Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou by A()VOID cites the aboriginal architecture of Chinese caves

An elevated timber bridge connects the scattered, double brick-clad vertical pods topped with skylights to form Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou, a hostel complex in China’s Hebei province.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Sep 25, 2021

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.

Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou by A( )VOID | Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou by A( )VOID | STIRworld
Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou by A( )VOID Image: Guo Zhe, Courtesy of Breeze Image

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.

  • An elevated timber walkway connects all of the brick clad “grottos”| Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou by A( )VOID | STIRworld
    An elevated timber walkway connects all of the brick clad “grottos” Image: Guo Zhe, Courtesy of Breeze Image
  • Each cave-like pod is topped by skylights | Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou by A( )VOID | STIRworld
    Each cave-like pod is topped by skylights Image: Guo Zhe, Courtesy of Breeze Image

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 raised walkway connects all scattered volumes of the Grotto Retreat | Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou by A( )VOID | STIRworld
    The raised walkway connects all scattered volumes of the Grotto Retreat Image: Guo Zhe, Courtesy of Breeze Image
  • On the bridge | Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou by A( )VOID | STIRworld
    On the bridge Image: Guo Zhe, Courtesy of Breeze Image

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.  

Double layered brick walls ensure that heat is preserved in winters | Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou by A( )VOID | STIRworld
Double layered brick walls ensure that heat is preserved in winters Image: Guo Zhe, Courtesy of Breeze Image

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.

  • The skylights ensure that the line of vision is drawn upwards; one of the rooms inside the retreat | Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou by A( )VOID | STIRworld
    The skylights ensure that the line of vision is drawn upwards; one of the rooms inside the retreat Image: Guo Zhe, Courtesy of Breeze Image
  • The lobby of one of the seven metre high volumes | Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou by A( )VOID | STIRworld
    The lobby of one of the seven metre high volumes Image: Guo Zhe, Courtesy of Breeze Image

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 spaces generated between the pods and raised bridge can be used as a workshop, market, or an exhibition space | Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou by A( )VOID | STIRworld
The spaces generated between the pods and raised bridge can be used as a workshop, market, or an exhibition space Image: Guo Zhe, Courtesy of Breeze Image

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.

The elevated timber walkway | Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou by A( )VOID | STIRworld
The elevated timber walkway Image: Guo Zhe, Courtesy of Breeze Image

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.

  • Conceptual sketch | Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou by A( )VOID | STIRworld
    Conceptual sketch Image: Guo Zhe, Courtesy of Breeze Image
  • (Top to bottom) Ground floor plan, first floor plan and sections | Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou by A( )VOID | STIRworld
    (Top to bottom) Ground floor plan, first floor plan and sections Image: Guo Zhe, Courtesy of Breeze Image

Project Details

Name: Grotto Retreat Xiyaotou
Location: Zhangjiakou, Hebei, China
Area: 820 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Architect: A( )VOID
Lead Architect: Yun Hon

Design Team: Marcus Ma, Stephen Wong, Willson Iu

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