by Sunena V MajuSep 26, 2022
A floating timber bridge connects nine cave-like pods topped with sunroofs to form the Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou by studio A( )VOID, a hostel complex in China’s rural province of Hebei. The network of traditional cave dwellings residing in the Xiyaotou village served as an inspiration for the interconnected vertical “grottos” clad in ash grey bricks, exhibiting a rather humble, raw and monastic sensibility.
Most of the aboriginal households of this Chinese village have migrated to new rural residential areas, leaving behind “hollow villages". To resuscitate the cultural heritage of such hamlets, Fortune Art (FA) Homestay selected Xiyaotou Village, out of 100 villages in Yu County in China, to be transformed into communal farms which will provide locals with income through accommodation, local food services and other activities.
The timber bridge that snakes between the scattered pods is supported by a hidden four-by-six-meter grid derived from the length-to-width ratio of the original cave dwellings on the site. "By flowing the bridge of connectivity in between the private grottos, the design attempts to realise a community in which the public and private coexist,” shares Yun Hon, lead architect of A( )VOID. “It serves as the keynote for the layout of the corridor structure and supports the new building complex in a spiritual sense,” adds Hon. The organic scattering of the brick architecture makes future expansion and flexibility possible.
The surrounding landscape and aboriginal architecture of Yu County can be witnessed while wandering under or on the bridge, framed by the hyperbolic facade, pinewood columns and Corten-steel fenestration of the complex. Each hyperbolic unit has walls that swerve and curve subtly to embrace a characteristic, unusual shape, while local materials and construction methods employed ensure that the complex merges with the site.
Reaching a height of seven meters, the pods are crowned with skylights to encourage residents to focus on the form’s verticality, drawing the eye upwards towards the elements. The generous sunroofs contextualise residents to the rhythm of “working from dawn to dusk” in the rural setting, attuned to the sun’s trajectory. This also warms up the insides of the volumes that receive 10 degree Celsius temperature on an average, and the double-layered brick walls guarantee that this heat is preserved for a longer time period. In contrast, heat is dissipated because of the chimney effect during the summer season, owing to the units’ geometry and fenestrations.
Certain points on Grotto Retreat’s façade host protruding bricks, marking where the scaffolding found its temporary support for bricklayers to complete the double-layered brick wall during construction. “Their visibility on the facade depends on the intensity of the sun and the density of overhead clouds. The shadow of the protrusions and the wooden bridge cast on the hyperboloid morphs with the sun’s trajectory emerge as ephemeral time-spaces,” explains A()VOID.
The voids generated between the vertical “grottos” and the connecting walkway of the rural architecture can be utilised as a workshop, market, or an exhibition space for art installations, according to the architects. The interior design gleams in contrast to the dark exterior with a fairer, humbler setting with seemingly disparate elements sitting in quiet harmony, as glowing lightwells.
Because local villagers are involved in the maintenance and management of the hospitality architecture, “cultural interceptions are initiated regularly between the locals and tourists as well as help feed the curiosity of respective parties, to function as a micro-incubator for rural-urban interchanges. In the long run, the plasticity and modifiability of the hostel complex are powered by the operational considerations and continuous production and reproduction of cultural content,” concludes the studio that celebrates the emptiness and possibilities of a void.
Name: Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou
Location: Zhangjiakou, Hebei, China
Area: 820 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Architect: A( )VOID
Lead Architect: Yun Hon