We are grateful to Evolution Design for authorizing Riamist to repost their copyrighted article as follows. (Photographer of all photos: Zhi Xia)
The project is situated in ChangGe Village, DaXing County, which is located in Beijing’s southwestern suburb. The building that was renovated is a worn-out farmhouse built in the early 1970’s with its original wood-brick structure commonly seen in northern China’s countryside. Before the remodeling, inside the dingy shack, walls were smoked by more than 40 years of cooking exhaust and were covered in coal ashes. The place had no water supply nor a washroom – its residents, a couple of senior farmers, needed to walk 100 m from the house to get to the closest washroom in the neighbourhood. The long and narrow south-facing courtyard functioned as a pathway for the family’s only vehicle, a three-wheeler, which was inconveniently parked at the innermost end. To make matters worse, the interior floor level was almost 20 cm lower than that of the courtyard, turning the house into a flooding pond whenever it rained, which was a threat to the building structure. Ironically, the area was troubled by water shortage – water gets cut off almost daily, sometimes during peak usage hours in the evening.
This remodeling project was featured on an episode of Beijing Television’s live TV series called “Our Warm New Houses”, which aired in early 2016. The show producer set up specific and stringent requirements for the project's budget and completion time. Design and construction need to be completed within 45 days. All-inclusive budget is capped at 300,000 RMB (about 60,000 CAD), including labour and materials for onsite investigation, site remodeling, interior construction, lights, fixtures, furnitures, interior decorations, and even some brand new home electronics.
To solve the water issue, the architects thoroughly considered the challenges and decided to integrate flood control together with water saving in response to the village's water shortage problem. First, the renovation team raised the floor level in the interior, adjusted the courtyard's ground level, and installed new sewer & gutter systems. In addition, a new water tank with a capacity over 2-cubic-meters was built at one end of the courtyard to harvest & recycle rain water collected from the rooftops. In the evenings when water gets occasionally cut off, collected rain water could be used as a supplementary water source for toilet flushing and other essential needs, for up to a year. At the same time, with water drainage now in place, the building structure stands strong even in pouring rain.
▼The base of the house is raised
In terms of the layout, we have made adjustments to re-organize the floor plan based on detailed communications with the residents, understanding their daily routines and habits. In the courtyard, we first re-located the three-wheeler's parking area from the innermost end to just outside of the gate, so that the courtyard could be fully utilized without having to worry about it being also a driveway. The renovation team then planted bamboos & lavenders along the neighbouring wall on the southern side of the courtyard, creating a relaxing and serene landscape to be viewed from the inside.
▼The renovated courtyard is a pleasure to be viewed from the inside
Inside the house, since the locals have superstitions to not have windows on the north wall, the renovation team carefully accommodated this custom by moving all the storage furnitures to the the house's north wall, which created a better lit southern side for the family to engage in their daily activities. As the house layout takes the shape of a narrow rectangle with the long side facing north and south, the middle part of the house is better suited as a common area. It also separates the resting areas for hosts and guests, allowing for better privacy. After elevating the floor for flood control, the ceiling height is only 2.1 m, so the renovation team removed the old ceiling to allow for more clearance. Then, after some cleaning and maintenance work, the original wood beams and straw-covered ceiling texture is revealed, telling a story of time. Originally, one of the seven structural columns was partially exposed to the exterior, which could potentially become a safety issue given the house's age. The renovation team managed to push out the southern wall by 50 cm, so the columns are now all behind the wall, protected against wind and rain; these wood columns now seamlessly become part of the interior decorations.
▼The dining room is connected to the living room
▼The original wood structure is revealed after cleaning
▼The house layout is long and narrow
During onsite investigation, the renovation team discovered a narrow pathway about 80 cm wide between the building's western side and the neighbouring wall, so they designed a window at the end of the corridor. The window view of swinging bamboos helps to connect the interior space with the natural environment.
▼Window at the end of the corridor
When selecting furnitures, the renovation team preserved the residents' existing furnitures whenever possible, and gave them new lives: two large clay water jars now function as an umbrella stand and a side-table; a worn wood bench is polished and placed as a bed end to stow clothes and linens; even the wood lattice doors which were about to be thrown out to the garbage, became folding screens in the master bedroom.
▼The wood lattice doors became folding screens in the main bedroom
▼The existing furnitures were preserved as much as possible
▼The storage space is located along the north side
▼Contrast between the old and the new
[Before and After Renovation]