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Studio Anna Heringer uses local means to build global architecture in China

An exemplar for local-meets-global, Studio Anna Heringer designs three hostels in China creating climate effective, locally sustainable and natural buildings.

by Meghna Mehta May 22, 2019

Having won the Aga Khan Award for the METI school project in Bangaladesh back in 2006, Studio Anna Heringer has long since worked towards building local yet impactful community projects following their motto, ‘Architecture is a tool to improve lives’. The firm has constantly tethered to their belief of creating architecture that is built by and for the people, collaborating with the locals with an enthused involvement. Buildings have been designed and delivered that truly belong to the community and are sensitive to the environment.

The Three Hostels built in Baoxi, China is one such project, which walks away from the technologically advanced construction happening in the country at a rapid pace, claiming most of its population living now in concrete housing blocks who were used to living in houses made of natural materials.

The project demonstrates and sets an example that traditional, natural materials can be used in contemporary ways. Unlike many traditional houses that hide mud behind fake facades, this project celebrates the beauty of natural materials. Using non-standardised palette creates a fair diversity in urban and rural communities that can encourage fair economics furthering the creation of jobs and in turn preserving our planet’s ecosystem.

  • A view of the hostels Image Credit: Jenny Ji
  • A close knit framework created in bamboo wraps the hostel exteriorsImage Credit: Jenny Ji

12 architects including Kengo Kuma, George Kunihiro, Keisuke Maeda, Vo Trong Nghia, Madhura Primatilleke, Simon Vélez, Li Xiaodong, WISE architecture Yang Xu and Studio Anna Heringer were invited to build habitable buildings in a location of cultural and historical importance for the The Longquan International Biennale (LIB), which was launched by the Municipality of Longquan, 500km south of Shanghai. Studio Anna Heringer was commissioned to build one guesthouse and two hostels. Heringer says, “The three hostels - the dragon, the nightingale and the peacock - aim to show a quite radical example of building simple yet poetic and humane in a way that it pushes the skills of local craftsmen onto a new level and leaves the biggest part of the profit with the community.”

The structure of the hostels is formed around a core made of stones and rammed earth; the former hosting all facility units and the stairwell, attached to which are the sleeping units. These units are designed to reflect the form of Chinese lampshades, around which is an expressive structure made in woven bamboo.

  • Ongoing construction Image Credit: Jenny Ji
  • Ongoing construction Image Credit: Jenny Ji
  • Ongoing construction Image Credit: Jenny Ji

“In general, we tend to think that sustainability is about scarcity; but the nature of nature is not limitation. These great building materials bamboo and mud are present in abundance. They make sense in economic as well as ecological perspective, and are healthy for the people and the planet,” says Heringer. Breaking myths about sustainability and that it may be difficult, expensive, short termed and time consuming, she further adds, “These buildings are a statement that sustainability is about the quality of life and the celebration of nature’s vast resources.”

The applied techniques of bamboo weaving and rammed earth are labour intensive, and hence, use as well as challenge the skills of local craftsmen, leaving the biggest footprint of the profit for the community. The project astutely re-connects with the authenticity of cultural goods shaped out of immanent material characteristics like the bending strength of bamboo, and with the rich tradition of craftsmanship of China like basket weaving. One of the cultural identities of Baoxi is ceramic vessels, which became the central inspiration behind adopting the peculiar shapes.

  • Plans and Sections Image Credit: Courtesy of Studio Anna Heringer
  • Elevations Image Credit: Courtesy of Studio Anna Heringer
  • Concept of Energy Systems Image Credit: Courtesy of Studio Anna Heringer

The energy system used in the heating and cooling of the spaces is based on direct and ‘archaic’ sources like fire and sun, wind, shade, plants and the concept of minimising the conditioned spaces. Rather than making a huge effort in terms of both money and resources for controlling the climate of the entire volume of the hostels, only the core - that hosts the utility rooms - and the cocoons are thermally controlled. They are protected from the rain and have heating or cooling options, based on very low-tech methodologies. Fire, our predominant source of heating, is used through an effective oven that also heats warm water for the showers, supported by solar collectors.

Striving towards a greener future, where our limited resources can be wisely used, Heringer says, “With our planet’s limited resources we cannot provide seven billion people an appropriate habitat made of industrialised materials only. The use of natural materials is vital in order to enable a sustainable and fair development. This project can act as a model for building simple but with sense and believing in the ‘charming power’, which lies in the natural materials’ authenticity.”

Project Details

Official Name of the Project: 1301 Bamboo Hostels China
Location: Baoxi, region of Longquan, China
Client: Municipality of Longquan, China
Completion: October 2016
Gross (external) Area: 1153 sqm
Total Cost: 840000 USD (RMB 5800000)
Architect: Studio Anna Heringer
Concept and Design: Anna Heringer
Design Team: Stefano Mori, Karolina Switzer, Wayne Switzer, Yu Xi
Contractor: Shanghai Kangye Construction & Decoration Co.,Ltd
Consultant, Concept and Earthen Structures: Martin Rauch
Consultant, Bamboo Structures: Emmanuel Heringer
Consultant, Heating System: Harald Mueller, Franz Petermann
Consultant, Energy System: Prof. Klaus Daniels

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About Author

Meghna Mehta

Meghna Mehta

An architect by education and a journalist by passion, Mehta pursued a crossroad between her two interests. Having completed an M.Arch from CEPT University in Ahmedabad, she has worked in the field of architectural journalism for over 5 years. Besides content generation for STIR, she continues to teach in architectural schools in Mumbai.

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