Tongling Recluse

Tongling Recluse

Architect
RSAA/Büro Ziyu Zhuang
Location
Tongling, Anhui, China | View Map
Category
Memorials
Shengliang Su

Tongling Recluse

RSAA/Büro Ziyu Zhuang as Architects

The owner of this project Daniel Wu said, “Ziyu, look at this tallest tree survived in our village. It is beautiful. It should be seen in our house after rebuilt.” So we divided this residual wall into two parts; the middle part was used as a courtyard where we can admire the stars at night and the water from four directions can flow into it. The eaves divided the two ridges in different materials parallel to the mountains. The towering surviving tree and old village were included into our Tongling Recluse. - Ziyu Zhuang, Memoir of Mountain Household


In today's architectural practice in China, tradition and modernity are interwoven and coexist together, just like this Tongling Recluse. It is located in a remote village in the north of Anhui Province originally a normal folk house in the style of Huizhou and Yanjiang. Nested on the top of the mountain, this small house was in an extremely bad condition covered by weeds and bushes and uninhabited for over ten years; It has three bays in east-west direction and one bay in south-north direction. Its original roofing and wall were badly damaged.


Starting from the plan layout, we considered adding one bay to the west to reach the rocky mountain on one side, and another bay in the south-north direction to form a wider living space; We used sweeping curvature that rises to create an imaginary space detached from the original projection. Because of the limitation of original height before and badly damaged roof, we added new floors to the original building up to two. Together with the imaginary space detached from the original projection, we create an open spatial view. We lowered part of ridge in the front to form an uneven continuous curved silhouette. Traditional folded roof and the detached streamlined space were blended together and coincided with the cosmology of Chinese culture - “The Dao (Way) produces One (world), One produces Two (Yin-Yang)....”; the whole roof was covered by grey tiles in an unique shape from a bird’s eye view, which was not only outstanding but also a convergence of existing ancient village. This was the first time to echo the features of indoor space in outdoor areas.


The four bays formed a space in east-west direction. From the east, one bay to the south was used as the front hall next to the living room. One bay transversing part if the residual wall was a courtyard connecting the glass platform in the second floor. One bay with the original wall in the west formed a space for the bedroom; The added floor to the west covered the mountain view and part of the built landscape into its semi-open virtual space under the eaves. Elevation view looking south this is picture of modern house under traditional context.


East elevation generated a new ridge on the side of single ridged original building, manifesting the twin relationship and forming a kind of peaceful balance. The new ridge formed a bay of its own. One half of it incorporated into the outdoor contour of original building and another half formed the veranda under the eave. The design shows the virtual space against physical house in east elevation and converses with sunken garden landscape in the south. Different from the scattered view in the south, the high altitude cliff to the east projected a single-body view. It foretells the vitality and expectation of the copper fixtures inside the house and the spotlighting terrace and eaves.


The main indoor space mixed with the external veranda shaped by the interlaced new and old walls. The original damaged walls in the building became sections of interior walls and indoor partition. From the east to the west, terrace, living room, dining room, kitchen, courtyard and bedroom lined up according to their privacy. Through the veranda and steps outside, resident can come from the south into the living room to hold family parties or activities here. Part of the first floor was empty space for better view; Coming to the right to the semi-open terrace, resident can overlook the mountains and the whole village; From here turning left, resident can reach the dining room with better privacy and the kitchen opposite to it. On the first floor were a bedroom and rest room. Going upstairs from the living room, there were two bedrooms and rest rooms.


As the core of the whole plan layout, the atrium changed from the original indoor space to the new outdoor space. The original wall and old door in the south were kept to show the respect to the original memory. As a contrast and echo, we set a brass-made new door with the height of 1.5 meter and the width of 1.2 meter on one side of old door to strengthen the ceremonial feeling by huge difference in proportion (such practice is common in the spatial design of many modern churches in Europe). As an echo to the context of copper capital, coming into the room through this copper door, there is a copper-framed dining hall connected with it. We have installed a copper-plated staircase to reach the second floor. This copper flame also carried the original gable in the east. The original gable here became the decorative wall to block the vertical view of the living room and bedrooms. In the north of copper frame, there was a kitchen equipped with a full set of copper apparatus and the backdoor in the north, where we can go downstairs to the vegetable field under the mountain. The whole kitchen was inset to the wall and protruded out of the northern gable. We combine all the outdoor air conditioners and the copper frame/kitchen protruded out of the gable. From a bird's eye view, we can feel the spatial linkage of the copper sections of whole building and the continuity of materials in layout design. Main structure and other sections of the building were wooden material, which reproduced the living conditions and cultural context of the original building.


The whole atrium and the landscape under the eave formed the repeating virtual-physical transformation in the east-west direction. At the same time, the suspended stairs and French window in the east formed an open space connecting the bedrooms which cannot be found in traditional folk residences. An array of high windows lined up in the north-south direction separated the two sloping roofs from the walls. The design was to strengthen the floating and modernity of roof. Another array of small windows together with important fixtures including stairs and master bedroom formed the line of sight that echoes the contrast between indoor and outdoor space.


Part of the outdoor landscape can be viewed at entrance in the south of the building. Soft landscape element was aimed at creating the visual gallery with the buildings. Combining with the curved roof, remote mountains became part of the picturesque scene. A gate lies in the southwest. 


Based on the structural form of steel structure, during construction the old bricks of the original wall were marked down with numbers and kept aside. After the new foundation and main steel structure had been completed, the marked old bricks were used to rebuild the original wall at the site. In the process of rebuilding the wall, many old bricks were cut into slices and used as traditional decoration for hiding the steel structure inside. (This method is common in order to save the materials of old bricks in the process of recovering and rebuilding the traditional houses) New wall was built by different types of old bricks from other local buildings. For further underlining the difference, we laid white paint which is common in the south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and Huizhou on new walls. At the junction of two kinds of bricks we did some treatment and restored as old for harmony and unification. Using old materials and old tiles collected from other old buildings, the columns and roof of the whole building were built by local craftsmen with local traditional techniques, In this way, we responded to the native culture and the vernacular sustainable concept.

Walking up the mountains, the view of the building interrupted by the gate formed the first scenery. The gate also formed an enclosed courtyard together with the building in the north , and short walls in the south; The space under the eave to the west of buildings and karst rocky mountain formed an annular stone steps veranda, starting from the entrance of gate to the courtyard under the eave; In the southeast, there was a sunken courtyard t combining the original tall arbor tree to emphasize the limited space, which was used as an outdoor resting place with stone table and stone chair. Because of the cliff on the east side was not steep, decoration element of the building protruded s up to 2 meters. Led by the natural steps and plants, resident can go to the outdoor terrace and green area through the backdoor on the north side of the building, away from the worldly cares and enjoy the countryside and rural picturesque .


Under the limitation of site condition, in order to quickly realize three-dimensional curvature for the roof and weaken the impact of the size of structural frame to retain essential traditional architectural element and component, we used steel frame and rebuilt the whole building at the site. A suspended trestle was mounted connecting the site to adjacent road for the transport of construction materials.


To build a two curved roofs in limited technical conditions, we "sliced" the wall in parallel to the mountain into a number of broken lines and started from the several structural curves in the direction of ridge. All the surfaces of the building were covered by a steel grid. The size of structural line along the ridge was enlarged to further indicate the twin roofs. In this structural system, the angles and positions of the curved surface of the roofs can be subtly adjusted and optimized in three dimensions using pixel wood batten craft on the surface.


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