1K House - Pinwheel House / Ying chee Chui

1K House - Pinwheel House / Ying chee Chui
Courtesy of Ying chee Chui

’1K house’ was a design studio in the Department of Architecture, MIT in 2009 co-taught by Professor Yung Ho Chang, Chairman of Department of Architecture, MIT, Professor Tony Ciochetti, Chairman of Center for Real Estate, MIT, and Professor Dennis Shelden, Department of Architecture, MIT. It is a project designed for the rural poor in the earthquake area, Sichuan, China who lost their home during the seismic disaster in 2008. The Pinwheel house is the selected project to be built in China and it became the first built project, by architect, Ying chee Chui, an MArch’11 student at MIT, in summer 2010.

As MIT’s first low cost housing prototype, this project set the stage for the importance of low-cost developments for locations around the globe that have had natural disasters that are beyond society’s control. By reaching out, architects everywhere can take advantage of opportunities such as theses to help a society recover and rebuild. More information on the project after the break.


Courtesy of Ying chee Chui

Considering not only how the rural people live in a house but a village and a community, prototyping is the keystone of the design. The concept generates from a pinwheel unit to an urban prototype at large. It begins from a module – a house composed of 4 identical modules. One module rotates to become two and finally 4 modules complete a house with an internal courtyard. The house size can be contracted or expanded according to the size of the module. The assembly method is the same for each unit, thus, if you know how to build one module, you know how to build them all. This pinwheel concept can be further expanded to housing and cluster prototype. At the cluster scale, rotation of clusters creates community and become urban prototype. The pinwheel house is a housing prototype fulfilling four major design objectives: modular flexibility, self-sustaining, low construction cost, and safe and easy construction.


Courtesy of Ying chee Chui

Each module consists of solid block wall and light wood structure. The house is defined by the solid walls while the flexible light wood structure opens up to the interior courtyard. The solid walls create a rigid experience on the exterior. In each module, privacy is created by the solid wall and softened by the wood structure. Within the interior courtyard, it is enclosed by the light wood which opens up to the sky. As a result, private and public spatial qualities are well defined while at the same time, the flexible wood panels create different spatial scenarios within the house.


Courtesy of Ying chee Chui

Sustainable architecture is foremost about re-imagining the relationship between human beings and living systems. The most powerful expression of this relationship is our built environment. The pinwheel house adapts green design criteria through achieving a self-sustainable, high-energy efficient, and low carbon emission housing prototype. It maximizes the use of natural resources by capturing natural daylight, enhancing cross ventilation, and selecting efficient materials for insulation.

Safety and robust structure:

Courtesy of Ying chee Chui

In view of the earthquake disaster, the pinwheel house is designed for a degree 8 robust structure for earthquake zone. Although the construction fulfils structural requirement, the building method is easy enough for the local laymen to build their own houses without the help of special technicians. The pinwheel house is not temporary housing but a permanent solution that can greatly improve the living conditions for the rural poor.



The Pinwheel house serves as a proof of concept for a house affordable to the poor in rural China. The whole construction process took 40 days and the final construction cost is USD 5,925, almost half price compared to the existing cheapest local flat of USD10,000 per unit. The material cost for the prototype can be further lowered based on different combination.

Architect: Ying chee Chui Location: Mian yang, Sichuan,China Instructor: Professor Yung Ho Chang Completion: September, 2010 Size: 90m2 Sponsor: Crystal CG Technical support: Atelier FCJZ

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Cite: Alison Furuto. "1K House - Pinwheel House / Ying chee Chui" 07 Oct 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/174198/1k-house-pinwheel-house-ying-chee-chui> ISSN 0719-8884

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