Micro-Yuan’er is the name of a recent project by Chinese studio ZAO/standardarchitecture among the densely packed hutongs of Beijing. Micro-Yuan’er is a project composed of two separate architectural elements, an art centre and a children’s library, reconnecting the ways of using the hutong.
During Beijing Design Week, Dashilar Platform, an association concerned with preservation and revitalisation of the Dashilar district, and Camerich, a furniture company, asked ZAO/standardarchitecture to convert the Cha'er Hutong (tea hutong), a quiet area in the busy Dashilar district that is Beijing’s cultural heart.
ZAO/standardarchitecture’s project draws on the urban fabric and façades of historic Beijing. The Chinese word hutong refers to a lane lined by siheyuans, traditional houses built around a courtyard; by extension the term hutong is also used to indicate a neighbourhood made up of several of these lanes. This ancient form of urban fabric dates back to China’s dynastic period, when it was maintained, ordered and organised, up to the start of the twentieth century, when industrial development and migratory flows from the countryside demanded more dense residential accommodations in China’s cities. The result was disorderly, chaotic expansion of the courtyard homes, forcing the inhabitants to reorganise to fit many more people into the same amount of space: construction of a kitchen out in front of the wall of the home became a typical element of these buildings.
ZAO/standardarchitecture studied the appearance and layout of the Cha'er Hutong in Dashilar, where numerous historic hutongs have survived the modernisation of construction. What was originally created as an addition for reasons of necessity is not demolished but protected as testimony to a time in Chinese history and culture that has now fallen by the wayside. It is incorporated into a more extensive project also encompassing the masonry building against which it rests, transforming the space into a library for children. Under the original overhanging roof, a new plywood and glass building emerges, standing out from the existing blocks of grey brick in the courtyard not in terms of shape, which is based on the existing one, but through use of contrasting materials. The small amount of available space, only 9 square metres, is exploited to the utmost using furnishings as dividers and floors, chairs that can hold books, windows on the courtyard with spaces for reading and discussion. Large portions of the walls are made of glass, so that the entire building is perceived as a passageway rather than an effective bulk taking up space in the courtyard. The volume at its centre is designed on the basis of the same principle: a little art gallery made out of the same grey brick as the hutong, with plywood interiors. After demolishing the existing building, built next to the ash tree that forms the visual centre of the square, ZAO/standardarchitecture used its spatial layout and extended it to symbolically embrace the tree with a masonry staircase rising up to the roof.
The project’s value lies in the creation of new viewpoints aimed at expanding the available space, acting as a bridge between contemporary and historic Beijing.
Project Management: Zhang Ke, Zhang Mingming, Fang Shujun
Collaborators: Ao Ikegami, Huang Tanyu, Dai Haifei, Zhao Sheng, Liu Xinghua
Location: Cha’er Hutong #8, Dashilar, Bejing (China)
Gross floor area: 8 mq (art space), 9 mq (library)
Start of work: 2012
Completion of work: 2014
Structure in local bricks and multilayer board
Photography: © Su Shengliang, Zhang Mingming