A former school in rural China gains a second life as the Peitree Resort Yaoliang

An adaptive reuse venture by DDB Architects Shanghai and BEING STUDIO in Zhejiang Province’s Yaoliang Village has repurposed an old primary school as a picturesque resort.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Sep 28, 2022

Most buildings serve a single purpose throughout their lifetime, before either falling into ruin or being razed to make way for a replacement. Others may take on a different yet related avatar over the course of several decades or even centuries, without ever fully yielding to the ravages of time and the elements, as is the case with heritage structures or monuments. However, in the present scenario, there is now an emerging cohort of projects that have been reincarnated in a manner that diverges significantly from their past function, through adaptive reuse interventions, continuing to endure beyond the scope of their first lifetime. One such example is the result of a collaboration between DDB Architects Shanghai and BEING STUDIO, who have revitalised a former primary school in the village of Yaoliang, within China's Zhejiang Province. Emerging as a collection of elongated built forms strewn across an inclined landscape with courtyards between them, the project is situated at the entrance to the village and creates a picturesque scene against its mountainous backdrop.

The project, which has transformed a former primary school into a resort, is situated in an expanse of rice fields, against a mountainous backdrop | Peitree Resort Yaoliang | DDB Architects Shanghai + BEING STUDIO | STIRworld
The project, which has transformed a former primary school into a resort, is situated in an expanse of rice fields, against a mountainous backdrop Image: © Xiaobin Lv

Rejuvenating the remains of the school was a choice that came to light once the Chinese architects made note of the existing structure’s prominence within its context. Said to have been assembled brick by brick through the labour of the villagers themselves, the building was associated with the collective memory of the generation that built it, shaping the settlement’s sense of place. This held true even in spite of the school’s earlier relocation from the site, leaving only the empty structure behind to stand as a fragment of the village’s history, frozen in time.

  • Shifting seasons are reflected in the resort's context, casting it in a whole new light | Peitree Resort Yaoliang | DDB Architects Shanghai + BEING STUDIO | STIRworld
    Shifting seasons are reflected in the resort's context, casting it in a whole new light Image: © Being Studio
  • | Peitree Resort Yaoliang | DDB Architects Shanghai + BEING STUDIO | STIRworld
    Against its mountainous backdrop, the complex radiates a restrained charm at night Image: © Xiaobin Lv

Under the original layout, the school lay next to a cultural auditorium to its west, with a bamboo forest on its opposing side, and a hundred-year-old maple tree in the vicinity. As per the Shanghai-based architects, these scenes formed the crux of their vision for this venture in hospitality architecture, anchoring the renovation of the old buildings and the addition of new ones on the plot. They also paid heed to the abundant vistas of the valley on offer from the building’s south corridor, where layered ridges and patches of native trees dot the landscape, broken by the course of a stream flowing towards the east along the slope. Further towards the horizon, the blurred outlines of distant villages come into the frame, arranged in clusters along the sides of the hills.

Video of the Peitree Yaoliang Resort Video: © BEING STUDIO

In this vein, quite a bit of the old two-storey structure’s essential features have been conserved, including the gently pitched roofs, typical of the region's vernacular architecture, as well as the building’s scale. The two Chinese architecture firms elected to demolish the envelopes of a few of the former school blocks while retaining aspects of the earlier façade design and textures during the reconstruction process. Bordered by the Chunxi spring to its eastern side and the bamboo forest to its west, the Peitree Resort Yaoliang extends the school’s structure along the same axis. With a restrained vocabulary centred on geometric design, the resort's exterior employs combinations of wood, brick, and stone finishes, as part of a primarily natural palette. Staggered massing, crowned by dark shingled roofs with relatively small overhangs, mediates the complex’s perceived imposition upon the landscape, with a sense of lightness incorporated by lines of floor-to-ceiling windows on both storeys.

  • Diagram of renovation strategy | Peitree Resort Yaoliang | DDB Architects Shanghai + BEING STUDIO | STIRworld
    Diagram of renovation strategy Image: Courtesy of DDB Architects Shanghai and BEING STUDIO
  • The auditorium and school prior to the renovation | Peitree Resort Yaoliang | DDB Architects Shanghai + BEING STUDIO | STIRworld
    The auditorium and school prior to the renovation Image: Courtesy of DDB Architects Shanghai and BEING STUDIO

A difference in elevation ranging from four to five metres is present on the east, and the design team’s resolution to maintain the school’s sense of scale allowed it to embrace the slope of the land organically. This also serves to enhance its position within the area’s rice fields, where dense rows of grain define the idyllic, pastoral scenery. On the inside, the level difference is addressed through terraced courtyards, especially the central court beyond the entrance which breaks the sequence of the massing and adds more variety into the flow of space. Subsequently, the arrangement of program areas along this incline in relation to the courtyard has been structured to allow for seamless movement between sections of the plan.

