- Structural Design : Hongkui Yue, Rui Wang
- Mechanical & Electrical Design: Liang Sheng, Qing Zhang, Jiandong Chen
- The Client: Nuodeng Township People's Government, Yunlong County, Yunnan Province
- City: Dali
- Country: China
Text description provided by the architects. Located in Yunlong County of Yunnan Province, Yong'an Village is known for its sinuous mountain landscape, poor accessibility and is considered one of the poorest areas in China. Yong'an Village is seated on the ancient Tea Horse Road, which connects South Asia and Mainland China. Therefore it is the assembly ground of multiple minority ethnic groups including Han, Bai, Hui, and Yi. Since 2012, the volunteer team from Tongji University has been actively involved in organizing activities and coming up with solutions in the effort to improve the locals' knowledge, living space, and living quality. In fact, the volunteer team had built a small rural public building with the vision to reactivate Yong'an village in 2018. Due to its geographical location in a deep valley, the villagers value the significance of the openness of indoor and outdoor public spaces. From funeral to a wedding or even daily socializing spaces, the openness of space becomes the top priority to them. The altitude difference between the upper and lower Yong'an Village is around 300 meters, making the vertical travel distance unreachable. In fact, the villagers from the upper villages often suffer from inaccessibility to transportation, poverty and are living in straitened circumstances. The majority of them are homeless and have no space to interact with one another other than their working space. Therefore, building a community center for the upper village has become the main goal of this volunteer activity.
Site Observation & Local Experience. The first site visit was indeed a memorable one, after two days of traveling from Shanghai, we finally arrived at Yong'an village. The village entrance was seated right on top of a bridge hanging above swift current, giving the visitors a sense of ritual. While walking up the path to the mountain, we were greeted with the distinctive retaining wall built from red sandstone. We then realized most of the traditional "wu di shui" dwellings were abandoned, even though a few of them were still in great condition. As we continued our journey, it could be seen that there were a few cottages and pigsty built from rammed earth bricks along the street. After walking for half an hour, we reached the site on top of the mountain, it was surrounded by mountains, and there was a terrace landscape on the north, with a few big trees and an old tomb sitting on it. The site is in a rectangular shape with a 1.5 meters height difference from the road. The site is facing towards a valley, the layers of forests in different hue overlaying the landscape contour forming a picturesque scenery.
Built locally by the villagers. During the design development of the community centre, the tight budget restriction had placed an invisible constraint on the design concept generation process. After investigating deeper into the local construction method and their craftmanship, we realized that rammed earth building method is the most widely applied construction craftsmanship in the village. Besides, there was a small steel structure factory in the nearest town which happened to be one of the factories that emerged during the early construction industrialization. The strategy to keep the construction below budget is by making use of the existing local craftmanship and involving the villagers in the construction process as much as possible.
The application of new construction tectonic onto the traditional construction has become the strategy of this project. The hyperboloid form of the roof was generated through algorithmic geometry, however, this modern form could hardly be understood by the local craftsmen, but we believed through communications and by establishing simple principles, the construction of this building is highly achievable. Straight-grained single-sloped curved roof was adopted as it could drain water effectively, and most importantly, this construction method can be easily taught to the villagers through simple mathematic. Local blue tiles were used as the main roof materials, as they were sustainable to use and required low maintenance in the future. Furthermore, the tiles can be easily stacked in accordance with their intended geometry; this method was then being named as pixelated form-finding which can realize high-dimensional complex curved surfaces through simplification.
The outdoor decking and floor finishes are both constructed by adopting the dry rubble masonry; the brown rubbles were made from sandstone collected from the riverbed in lower village. The combination of masonry rubble rammed walls and the sloped roof has further elaborated the localized character of the construction process. Responding to the local site culture, rammed earth wall was chosen to be the main material of this project. The building method started by filling moist earth into a customized wooden framework, taking the wall flat surface as a reference, the local craftsman would then compress the soil through the action of pounding layer by layer. The content of rammed earth wall material contained red sandstone which could be found on site while other required soil contents were required to be transported to the site. Regardless of the budget consideration, this construction method has largely eliminated the use of machinery, successfully demonstrates the use of a low-tech design strategy.
One of the key design intentions of this community centre was to feature the lightness of the structural system, other than to minimize the steel material usage, the intention was also to create a 'floating' roof illusion above rammed earth building. To further reduce the volume of the structure, stepped steel columns with thinner ends details were opted for the courtyard. Some of the steel columns were connected by high efficient hinge joint to strengthen its loading capability at the same time creating an interesting contrast with the rammed earth wall.
The parametric nonlinear hyperbolic roof had increased the construction difficulty. We tried to minimize the usage of non-standard building components and derived the coordinate points required for the form-finding process targeting the arc steel beam and arc length data, these information were used in guiding the local craftsmen to carry out the construction manually. The lightweight steel structures had injected an impression of industrializations onto the community centre, carrying a contemporary and lively effect, became a juxtaposition to the traditional crafted rammed earth wall.
Lying in mountains towards the horizon, hiding tendencies behind a humble gesture. What the local villagers long for is a community centre that is 'grown' from the village itself, at the same time acting as a shelter for residential purposes. Emerging from nature at the same time blending into nature, the community centre intertwined with nature in the most subtle way, existing co-dependently. The community center retained the tranquillity of the village as if the villagers were being placed in a space they were familiar with. Despite the familiarity of the building, this community centre had elevated their living quality in some way, at the same time providing a sense of belonging to them.
Semi-enclosed courtyard typology was adopted, the rectangular site was defined as the outer boundary of the community centre, with three quarters of the site surrounded by the arc roof, forming a free-flowing roofline, creating an interesting dialogue with the rectangular boundary. While retaining the functionality of interior spaces, we tried to maximize the open public space as much as possible. The 'floating' corridor became a continuous yet fluid element that held the spaces together. To accommodate the low height difference of the entrance, the roof was lowered at the entrance, forming a starting point and ends when it meets the mountain slope. As the existing site already possessed its own unique essence, we try to respond with the simplest language possible.
Community Integration. After exploring the village, it was clear that there was no existing public space or public building at all, therefore, the lack of sense of belonging and spatial recognition became an issue for the village which consists of Han, Bai, Hui, and other ethnic groups. The building of community centre is to establish a spiritual venue for the villagers where they belong. The community hall, offices, and public washroom together create a sense of enclosure for the villagers, while the inner courtyard occupied the core position, acting as the main public activity space of the community center. We showed respect to the existing tomb on the north, by leaving the north side of the building empty, making it a negative space. On top of that, with the attempt to provide an unobstructed view of the south mountain, we raised the northeast side of the roof by 3 meters, creating a distinctive roof feature from an originally boring horizontal roof form.
In order to reenact the scene of villagers gathering around a tree during ancient civilizations, a big banyan tree was planted at the lowest point of the roof. This tree became the spiritual representation of the place and will be watching over this community center, which will be carrying memories of the villagers for a long time to come. We had no intention to create a rural utopia, but what we were trying to create was a sense of nostalgia through the architectural concept of ‘nonlocal locality’. The nostalgia redux is not limited to carrying the past, but it is an experience of learning from it. A utopian concept of nostalgia is normally defined as living in the present while reminiscing the past, but we believe as long as there is a desire for iteration; the future is full of hope. Our respect towards the local culture was the foundation of this architectural design, and we took the local capability in constructing into full consideration. What we were working towards was to challenge the standardization of urbanization; instead, we want to celebrate the essence of rural villages. Yong’an village community center’s aim is to reshape the spiritual dwellings and venue memories of the villagers in the future.