- Design Team : Yunzhu Chen, Yuqing Xu, José Maria Esquivel
- Design Principal : Yikao Li
- The Client : Næra Hotel Xitang
- Physical Model : Yao Liang
- Diagram : Jinchao Lin
- City : Jiaxing
- Country : China
With the ever-increasing popularity of mobile grocery shopping apps and the gradual decline of the food market, fewer and fewer children brought up in the metropolis can identify different kinds of grains, let alone knowing how chickens and ducks, etc. came from rural area to the food market in downtown and then served on our tables.
Located in the east of a thousand-year-old town called Xitang, Næra Hotel is not only deeply rooted in the history and culture of southern China, but also adjacent to the vast fertile land around Xiangfu Marshes. It is a new cultural and ecological hotel far beyond the definition of a normal hotel that provides accommodations and meals. Vegetables and fruits are wildly cultivated in the 3,000-acre organic ecological village to the east of Næra Hotel. Guests could pick fresh products and enjoy the pleasant farm life here. To make the guests’ stay the best, the client plan to introduce a new chicken coop to supply high-quality eggs for guests and ecological organic fertilizer to fruit gardens and vegetable fields around. Leeko Studio was invited by Næra Hotel to design an attractive chicken coop.
As an architectural firm accustomed to design for "human", this project would undoubtedly pose an interesting challenge for us. A couple of questions have been brought to us. How to design an environment that would provide a high-quality life for chickens? How to let adults and children comfortably experience and understand chickens’ daily lives? Also, how to make it convenient for the staff to clean the chicken coop and take care of the chicken every day? Through communication with the staff from Næra’s Organic Agriculture department, we learned more about the chickens’ behaviors. For instance, chickens prefer to perch on the trees and go to sleep during the night. Because they would sleep soundly when they’re high up and away from the predators. After thousands of years of domestication, the place for the chickens to lay the eggs actually can be artificially induced. The staff would take hens to the place where they expect them to lay eggs. They press the hens’ head, and the hens will understand here’s the place for them to lay eggs from now on. And just like human beings, chickens also prefer to live in a place full of sunshine and good ventilation, which is essential for them to avoid diseases. Also, indoor and outdoor social spaces for them to hangout would create a group of happy and healthy chickens.
The site for the chicken coop is surrounded by fruit gardens and vegetable fields, with rivers coming around both from the south and north side. Two chicken coops stand opposite each other facing north and south. A single coop is 18 meters long from east to west and 6.15 meters wide from north to south, which continues the present texture of the fields nearby.
The "dining room" and "egg-laying place" are located on the east and west side of each chicken coop, with several tree-like structures lined up to become the "dormitory" next to the wall. The central open space is the "lobby" or "living room". When it’s under poor weather, or it’s indoor playtime, it will be available for the chickens to socialize in. With the layout of "two bedrooms, one living room apartment", the daily activities, including feeding, sleeping, laying eggs, and socializing can be well organized. These two coops are jokingly called Næra employee dormitory.
Structural System and Section Design
During the design process, the strip foundation has been chosen to make it easy to restore the state of farmland. The whole above-ground structure was designed as modular light timber structural system, so it could be easily assembled on-site using steel plates. The form of roof was developed based on the well-drained traditional gable roof. They are then shifted vertically to create continuous high light windows. A set of a simple pulley system is installed to open and close those high windows in an effective and cost-efficient way to ensure good lighting and ventilation inside of the coops. Human entrances were put on the east and west façade both for the guests to visit and for the stuff to take care of the chicken. The chicken entrances were put on the north and south façade next to the “bedrooms”. The bottom hung doors were used as the ramp for the chickens to pass through during the daytime and were closed during the night time to ensure safety.
The “egg-laying places” are set at two different heights. The up hung doors located on the corresponding façade provide convenient access to the eggs for both adults and children from the outside. It also allows people to observe chickens from the outside easily. After picking-up the eggs， the doors would rotate down for hens to lay eggs in privacy. The external walls got pushed out at the eaves to form a pentagonal section. The additional space created is used for the “egg-laying space” and the tree-like “dormitory”, so there could be an open space in the center for people to walk comfortably through the building.
The living room’s north and south façades are covered by steel mesh from the floor to the ceiling to create an environment with sufficient lighting and ventilation as well as a semi-outdoor space inside the house for chickens to socialize. The wooden floor and the wooden keel are set on the strip foundation for both the east bedroom and the west bedroom where chicken spends most of their time indoors. The floor is covered with grain chaffs while with an open space reserved underneath it. In such a well-ventilated environment, the chicken excrement will be naturally dried in the air. It is easy for staff to clean， and it will reduce the peculiar smell effectively. The tall window, the chicken door, the steel mesh, and the raised wooden floor work together to create a living environment with good lighting and ventilation in the chicken coops. It is conducive to provide healthy living conditions for the chickens.
Restraint for Design in The Rural Context
For a client like Næra Hotel, we could choose a much fancier structural style and facade system. And our client did suggest using more expensive material like metal roof panels. After repeated discussions, we finally all agree to choose the modular light timber structure and asphalt felt roof. They are cost-effective and easier to build. This system could be easily digested by workers in the rural area. And this is a system that could be “extended” and “developed” later. By the end of this project, a group of workers will get proficient with these building techniques. Perhaps they will spread it to locals to facilitate their practice in rural construction and let it carry forward. It is an honest construction practice. We worked hard to restraint our choice of structure and materials. The surface of the wood paneled wall will gradually darken with marks engraved by wind, rain, and sunshine year after year. Meanwhile, this simple natural temperament might be the very thing expected by guests who come to Næra Hotel - to help them escape from the noisy modern life.