Village Lounge of Shangcun
Xia Zhi

Village Lounge of Shangcun

SUP Atelier as Architects

The project of Shangcun Village Lounge was commissioned by Housing and Urban-Rural Development Department of Anhui Province. Personnel from China Academy of Urban Planning & Design, Tsinghua University, Peking University and other organizations, who were dedicated to village preservation and development, have made the project a starting point for exploring a pragmatic path of traditional village preservation and development, which suited to local conditions and involved various groups of people in the building process.

 

Background

Located in Jixi County of Anhui Province, Shangcun Village has a history of over 1,000 years since scholar-bureaucrats of late Tang Dynasty settled in, and its unique tradition of “10 surnames and 9 ancestral halls” is scarcely found in south Anhui Province.


Traditional villages have been constantly undermined as a result of rapid urbanization in China. For Shangcun Village, its monotonous industry structure, the low income level, the outflow of labor force and the aging of population have deprived village of momentum for development. Influenced by both the nature and people, the ancient folk houses were faced with the problems of damage, aging and desertion.


Under these circumstances, the top priority was to formulate integral preservation plans and efficient guidelines for the future. The planning team selected the old house of Gao’s family as the site of the village lounge, seeking to boost the improvement of living environments, the development of industries, the preservation of traditional scenes and the restoration of folk houses, thus establishing a long-term mechanism for the village’s preservation and development to facilitate its sustainable development.


Planning & Positioning

  The old house of Gao’s family was situated in the front street of Shangcun Village. The main structure of the house had collapsed due to lack of maintenance while part of its exterior walls and foundations remained.


Aiming to reinvigorate and reutilize the ruined courtyard, the design team created a covered space with 6 bamboo “umbrellas” for local people’s gathering and entertainment. It can double as a meeting room or an exhibition hall for the village’s culture and history, as well as a teahouse and restaurant for tourists.


The construction of the village lounge has proved a positive approach of village renovation and has laid a solid foundation for the further development of the village.


Core Strategies

1. Make use of old and local materials. The team encouraged the villagers to sort out building materials in the ruined courtyard, collecting usable black bricks, black tiles, stones and timber for construction. Local stonemasons and bricklayers, together with professional bamboo contractor outside the village, have given a full play of their craftsmanship.


2. open up the space to the public. After negotiating with the villagers, the team removed an idle kitchen that blocked the village road. The walls of the Gao’s family house have been partly opened up, turning the private courtyard behind the walls into a public joint that allows people to cross or stay. In this way, a small shared square has taken place of the originally narrow road.


3. Preserve the context and apply necessary reinforcement. The original floor plates, beams and pillars of the old house had all collapsed, while some walls around the courtyard remained. Considering the walls as a reflection of the village’s history and spirituality, the architects pursued maximum preservation of the walls. According to evaluation by civil engineers and local craftsmen, the remaining hollow mud walls were faced with the following problems: The waterproof layer on top was damaged; the walls were soaked; the remaining parts above the 2nd floor had deformed, which required reinforcement.


As a result, the walls above the 2nd floor were removed in accordance with the design of the bamboo canopies; reinforced concrete was applied to the upper part of the walls, on top of which black-tiled Ma-Tau walls(corbie gables)would prevent rainwater from permeating into the walls.

4. Form a set of “umbrellas” with bamboo and integrate with nature. Jixi county abounds in moso bamboo, and a great amount of bamboo groves can be found on the mountains around Shangcun Village. It was a tradition for local people to build pavilions and fences along the farmlands with bamboo.


To complete the renovation of the village’s public space in a short period of time, the design team picked bamboo as the main material for construction. To minimize the intervention to the site and the amount of material used, as well as achieving an integral sense of the space, the team adopted strategies of unitization and fabrication. Bamboo canopies are not permanent structures like concrete buildings, and the team had no intention to make them long-term landmarks. Instead, the bamboo canopies can be dismantled and recycled in the future to go along with the development of the village.


Arrangement of Space

  The original layout of the Gao’s Family house was unveiled as the site was cleaned up and the remaining walls and floors emerged: The small courtyard behind the gate, the principal room on the south and the wing rooms on both sides, as well as steps, pedestals and the outline of drainage ditches.


The head works of the gate, as a significant symbol of the Gao’s family, as well as the original axis of the courtyard, were both preserved in our design approach. Besides, the pedestals and steps remained at their original places as implications of the original layout of the old house.


The gate of Gao’s family house has drawn a natural line between the spaces on both sides. The space outside the gate is more of a public space. Together with the square in front of the bamboo building, it has become part of the village’s road network, which is both a transportation route and a place for leisure. Villagers naturally gather here to chat or sing folk songs, making it a hotspot in the village.


  The space inside the gate is a comparatively private one, designed for village banquets, conferences, dinners and movies. The shape of the courtyard’s plan is protruded, with the protruding part as the stage, the rostrum and the projection screen while the other part serves as the guest area.


The bamboo structure

  6 umbrellas and 3 black awnings have formed a big bamboo canopy for both villagers and tourists. To simplify the structure and reduce the size of the roof, the structure of bamboo umbrellas and the form of arched black awnings have been merged in our design approach. The span of the canopies resemble local black-tiled house’s depth of 5-6 meters, perfectly merging into the texture of the village, as can be seen from the mountain top.


The height of the canopies was uplifted from the north to the south, conforming to the topography while allowing people underneath to have a better view of the Hui-style courtyards to the south of Gao’s family house.

Building Technology: Modern vs. Traditional

  The biggest challenge in bamboo structures is durability, so modern bamboo building techniques were applied. All the bamboo materials were processed for anti-corrosion and anti-moth purposes. Inserting, bolting, anchoring, nailing and binding of bamboo and steel ensured the stability and integrity of the bamboo structure.


 Traditional craftsmanship also played a key role in the building process. Thanks to the efforts from local craftsmen, the reinforcement of hollow mud walls and the Ma-Tau walls(corbie gables), the stone work of landscape wall, the paving of bricks and stones, the excavation of open ditches and the restoration of wooden cover plates were all done in traditional ways. The whole process encouraged the villagers to participate in design and construction, which involved both traditional and modern ways of building.


The modern bamboo structure for a traditional house has inspired dialogues between the old and new materials, the modern and traditional building techniques, the open space under the bamboo umbrella units and the enclosure space behind the walls. The fabrication of units, which is easy for assembling and dissembling, together with the collage-style renovation for a ruined folk house have been both applied in our approach.


Joint Efforts

  The villagers’ participation was essential. In the early stage of the project, the villagers cleaned up the site and precisely picked out old bricks, black tiles, stone plates and timber, offering ample recycled materials for the projects. Then they watched the on-site work of the bamboo contractor and learned about the maintenance of bamboo, the utilization of modern tools, as well as the contractor’s seriousness and carefulness during construction. All these inspired the local craftsmen to do their work with great enthusiasm and elaboration. As the project drew close to completion, many villagers have turned from onlookers to participants in assembling furniture, cleaning up the site, planting trees and making decorations, truly becoming the owners of the lounge.


  The completion and opening of the village lounge marked the start of Shangcun Village’s development, which facilitated the establishment of Shangcun Village’s economic cooperative.


  Having brought people together, the project is of positive significance to further plans for rural reconstruction projects, including improving the performance of folk houses, renovating local homestays, upgrading the landscape and infrastructure, promoting cultural events and promoting tourism.

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