Slow Courtyard in the Hills by nsaaa embodies the culture and craft of its context

The architecture of Slow Courtyard in the Hills in Yaoziyu, China provides a unique example of referencing history and memory through the typological exploration of courtyard design.

by STIRworldPublished on : Jan 21, 2023

Located in Huairou District, in what used to be a former defence site, China-based architectural practice nsaaa has designed a contemporary courtyard-style residential building—Slow Courtyard in the Hills. Located near China’s Yaoziyu Fortress, which was built more than four centuries ago at the foot of the Great Wall, near Beijing, Yaoziyu served as a military camp during the construction of the wall and dates back to the Ming Dynasty in the late 14th century. In the context of the historically significant Yaoziyu palace, the residential architecture of Slow Courtyard in the Hills, also referred to as Bridge Yard, is a physical embodiment of the districts rich culturally past.

  • Slow Courtyard in the Hills by nsaaa is an amalgamation of patterns showcasing the culture and history of Yaoziyu | Slow Courtyard in the Hills| nsaaa | STIRworld
    Slow Courtyard in the Hills by nsaaa is an amalgamation of patterns showcasing the culture and history of Yaoziyu Image: ©Van
  • The form adorns a strong, symmetric, and angular geometry blending in with the site | Slow Courtyard in the Hills| nsaaa | STIRworld
    The form adorns a strong, symmetric, and angular geometry blending in with the site Image: ©Van

To realise the intangible history of the fortress in architecture, the design takes inspiration from China’s traditional courtyard houses called ‘Siheyuan’—dating back over 2000 years. Siheyuan specifically refers to a courtyard that is surrounded by buildings on all four sides. Throughout history, courtyard architecture has influenced residences, palaces, temples, monasteries, family businesses, and even government offices of China. Siheyuan, are an interesting aspect of Chinese architecture, and act as a physical timestamp that connects the living habits of the past with our contemporary world.

With Slow Courtyard in the Hills, nsaaa aims to reinterpret the courtyard house culture of ancient China. The Chinese architects’ approach extends towards reviving craftsmanship and the values of the handmade in a context that is now widely dependent on industrialisation and machine-derived construction. “Humanity’s reliance on industrialisation has reached an unprecedented level, from its beginnings as a convenience to the people to the point of total dependence. This is consciously and unconsciously changing the way people see and think of the world. We are always vigilant and suspicious of this. Therefore, in this design, we wish to bring people back intentionality. By creating a sense of craftsmanship through the very fundamental construction methods, we wish people come here to touch, to feel, and to think with their hearts. To really feel a building and thus nature," shares nsaaa, in an official release.

  • The structure contradicts the architecture style of the context but aims to blend with the natural environment  | Slow Courtyard in the Hills | nsaaa| STIRworld
    The structure contradicts the architectural style of the context but aims to blend with the natural environment Image: ©Van
  • The architecture by nsaaa creates a sense of craftsmanship through the fundamental construction methods | Slow Courtyard in the Hills | nsaaa| STIRworld
    The architecture by nsaaa creates a sense of craftsmanship through the fundamental construction methods Image: ©Van
  • As the main material for interior and exterior finishes, brushed stone emerges from the architectural remains of the Yaoziyu Fortress | Slow Courtyard in the Hills |nsaaa| STIRworld
    As the main material for interior and exterior finishes, brushed stone emerges from the architectural remains of the Yaoziyu Fortress Image: ©Van

Yaoziyu Fortress has housed many people for the last 4000 years and borrowing from these historic stories and cultural experiences, the architects employed a material palette that reflects this aspect of the structures' past in the final project. The brushed stone used for the main interior and exterior finishes emerges from the remains of the fortress. The structure has an interesting take on material usage and spatial programming. The brushed stone finish, an integral material used throughout the project, showcases Huairou’s rich culture, which now seems lost in time.

  • The Yaoziyu Fortness region, located in the Yaoziyu Ditch in the north-west of the Jiuduhe Town, Huairou District, Beijing, is still home to 13 families in what was once a military defence site |China | nsaaa | Slow Courtyard in the Hills| STIRworld
    The Yaoziyu Fortness region, located in the Yaoziyu Ditch in the north-west of the Jiuduhe Town, Huairou District, Beijing, is still home to 13 families in what was once a military defence site Image: ©Van
  • The material which has survived time was the perfect choice for reconstructing the history and memory of the site| Slow Courtyard in the Hills | nsaaa| STIRworld
    The material which has survived time was the perfect choice for reconstructing the history and memory of the site Image: ©Van
  • “The handcrafted feel of the building is an undeniable testimony to the creation of a tangible entity,” shares nsaaa | Slow Courtyard in the Hills| nsaaa| STIRworld
    “The handcrafted feel of the building is an undeniable testimony to the creation of a tangible entity,” shares nsaaa Image: ©Van

The spatial layout of Slow Courtyard in the Hills comprises a living area, a roof terrace, a loft house with a separate courtyard, an atrium, a kitchen, and three bedrooms. The approach was to build a form that blends with the site and grows inwards with limitations to its boundaries. Aligning to its alternate name, Bridge Yard, aims to bridge the old to new, ancient to modern, traditional to contemporary and nature to architecture. The presence of the courtyard and the bridge-like connections encourages the design to be in constant dialogue with the landscape and natural surroundings.

While the colour palette consists of an earthy tone to compliment its surroundings, the modern aesthetics of the residence with flat roofs, multi-storeys, and a geometric form, contradicts the outer form of the neighbouring houses. The buildings surrounding the fortress exhibit a more traditional architecture with tiled sloping roofs, brick architecture, and organically shaped stone structures. Though the structure aims to reflect the cultural past, it also makes a strong modern-day statement with the carefully planned solid-void relation visible throughout the form. Adopting these principles into the joinery as well, the structure uses a system of square steel keel with bamboo and timber panels, crafted by the workers on site for its doors and windows.

  • To translate the intangible history to tangible architecture, the design takes inspiration from China’s traditional courtyard homes called ‘Siheyuan’ which date back to over 2000 years | Slow Courtyard in the Hills| nsaaa| STIRworld
    To translate the intangible history to tangible architecture, the design takes inspiration from China’s traditional courtyard homes called ‘Siheyuan’ which date back to over 2000 years Image: ©Van
  • The inner spaces are curated in the exploration of natural light and ventilation through solid-void relation | Slow Courtyard in the Hills| nsaaa| STIRworld
    The inner spaces are curated in the exploration of natural light and ventilation through solid-void relation Image: ©Van
  • At Slow Courtyard in the Hills, nsaaa aims to bring back the courtyard house culture of ancient China through contemporary means of architecture | Slow Courtyard in the Hills| nsaaa| STIRworld
    At Slow Courtyard in the Hills, nsaaa aims to bring back the courtyard house culture of ancient China through contemporary means of architecture Image: ©Van

By combining functionality with aesthetics and also maintaining the sanctity of the conventional material, the facade design displays experimentation of patterns, textures, and materiality. “The purity of the building façade in terms of solidity and transparency is expressed, thus making the specific construction effective and pointing to a combination of function and aesthetics. The handcrafted feel of the building is an undeniable testimony to the creation of a tangible entity,” shares nsaaa. While bringing together the many factors of past and present, the project looks like a monochromatic physical entity that stands in a historical place, as a tangible connection to its cultural roots.

(Text by Aaryaa Joshi, intern at STIRworld)

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