Modern, sustainable hutong house in Beijing


The modern hutong house in Beijing was designed according to passive house principles

Shiyuan by Days in Yard Studio is a contemporary hutong house in Beijing that makes the most of passive house sustainability principles

This modern hutong house in the heart of Beijing is nestled between two groups of ancient temples – the Northeast Watchtower of the Palace Museum and the Zhizhu Temple. In such a historic and precious setting, the architects at Studios Days in Yard knew they had to think long and hard about their approach when they began redesigning a Chinese hutong home – hutongs are the lanes with clusters of small dwellings that were found in parts of Beijing, only a handful of which remain intact today – into a contemporary family home. The result called Shiyuan (known as such traditional courtyard houses) is an elegant masterpiece of sustainable architecture that preserves its historical character while applying 21st century Passive House principles.

Traditionally, the courtyard of a hutong house serves as both a private space and a meeting place, the architects explain. Similarly, in this modern makeover, the studio has kept the outdoors open at the core of the plan. It is visible from most parts of the house and becomes the centerpiece of the living space. The project suitably combines a home for a family of architects with additional space for a design office and other social areas that the creatives use for events and cultural activities.

Modern hutong house for a family of architects

Photography: Zoulei

Much of the original structure has been compromised, with many architectural elements, such as parts of the wooden structure or the masonry walls, either being irreparably damaged or missing over the years. Restoring these features, revising openings and vistas, and respecting neighbors’ views and lighting needs in a very tightly knit urban context were key in the design development.

“When I undertook the remodeling of this courtyard, we had some available precedents in terms of ancient building design to follow. For example, we have observed more than a few cases and relevant examples in garden design, contemporary approaches to interior design and fresh use of materials. The questions we’ve raised here are: How to make the return to the backyard lifestyle more livable? What technical standards could be used as a reference?’ remembers project architect Haipeng Ren.

The answer was found in the Passive House principles, which allowed the house to retain its character while opening up. Now the interior connects the two different spaces through vistas and the absence of hard partitions between the areas and exterior and interior spaces, thanks to the key role played by the courtyard. The result is an ecologically sensitive design that brings the respected, valuable historical typology into the 21st century while creating a comfortable family home. §


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