Beijing Hutong Bubble / MAD

© ShuHe

Architects: MAD
Location: ,
Director in Charge: Ma Yansong, Dang Qun
Design Team: Dai Pu, Yu Kui, Stefanie Helga Paul, He Wei, Shen Jianghai
Type: Courtyard Renovation
Construction Engineers: Beijing Nade Environmental Art Design Co., Ltd.
Construction Cost: 400,000RMB
Project Year: 2009
Photographs: ShuHe, Fang Zhenning & Daniele Dainelli

MAD’s proposal for the future Beijing 2050 was first revealed at its exhibition MAD IN CHINA in Venice during the 2006 Venice Architecture Biennale. Beijing 2050 imagined three scenarios for the future of Beijing―a green public park in Tiananmen Square, a series of floating islands above the city’s CBD, and the “Future of Hutongs,” which featured metallic bubbles scattered over Beijing’s oldest neighborhoods. Three years later, the first hutong bubble has appeared in a small courtyard in Beijing.

The future of Hutong © MAD

China’s rapid development has altered the city’s landscape on a massive scale, continually eroding the delicate urban tissue of old Beijing. Such dramatic changes have forced an aging architecture to rely on chaotic, spontaneous renovations to survive the ever-changing neighborhood. In addition, poor standards of hygiene have turned unique living space and potential thriving communities into a serious urban problem. Hutongs are gradually becoming the local inhabitants’ dumpster, the haven for the wealthy, the theme park for tourists.

© Daniele Dainelli

The self-perpetuating degradation of the city’s urban tissue requires a change in the living conditions of local residents. Progress does not necessarily call for large scale construction – it can occur as interventions at a small scale. The hutong bubbles, inserted into the urban fabric, function like magnets, attracting new people, activities, and resources to reactivate entire neighborhoods. They exist in symbiosis with the old housing. Fueled by the energy they helped to renew, the bubbles multiply and morph to provide for the community’s various needs, thereby allowing local residents to continue living in these old neighborhoods. In time, these interventions will become part of Beijing’s long history, newly formed membranes within the city’s urban tissue.

floor plan
© ShuHe

Unexpectedly, a manifestation of this idealistic vision has sprung up in one of Beijing’s hutongs, just three years after the exhibition. Hutong Bubble 32 provides a toilet and a staircase that extends onto a roof terrace for a newly renovated courtyard house. Its shiny exterior renders it an alien creature, and yet at the same time, reflects the surrounding wood, brick, and greenery. The past and the future can thus coexist in a finite, yet dream-like world.

© ShuHe

The real dream, however, is for the hutong bubble to link this culturally rich city to each individual’s vision of a better Beijing. The bubble is not regarded as a singular object, but as a means to initiate a renewed and energetic community. Under the hatchet of fast-paced development, we must always be cognizant of Beijing’s long term goals and the direction of its creativity. Perhaps we should shift our gaze away from the attraction of new monuments and focus on the everyday lives of the city’s residents.

Cite: Saieh, Nico. "Beijing Hutong Bubble / MAD" 24 Feb 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 20 Sep 2014. <>


  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    being fancy & shining in this way is just like getting nacked in public because no one is gonna look at you
    this is not about architecture and really dislike these THINGS

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      I disagree. Most blobs don’t look this good in material form. They come out chunky and misshapen compared to the “perfect model”. Also, the craft involved on making a seamless, reflective doubly curved shape is pretty outstanding.

      You may not like the form, the concept, the idea of Maya or 3DS as an architectural tool, but putting something like this into reality takes a great deal of effort. At the very least applaud the craftsperson and/or the architect working CA.

      If you think architecture doesn’t involve making “things” then you are mistaken. While we of course deal with more than form–at the end of the day, we are making SOMEthing, and that is how we are ultimately judged.

      This little guy is sort-of “cute” and very East Asian. I’m surprised its not in Tokyo.

