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The Contemporary Transformation of Traditional Chinese Architecture

The Contemporary Transformation of Traditional Chinese Architecture

The American architect, designer, and futurist Buckminster Fuller once defined the Dymaxion principle as “constructing ever more with ever less weight, time, and ergs per each given level of functional performance.”

Although prematurely abandoned, Fuller’s vision of the Dymaxion house could have been a great success if brought to its full potential, providing solutions for the post-war shortage of housing due to its incorporation of new materials, implementation of sustainable technologies, and ease of assembly and mass-production.

Party and Public Service Center of Yuanheguan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin
Party and Public Service Center of Yuanheguan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin

Interestingly, Buckminster Fuller’s principles of sustainability and his “more with less” philosophy continue to be vastly predominant in today’s field of sustainable design, especially in vernacular architectural projects that involve heritage preservation and historical revitalization.


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In the following, we will explore few projects from China that feature a contemporary remake of the traditional structure, while adopting Fuller’s philosophy of sustainable construction.

Building with Existing Foundation

Designed by LUO studio, the Party and Public Service Center of Yuanheguan Village was built out of the hope to actively promote local business and improve the surrounding environment of the scenic area. Originally, the plot served as a village committee office, and the new design aims to transform the old plot into a B&B reception demonstration area. Furthermore, to guarantee services for the villagers, it was essential to figure out how to build it in a short time.

Party and Public Service Center of Yuanheguan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin
Party and Public Service Center of Yuanheguan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin
Party and Public Service Center of Yuanheguan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin
Party and Public Service Center of Yuanheguan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin

After carefully investigating on-site, LUO studio decided that although those concrete foundation columns had been exposed for many years, the performance of the structure could still meet the requirements for subsequent construction. From a prudent point of view, the design team set several principles for the subsequent construction: avoiding damage or alteration to the original structure, minimizing extra load increased by the upper new construction, and effectively combining the forces of the new extension and the old construction.

Party and Public Service Center of Yuanheguan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin
Party and Public Service Center of Yuanheguan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin
Party and Public Service Center of Yuanheguan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin
Party and Public Service Center of Yuanheguan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin

Through this project, LUO studio hopes that the building can not only meet the working needs of the village committee but also provide villagers with a more open and shared environment where they can establish more intimate interpersonal and community relationships.

Building with a Revitalizing Canopy

Designed by ZSZY Studio, Tongde Hall was constructed with the commission to revive the former glory of the ancient ancestral halls, the “Emeer” of the village. The finished project will crown the old structure again as a prominent landmark in the village.

Tongde Hall / ZSZY Studio. Image © Ming Chen
Tongde Hall / ZSZY Studio. Image © Ming Chen
Tongde Hall / ZSZY Studio. Image © Ming Chen
Tongde Hall / ZSZY Studio. Image © Ming Chen

During the design process, the architects and designers came up with an innovative cable-suspended steel-timber frame system, with tall wood columns and a 965 square meter glass roof structured to connect the two relics as one. 78 wood columns were utilized to form a matrix integrated with a flexible but stable steel cable structure to protect the ancestral halls. Together, they hold up a giant umbrella to save the relics from the rain.

Tongde Hall / ZSZY Studio. Image © Ming Chen
Tongde Hall / ZSZY Studio. Image © Ming Chen
Tongde Hall / ZSZY Studio. Image © Ming Chen
Tongde Hall / ZSZY Studio. Image © Ming Chen
Tongde Hall / ZSZY Studio. Image © Ming Chen
Tongde Hall / ZSZY Studio. Image © Ming Chen

The design contributed a solution to give rebirth to low-level historic relics in a limited time and with limited cost. The strong contrast between the old volcanic stone walls and the newly-built steel and wood tensile space structure represents the civilization collision of Hainan, which is developing from a traditional island to an international free trade port.

Building with Abandoned Local Materials

Located at the foot of the north side of Taihang Mountains Longquanguan Town, Fuping County, Hebei, Pergola in Luotuowan Village is another project done by LUO studio. Due to surrounding mountains, the villages had poor transportation, which held back their economic development and caused an increasing number of dilapidated houses.

Pergola in Luotuowan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin
Pergola in Luotuowan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin
Pergola in Luotuowan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin
Pergola in Luotuowan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin

Before the renovation, villagers were allowed to choose a traditional wooden roof or roof made of cast-in-situ concrete for the house. The latter solution was more preferred by the architects because it was easier to implement and most of the residents were middle-aged and elderly people. During the village revamping process, a large number of wooden beams and rafters were dismantled and left.

