12 Projects Perched at the Cutting Edge of Chinese Architecture
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12 Projects Perched at the Cutting Edge of Chinese Architecture

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By Michele Koh Morollo
Celebrate the Lunar New Year with these forward-thinking designs by Chinese firms.

Chinese New Year, which falls on February 5 this year, marks the year of the pig. The twelfth animal in the Chinese zodiac, the pig symbolizes wealth, success, creativity, hard work, and growth—all in all, an auspicious set of attributes that echoes the groundbreaking work demonstrated by Chinese architecture and design at the moment. To welcome the Lunar New Year, we’ve gathered 12 incredible projects by Chinese firms that are raising the bar for adaptive reuse and new builds alike.


1. Baitasi House of the Future by Dot Architects

Located in Beijing’s Baitasi hutong—a historic neighborhood known for its narrow alleys and traditional courtyard houses—this house designed by Beijing–based Dot Architects has movable furniture and storage modules at almost every turn, enabling four different layouts. 

Commissioned by a tech company, Dot Architects rehabbed a historic residence, outfitting it with moveable modules controlled by a smart TV and a new extension downloaded from the WikiHouse open-source system.

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2. Shanghai Apartment With Rotating Boxes by TOWOdesign

Shanghai studio TOWOdesign remodeled this small, 517-square-foot apartment in the heart of Shanghai with playful pops of color and rotating boxes to maximize space. 

The bed is flanked by two staircases, one of which is hidden behind a white curtain. Hidden storage is integrated into the stair design.


3. Alila Yangshou by Vector Architects

Teaming up with Shenzhen– and Beijing–based interior design firm Horizontal Space Design, Beijing practice Vector Architects renovated a 1960s sugar mill near the Karst mountains of Guilin in China’s Guangxi province, turning it into the modern, 177-room Alila Yangshou hotel.

An old sugarcane dock was turned into a swimming pool, which offers views of the Karst mountains and Li River from a distance.


4. His and Hers House by Wutopia Lab

As part of the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture, Shanghai–based architecture practice Wutopia Lab renovated two buildings in Dameisha Village, an urban slum with traditional Chinese characteristics, and turned them into a light blue and pink house that explores themes of traditional masculinity, femininity, and assigned gender roles.

The original character and detailing of the homes remain intact. Graceful, ornament detailing of Her House contrasts to the geometric form of His House.


5. Modernized Shaanxi Cave Dwelling by hyperSity

Beijing–based architecture firm hyperSity transformed this old cave dwelling in the east-central area of the Shaanxi region into a chic and modern, rammed-earth residence for a local Internet star.

The main cave was preserved and divided into two separated functions: the inner space as a bedroom, and the outer space as living room.


6. Mountain House in Mist by Shulin Architectural Design

Located in Liangjiashan, an ancient village in Wuyi County in the Chinese province of Zhejiang, and embraced by dense, mountainous forests, Mountain House in Mist is a public library that occupies a triangular site near the main village square next to conserved, rammed-earth Chinese courtyard houses.

An oasis of calm and learning for the residents of the village, the library has a main structure of steel and wood, and was built with pine, terrazzo, and clear "sun panels" that allow light to pass through. 


7. Dream and Maze Suites by Studio 10

Inspired by the surreal labyrinths of Dutch artist M.C. Escher, whose landscapes feature upside-down staircases and other cases of impossible architecture, two new guest rooms have opened in The Other Place, a 10-room boutique hotel in Pingle County, Guilin—a southeastern part of China famous for its majestic, otherworldly karst mountains formed from eroded stone.

With Maze and Dream, the architect had to find a balance between the practical needs of a hotel suite and awe-inspiring, spatial effects. 


8. Tongling Recluse by RSAA

By creating new bays—the space between the roof supports, which are the main building blocks of traditional Chinese architecture—Chinese architect Ziyu Zhuang of RSAA rehabilitated a ramshackle, village house and transformed it into a jaw-dropping home that combines tradition and modernity.

The idea for a new 1,722-square-foot house was born when the home's owner spoke to Ziyu Zhuang of RSAA: "Look at the tallest tree that survived in our village. It’s beautiful. It should be seen in this house after it's been rebuilt." And so the design of the home, named Tongling Recluse, evolved around preserving the tree and elements from the old ruins.


9. Restored Stone Villas by Evolution Design Architects

In less than 40 days, Beijing–based studio Evolution Design Architects restored two dilapidated stone villas on Zhejiang’s Dahuanglong Island into a stylish bed-and-breakfast. 

Commissioned as part of the popular Chinese reality television show Beautiful House, Beijing–based studio Evolution Design Architects was given a budget of 600,000 RMB (approximately $87,965 USD) for construction and interior design, as well as just two months to complete the transformation.


10. Renovated 1940s Shanghai Residence by RIGI Design

A 1947 residence in an old lane in Shanghai gets a quirky, modern makeover by local studio RIGI Design with a new, skylit staircase in the center of the house that draws in plenty of light.

A sunlit, open-plan living room, dining room, and kitchen are located on the first level.


11. The Sea Captain's House by Vector Architects

Vector Architects updated and added a third level to this captain’s home in the densely built Huangqi Peninsula in Southeast China's Fujian Province, and waterproofed it by adding a thick layer of concrete reinforcements to the building’s existing brick masonry.

To further reduce the possibility of water seepage, a vaulted structure was used for the third floor extension, so rainwater flows down from the roof and drains away.


12. Repaired and Modernized Qing Dynasty-Era Teahouse by ARCHSTUDIO

The architecture firm ARCHSTUDIO was charged with renovating an 100+ year-old structure within one Beijing hutong neighborhood. The building, previously a site for business meetings, had fallen into disuse. The architects had to affect repairs while revamping the space into a modern tea house.

The architect's selected starkly different dark and light hues to echo their contrast of new and old.