  • The intervention makes use of staggered, independent courtyards and sloped roofs, echoing aspects of the region's traditional architecture | Peitree Resort Yaoliang | DDB Architects Shanghai + BEING STUDIO | STIRworld
    The intervention makes use of staggered, independent courtyards and sloped roofs, echoing aspects of the region's traditional architecture Image: © Xiaobin Lv
  • View of the lobby | Peitree Resort Yaoliang | DDB Architects Shanghai + BEING STUDIO | STIRworld
    View of the lobby Image: © Gengliang Yang
  • The pine garden, situated to the north of the lobby | Peitree Resort Yaoliang | DDB Architects Shanghai + BEING STUDIO | STIRworld
    The pine garden, situated to the north of the lobby Image: © Xiaobin Lv

For instance, the lobby and restaurant rest on the raised portion of the site towards the west, as the resort’s public spaces occupy the southern end of the first floor. Alternatively, the guest rooms have been laid out on the second floor towards the north, allowing the courtyard to act as both a bridge and separator between them. Lying to one side of the lobby, the south water courtyard, one of the highlights of the resort's design, has been oriented such that its central axis corresponds to that of the cultural auditorium. Its extent terminates in a stone gable wall, mirroring that of the auditorium’s façade. Collectively, their profiles frame the view of the mountains beyond. Inside the courtyard itself, colonnades run along the expanse of water, injecting a rhythm to the pool's design that culminates in a line of sculptural stones at the end of the south water courtyard.

  • The south water courtyard is one of the resort's highlights, lined by rows of cylindrical columns | Peitree Resort Yaoliang | DDB Architects Shanghai + BEING STUDIO | STIRworld
    The south water courtyard is one of the resort's highlights, lined by rows of cylindrical columns Image: © Li Zhou
  • View of the lobby bar from the courtyard | Peitree Resort Yaoliang | DDB Architects Shanghai + BEING STUDIO | STIRworld
    View of the lobby bar from the courtyard Image: © Xiaobin Lv
  • A wooden palette pervades most of the interior scheme, as seen here in the restaurant | Peitree Resort Yaoliang | DDB Architects Shanghai + BEING STUDIO | STIRworld
    A wooden palette pervades most of the interior scheme, as seen here in the restaurant Image: © Gengliang Yang

The use of courtyards in this manner is an attempt to echo the natural ebb and flow of the terrain, which as per the architects, facilitates a dialogue between the built and unbuilt, placing the landscaping as one of the hospitality design’s most vital elements. To the north side of the lobby is the pine garden, with a clear line of sight through the bar to the panoramic view of the complex's surroundings on the other side of the layout.

  • Guest rooms also feature a predominantly wood-based aesthetic | Peitree Resort Yaoliang | DDB Architects Shanghai + BEING STUDIO | STIRworld
    Guest rooms also feature a predominantly wood-based aesthetic Image: © Gengliang Yang
  • The wine cellar at the resort | Peitree Resort Yaoliang | DDB Architects Shanghai + BEING STUDIO | STIRworld
    The wine cellar at the resort Image: © Gengliang Yang

Below it, the resort’s swimming pool makes full use of the natural variation in elevation between it and the pine garden. This deft play of levels is also seen in the adjacent reception and recreational areas, which open into neighbouring patches of farmland at different heights. Furthermore, the recreational area also extends westwards, into a book bar that is boxed in by courtyards on three sides. Lanes between the independent courtyards of the five single storey blocks permits movement between them, fostering connections on multiple dimensions. These links also exist between the south water courtyard, pine garden, the central courtyard, and the moon gate.

Diagram highlighting how the design conforms to the terrain | Peitree Resort Yaoliang | DDB Architects Shanghai + BEING STUDIO | STIRworld
Diagram highlighting how the design conforms to the terrain Image: Courtesy of DDB Architects Shanghai and BEING STUDIO

Wood is the dominant material throughout the interior design of the resort, from wall and floor finishes, to the doors, sliding screens, and ornate partitions throughout the plan. Although the underlying aesthetic influences that have given rise to the resort's architecture possess fairly traditional roots, their implementation within the resort’s design has yielded decidedly contemporary results that still radiate a strong contextual relevance. Demonstrating the immense capability of adaptive reuse to give forgotten structures a second lease of life, the design of the Peitree Resort Yaoliang distils nature, built form, and culture into a boutique hospitality experience, which retains the spirit of its predecessor, transforming it into something that could be an entirely new landmark in Yaoliang Village.

  • First Floor Plan | Peitree Resort Yaoliang | DDB Architects Shanghai + BEING STUDIO | STIRworld
    First Floor Plan Image: Courtesy of DDB Architects Shanghai and BEING STUDIO
  • Section | Peitree Resort Yaoliang | DDB Architects Shanghai + BEING STUDIO | STIRworld
    Section Image: Courtesy of DDB Architects Shanghai and BEING STUDIO

Project Details

Name: Peitree Resort Yaoliang
Location: Huzhou, Zhejiang, China
Area: 7679.9 sqm
Client: Chongqing Gaoke Group Co., Ltd.
Architect: DDB Architects Shanghai + BEING STUDIO
Leader Designer: Hujun Cai
Team: Junya Liu, Lianwen Ma, Wenhao Zhuang
Construction Design: Shanghai Construction Design Co.,Ltd.
Interior Design: Xiamen Himalaya Design & Decoration Co., Ltd.

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