small terrace from which to observe the treetops and the garden in Chinese style below.
Here the Taihu stones arranged on the black volcanic stone of the pavement surround a bauhinia tree, some shrubs and a wisteria that forms a pergola beside the entrance, with a small bench facing a circular mirror set into the stone, an allusion to a still pond. Next to the garden, and raised by one step, a wooden deck zone separated by a mobile curtain set into the ground is interrupted, approaching the house and forming a curve in rammed earth that leaves a view of the roots of the large tree, grafted into the custom canopy in front of the master bedroom. The latter, together with the dining room, is set back slightly from the main façade of the house facing the garden, where a living area with a large library has been placed.
Here the motif of the Serlian window that marks the façade, and the adjacent arched opening of the entrance, blends – together with the large fireplace inside – into a single moment of reinterpretation of occidental features and figures. The living area concludes in a large back wall in parallel blades of wood to emphasize the geometric design and the double-pitched roof of the space, separating it from the daughter’s bedroom, which is a blue space, a sort of installation based on a series of luminous transparent spheres descending from the ceiling. On the first floor, the service zones and the lodging of the household help are placed along the back, while two other rooms, respectively reached by way of the staircase of the bedroom and a curious elevator-platform from the living area, offer additional spaces for a house where everything has been designed in a successful interface between languages and traditions.
Project Wutopia Lab & Sunyat - Photos CreatAR Images