Non-comformist conformism: House extension in Beijing
Client: Mrs. Fan
Architects: People's Architecture Office
Location: Changchun Jie, Peking (CN)
The design by the People’s Architecture Office is a built example of how to meet goals such as breathing new life into Beijing's deteriorating old quarters, and providing residents who cannot or do not wish to move with as much comfort as possible in their homes.
The design concept of the extension is closely entwined with the client's story. After Mrs. Fan got married, it would have been usual to move into an apartment tower in the suburbs, buy a car and thus lead what is regarded as a progressive life. But the social structures of the old quarter where she grew up – and which she greatly valued – have largely become lost in the suburbs.
Located in one of Beijing's hutongs – districts made up of traditional courtyard residences and narrow alleyways – the house in which Mrs. Fan was reared required a number of alterations to make it practicable for the young family. The architects thus replaced one part of the house with a structure built out of white pre-fabricated panels originally developed by the architecture office for use in modular house-in-house extensions. In Mrs. Fan's case the panels were provided insulation and watertight surfaces. Since the panels come with all the wiring and plumbing ready-installed, they can be erected by a handful of unskilled workers in a single day, as the architects state.
The ceiling in the middle of the extension extends upwards to form a double-height space, and has been provided with windows on both sides to admit plenty of light at all times of day. A kitchen and bathroom have also been incorporated; since the neighbourhood has no sewage system this was a particularly challenging task, but installation of a self-contained composting toilet solved the problem. Life in the Plugin House, as the architects call it, is now no less comfortable and energy-efficient than in the usual apartment towers. Moreover, should Mrs. Fan find the narrow alleyways too constrictive at any time, she can now escape to her own roof terrace.
The neighbours are also delighted. The slanted, partially recessed façade elements are formed to allow sunlight to fall on adjacent buildings and to provide them room for views and air circulation. The Plugin House is thus an enrichment for all the immediate neighbours and shows a way of counteracting the deterioration of the traditional hutong neighbourhoods.