Pergola in Luotuowan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin
Pergola in Luotuowan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin
Pergola in Luotuowan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin
Pergola in Luotuowan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin

Previously, the wood waste had been used to make a fire for heating and cooking. But in these days, to respond to the call for ecological environment protection and forest fire prevention, the dismantled woods of various sizes were left unused.

Pergola in Luotuowan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin
Pergola in Luotuowan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin

Through reusing the old timber, the architects managed to save costs and improved efficiency. They have also developed a modular construction for fast and easy on-site assembly. Materials for construction units were designed as small as possible so that more wood waste could be reused and the construction work could be carried out by villagers themselves.

Pergola in Luotuowan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin
Pergola in Luotuowan Village / LUO studio. Image © Weiqi Jin

Wooden rod units were used to constitute the structural system, which enhances stability and generates a larger space. The structure features grids that improve its performance in withstanding forces of nature, hence ensuring greater safety for a long period of use.

Building with Reinterpretation of Tradition

Designed by Shanghai Tianhua, Tahoe Qingyun Town is located 30km southeast of Fuzhou. For nearly a thousand years since the Southern Song Dynasty, Fuzhou Yongtai has been famous for its local cultural treasure. The beautiful natural and cultural environment of Yongtai is marked by a combination of trees, creeks, mountains, and streams. Based on its natural environment, the Tahoe government proposed to create a unique resort spot integrating the traditional Zen culture of the Song Dynasty.

Tahoe Qingyun Town / Shanghai Tianhua architectural design. Image Courtesy of Schran Image
Tahoe Qingyun Town / Shanghai Tianhua architectural design. Image Courtesy of Schran Image
Tahoe Qingyun Town / Shanghai Tianhua architectural design. Image Courtesy of Schran Image
Tahoe Qingyun Town / Shanghai Tianhua architectural design. Image Courtesy of Schran Image
Tahoe Qingyun Town / Shanghai Tianhua architectural design. Image Courtesy of Schran Image
Tahoe Qingyun Town / Shanghai Tianhua architectural design. Image Courtesy of Schran Image

The design refines the iconic elements from the roof of the Song Dynasty building and reassembles building blocks. The facade is outlined by wood grain aluminum plate to resemble the charms of the Southern Song Dynasty.

Tahoe Qingyun Town / Shanghai Tianhua architectural design. Image Courtesy of Schran Image
Tahoe Qingyun Town / Shanghai Tianhua architectural design. Image Courtesy of Schran Image

The architecture is solemn yet unconventional and demonstrates a new interpretation of the traditional design language. The whole building adopts a steel structure. According to the proportion of building eaves in the Song Dynasty, triangular support is chosen as the repeatedly occurring element, which forms the main structural system of the sales office in an orderly manner.

Building with a Spatial Dialogue with Villages

Carried out by Shulin Architectural Design, Mountain House in Mist aims to initiate a bridge between space and local villagers.

Mountain House in Mist / Shulin Architectural Design. Image © Yilong Zhao
Mountain House in Mist / Shulin Architectural Design. Image © Yilong Zhao
Mountain House in Mist / Shulin Architectural Design. Image © Yilong Zhao
Mountain House in Mist / Shulin Architectural Design. Image © Yilong Zhao

One of the architect’s initial thoughts is to spare room for the villagers, which also brings an intuitive feeling. On the first floor of the book house, there is an overhead semi-outdoor open space, and ten structural columns hold the entire house. The closed spaces are on the second floor, connected to the outside with an outdoor staircase.

Mountain House in Mist / Shulin Architectural Design. Image © Yilong Zhao
Mountain House in Mist / Shulin Architectural Design. Image © Yilong Zhao
Mountain House in Mist / Shulin Architectural Design. Image © Yilong Zhao
Mountain House in Mist / Shulin Architectural Design. Image © Yilong Zhao
Mountain House in Mist / Shulin Architectural Design. Image © Yilong Zhao
Mountain House in Mist / Shulin Architectural Design. Image © Yilong Zhao

There is only a tiny water bar on the first floor for water and beverages, the other places are totally open for villagers to drink, chat, and for kids to play. The open space connects all the possible activities.

On the outer façade, the relatively rare sun panels in the village make the whole house translucent, and the light in the room becomes gentle through the solar panels, creating a comfortable environment for reading. The translucent material allows readers inside to have a glimpse of the outdoor landscape, achieving a semi-transparent spatial experience and atmosphere.

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About this author
Cite: Scarlett Miao. "The Contemporary Transformation of Traditional Chinese Architecture" 02 Apr 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/959329/the-contemporary-transformation-of-traditional-chinese-architecture> ISSN 0719-8884

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