Before & After: Curving Glass Walls Give This Traditional Beijing Home an Otherworldly Appeal
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Before & After: Curving Glass Walls Give This Traditional Beijing Home an Otherworldly Appeal

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By Melissa Dalton
A derelict courtyard residence gets revitalized with a sinuous, glass-walled pathway.

When Beijing-based firm ARCHSTUDIO first encountered this traditional residence in an old neighborhood, it "presented a bleak view," says the firm. The home, a siheyuan, is of a typology that typically comprises four buildings surrounding a courtyard. This particular property had seven pitched-roof buildings and three courtyards, but the former were dilapidated, the latter overgrown and filled with construction debris.

The restored facade of the Quishe Courtyard by ARCHSTUDIO references the melding of traditional and modern architecture within. "Qi" means "seven" in Mandarin, and "she" means "house," giving the project its name; its address in the hutong is seven, and it originally boasted seven pitched-roof buildings.

ARCHSTUDIO’s goals for the project were simple: "to renovate the old and insert the new." To that end, the project team first rehabilitated the old structures on the site, repairing surfaces and reinforcing key architectural elements, all with the aim of "reproducing the appearance of a traditional siheyuan," says the firm.

Before: Entry and Front Courtyard

Before: The original gate was shrouded in overgrowth and trash.

After: Entry and Front Courtyard

The entry gate now functions as the front door to the residence. The front courtyard doubles as the garage. On the left, the gray roof of the veranda flows downward to obscure the functional spaces behind it, including wash rooms and a service room.

"The design team restored and preserved many valuable historical elements such as the gateway and carvings of the arched door opening," says the firm. Through the arched door is a reception room and an equipment room.

With the most important architectural elements identified and rehabilitated, the team inserted new facilities, including a kitchen, bathrooms, and HVAC, and then tied everything together with a curvilinear, glass-enclosed veranda. "The veranda functions as a circulation route, reshapes the spatial pattern and layers, and provides a playful walking experience as well as fantastic views," says the firm. 

The tile roofs of the traditional buildings were rebuilt, and the veranda was capped with a roof plane that sweeps beneath the eaves of the older structures, fluidly melding old and new. 

Before: Middle Courtyard Roofs

Before: The decrepit roofs had broken slabs and tiles replaced, and received new insulation and a waterproof layer.

After: Middle Courtyard Roofs

An aerial view of the restored roofs with the curving plane of the veranda cover tucked beneath. The designers used polymer mortar for the finish of the veranda roof, "which is smooth and forms contrast with the adjacent textured tile rooftops," notes the firm.

The curved cornice at the veranda roof was built on site.

Before: Middle Courtyard

Before: The basic form of the seven traditional buildings was retained.

After: Middle Courtyard

Now the courtyards are wrapped in a modern glass veranda. The room at the end of the courtyard is the dining room. A folding door enables it to be opened completely to the courtyard. This section of the home is considered the social wing of the home, with a tea room, dining room, living room, and kitchen wrapping its perimeter.

Verandas are a "basic element of traditional Chinese architecture," says the firm. This modern iteration of the veranda was shaped to frame deliberate views and denote the function of the rooms within it. "It's closely combined with the curved edges of the pitched roofs, hence forming several arc-shaped transparent spaces, which integrate the houses, landscape, and the sky into the same picture," says the firm.

This shows the connection between the main entry and garage on the right, and the new protected passageway formed by the veranda. 

The "transparent veranda" allows natural light to penetrate the building’s interior and connects the living areas to the exterior courtyards. 

Material choices deftly blend old and new. For instance, the original pine framework of the traditional buildings was retained and repaired where needed. The new veranda, doors, windows, and some furniture were then fabricated from laminated bamboo panels—"a new material that looks like wood and feels like steel," says the firm—and echoes the original pine wood. 

The team also reused building materials found at the site, from the gray bricks used to patch the old walls, to wood beams that were milled into new pieces of furniture. 

Curvilinear wood slats form the interior ceiling of the inserted veranda. A tile wall mimics the original restored brick.

"The newly built veranda adopts a frame structure, with ribbed beams and panels on the ceiling, in order to maximize transparency and lightness as well as to better blend into the old construction," says the firm.

A dining room bisects the property and sits between the middle and rear courtyards. It has an adjacent kitchen tucked off to the side.

The designers integrated small, open-roofed bamboo courtyards throughout the project.

Slatted screens can be opened to increase flow between the kitchen and dining room.

The view from the dining room back to the garage, with everything lit up at night.

The color palette was reversed in the bathroom—glass brick lines the wall in a nod to the other materials in the project.

Before: Back Courtyard

Before: The mature trees in the back courtyard were also retained.

After: Back Courtyard

This archway was restored to mark the entrance to the back courtyard.

The walls of the veranda become much more markedly curved in the back courtyard. Two bedroom suites are made more private by the slatted screening.

The back courtyard contains two bedroom suites, a tea room, and a study. "The veranda in this area has an undulating plane, which interacts with the three old trees that already existed in the courtyard and at the same time forms several small, arc-shaped leisure spaces," says the firm.

The same gray bricks were used inside and out for visual consistency.

The bedrooms can also open to the back courtyard. Wood floors are a warmer material in the bedroom and sync with the restored wood on the ceiling.

Slatted doors allow natural light through while still affording privacy in the second bedroom.

Qishe Courtyard original plan

Qishe Courtyard new plan

Related Reading: 

10 Ingenious Home Renovations in China That Defy Expectation

A Historic Beijing Structure Gets a Modern Makeover

Project Credits:

Architecture: ARCHSTUDIO

Structural Engineer: Zhang Yong, BAMBOO ERA

Landscape Design: Zhang Xiaoguang

Lighting Design: Dong Tianhua

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