Outlooker Design converts an ancient Hui-style home into a restaurant and café
by Jerry ElengicalDec 03, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Sep 06, 2022
Homes designed as per the traditional architectural conventions of China's Sichuan Province often adhere to a courtyard-centric layout, making use of pierced wood in some cases. Long eaves, sloped roofs, and the use of locally available materials such as mud, bamboo, and red sandstone for wall assemblies on masonry foundations are also commonly featured in regional building traditions, shaping the enclosure of the courtyard that fulfills the inhabitants' need for air, natural light, and at times, proximity to water. In the shadow of Nianpan Mountain, on the fringes of the prefecture-level city of Yibin, Anshi Village, a small settlement within a forested area of western Sichuan is home to a tea house and restaurant completed by Chinese architecture firm Mix Architecture that makes use of these precedents, albeit with a tinge of a contemporary feel.
Speaking to STIR, the architects reveal: "The owner is the local government and the purpose of building this house was to achieve rural revitalisation." They continue, "The project base is located in Sichuan and in order to better integrate the building into its rural environment, we felt that it was a good idea to draw inspiration from traditional houses at the beginning of the design process." Placed between a bamboo forest and a pond, the structure possesses an odd cruciform-style plan formed by the intersection of four linear blocks, with a circular courtyard at its centre. The hospitality design has also been fitted with large eaves, much like a traditional dwelling, to provide shade and shelter from the elements while also facilitating ventilation throughout the structure.
Mix Architecture explains: “The layout of Sichuan traditional dwellings is relatively simple and is composed of strip buildings and open spaces in front. According to the shape of the base and the landscape orientation, we arranged four strip-shaped buildings in the form of windmills to form a central courtyard, and connected it with flowing arcs to form a building layout that exhibits both traditional characteristics and a sense of strangeness." From the outside, the building’s façade design is quite austere of its own accord. Expanding outwards like a rotating windmill - in the Chinese architects' own words - the structure exhibits deep connections to its rural context, both in terms of its materiality as well as its orientation and layout.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the building's design is a lattice screen of collected firewood that has been suspended along the curved expanse surrounding the courtyard, which references an element that is closely tied to agricultural practices in the region. As the design team notes, "The inspiration of the suspended firewood screen comes from the firewood accumulated in front of local residential buildings. Before construction, we had envisaged its progressive stages to realise the suspended firewood screen in a high fault-tolerant and controllable manner." The result is understated yet innately impressive in its subtle handling of spatial partitioning, seemingly hovering in place while simultaneously producing a dynamic play of shadows throughout the areas it encloses. As a result, the predominantly wood and stone palette of the interior design is enhanced by the introduction of dispersed light.
Behind it, the main massing of the building is composed of machine-cut red sandstone blocks that display a texture reminiscent of fish scales when employed in masonry construction, reflecting the rhythm of the firewood screen. Red sandstone is itself a material that is prominently used in construction and sculpture within the province. "Local firewood and red sandstone form innovative architectural elements that we hope can reflect the regional characteristics of the building," relay the architects. Furthermore, the blue tiles used to clad the building's sloped roof have also been implemented on a scale that relates to the proportions of the sandstone blocks and firewood. The architects mention: "The three materials are different, like fish scales and flying feathers, familiar and unfamiliar. They come from the countryside, they are used in the countryside, and they are integrated into the countryside."
Around the courtyard at the heart of the layout, the program has been segregated into 'service' and 'serviced' spaces. Commencing with the reception, placed at the end of one of the windmill’s arms, the plan leads into a series of private rooms of various sizes screened by lobbies, in addition to recreation spaces, book bars, and store rooms. A tea room and study occupy alternate ends of the courtyard - which features a circular pool of water. The ambience within this zone is soothing, enhanced by its relation to the surrounding natural environment, as reflections of the sky and the structure itself play across the calm surface of the water. What arises is a space that invites users to wander in contemplation, sheltered from the chaos of the world they inhabit within this tranquil sanctuary.
"During the implementation of this project, the biggest obstacle was the contradiction between the local construction capacity and our extremely detailed design. However, due to the presence of an excellent local principal with considerable construction experience, all problems were well handled and we were able to adapt measures to local conditions quite effectively," shares the design team.
Bringing simplicity, refinement, and local ingenuity to a restaurant design scenario, Shanshui Firewood Garden highlights a stellar example of contextually-sensitive Chinese architecture that is in tune with the landscape and cultural context it arises from. The designers conclude: "Here, locality, spatiality, and temporality are bridged through the unique use of materials and spread out in architectural space."
Name: Shanshui Firewood Garden
Location: Anshi Village, Lizhuang Town, Cuiping District, Yibin, Sichuan
Area: 1100 sqm
Year of Completion: 2021
Client: Yibin Cuiping District Agricultural Development Investment Construction Co., Ltd
Architect: Mix Architecture
Design Team: Suning Zhou, Ke Yang, Qian Shi, Ziye Wu, Tao Tang, Libin Lin
Construction Design: ZHI CHENG ARCH-TECH
Structural Consultant: Shanghai Yuangui Architectural Structure Design Office
MEP Design: Ruiwen Engineering Design (Shanghai)
Construction Consultation: Qinhao Wen
Lighting Consultation: Lumia Lab
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