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        the seamless surface is pretty impressive, agreed. finding someone who can build the maya blob is also great. but why is this shape (out of a kazillion random shapes) so impractical? the birds shit on the roof, cleaning is difficult because you can’t reach over the roof. and what about the door to the roof terrace? one centimeter of plastic, no real insulation, wind whisteling through the gaps,,, does “making architecture” and improving the hutongs not include doors that close well? beijing is icy in the winter, you know,,,

  2. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    This project is nice. I have seen Anish Kapoor’s work up close and the work and manufacturing to get a perfect surface is incredible.

    I dont understand the competition proposal. Are these things “one of” or are they premanufactured? Seems to me they need to be “one of” in order to make sense of the density and morphing the shape with the context. Seems to me getting one of these things executed is a victory.

  3. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    looks inspired by the reception counter of the Beijing ‘Olympic’ Best Western Hotel. But seriously anything that brings attention to the Hutongs is fine by me.

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    The idea of using surface as a means to affect the architectural space is admirable and essential. I do however take issue with the lack of technical rigour and determinism in surfacing that is generally apparent when Max or Maya is used to create architectural forms. Perhaps MAD could learn something from the high quality surfaces in the auto industry. If you are going to make something shiny, you need to control the highlights, otherwise it is just a case of “NURMS it” and hope for the best.

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    Thought it might look as a outrageous proposal at firs sight, but it conceals a highly technical endeavor with a very interesting statement. Most of the ‘Blob’ critics are aware of the fact that technology has indeed changed the way architecture is being produced and consumed, and this is a very good example of a realization of an architectural concept extracted straight from MAX or Rhino into reality. However, as in chinese landscaping the matter is about ‘what-doesn’t-exists’ as it might be seen in the gigantic rocks of the chinese garden in the interaction of real-nature with man-intervened-nature. here we do assist to the realization of a computer-assisted,’simulated’ piece of nature which wonderfully interacts with the surrounding as a mimic of it;thus providing an statement of the relation amongst technology-man-nature as a local answer to the ultimate global/contemporary phenomena faced currently by China, especially by Beijing and Shanghai. Superb.

  8. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    “The hutong bubbles, inserted into the urban fabric, function like magnets, attracting new people, activities, and resources to reactivate entire neighborhoods.”… Well, I’m not particularly attracted by bubbly shiny objects, but hey… I have to admit, it may look cool. Yet, I’m very critical of the overall concept of this intervention, which seems totally oblivious…

    It’s just like if the peasants had no bread, and MAD says “Let them eat cake”.

    Considering that all effort costs proportional money – and it’s obvious that there is a lot of effort involved putting this into reality, as many people state – this kind of intervention cannot truly be meant to be extrapolated to the whole Hutong fabric, for it demands expensive, specific responses to specific situations, every single time. Designing and crafting hundreds (or even dozens) of singular sanitary blobs such as this is as a conceptual strategy is macroeconomycally unfeasable, and all the technology and resources put into this kind of design should be directed to more conscious and responsable responses to the same problem.

  9. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Its a staircase addition with a toilet beneath. Done brilliantly in its ability to reconcile garden/water and house. This is not about whether to blob or not to blob; its a small piece of architecture very well done.

  10. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    i don’t get it. please can someone explain to me how this is suppose to benefit hutongs.
    anish kapoor’s work are pieces of art, it is not intended to rescue hutongs.
    did they not teach MAD in architecture school the word ‘why?’ in this case then MAD ‘why? why? why oh why..?’

    • Thumb up Thumb down +1

      I don’t see how these are going to solve the problems of people using the hutongs as dumpsters, or becoming havens for the wealthy, and theme parks for tourists. Seems to me that only the wealthy will be able to afford them, and their novelty will drive in the tourists to see them. Dumpster problem? This article doesn’t answer that. Are bathrooms the problem, and additions to add these would be unsightly? In that case the reflective surface is clever, but I don’t understand the need to have these additions be amorphous.

  11. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    my only question is, why a toilet? it is such an inovative way of reflecting the old and the new holistically. then you put a toilet in there.

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