This project is located in Beijing’s historic center, in an area full of hutong laneways and ancient courtyards. It’s a hands-on academic project, conceived by master students from Tsinghua University, in which they investigate how to ‘lever social change in China through design’. Students deal with issues from a grounded, built reality, which complements what they learn in the design studio. Surrounded by authentic hutong life, the proximity of the site to the White Pagoda Temple provided a unique experience for our students to investigate.
After starting with an 8-week long urban design studio called Sharing Cities, the local government allocated a dilapidated courtyard for us to regenerate, as a test case for the student’s ideas. The design was inspired by the opportunity to bring a new perspective to the traditional hutong experience. People can now explore the courtyard in three dimensions, including quiet corners, a skywalk and small amphitheater, and is implemented as a usable addition to the neighborhood, not as an abstract stand-alone installation.
The new structure creates a very direct connection with the renovated courtyard house, and opens up never-before seen perspectives. This has allowed visitor to interact with the traditional architecture very close-up, including a skywalk and tea-drinking platform offering amazing sunset views of the temple. An elevated view of the Buddhist, white pagoda that been standing quietly above the neighbourhood since the 13th century, or Yuan Dynasty.
The Sharing Cities studio aims to provide urban and architectural proposals to emerging concept of sharing, and responds to the idea of public space sharing and sustainable urban development from social, economic and humanitarian perspectives. The studio emphasizes a holistic and collaborative approach and the project is a physical example of this abstract idea. After the urban design studio, the students worked within the tutor’s architecture practice to combine their research and ideas into a singular design intervention for the courtyard, build together with a local contractor.
Understanding the social impact of a design is critical for architecture education, and by seeing a project through from drawing to actual construction, students learn that their ideas can change the world around them.
The courtyard was unveiled at the opening of Beijing Design Week 2017 and visited by countless visitors over the course of the week. The courtyard addition was especially enjoyed by the surrounding residents as an interactive addition to their neighborhood; for young and old.