June 19, 2023
The Chinese province of Guizhou is known for its scenic landscapes and diverse ethnic cultures. While relatively underdeveloped, the region’s mountainous terrains contain numerous settlements with distinct characters. For a period of seven years, Shancun Atelier—a team led by professors from Tsinghua University—collaborated with the local Anshun Design Institute to regenerate a rural setting that is under growing threat of obsolescence. Their practice focuses on the village of Gaodang, a historic home of the Buyi people. Like countless villages in the country, Gaodang is eroded by environmental degradation and loss of traditions as a result of population decline.
“When we began our research in the White Water River Valley in 2015, Gaodang was the first and most memorable village we visited,” reminisced Zhou Zhengxu, Associate Professor at Tsinghua University who heads Shancun Atelier. “It was not only that the traditional houses were so intact, or the ruin of a fortress on the hill so special that we chose it—the residents displayed such vibrancy in their livelihood that really moved us. There was a deep respect for culture, which gave young people a deep-rootedness that has helped them thrive in their careers outside the village and also led to books being written about this place.”
Prior to the intervention, Shancun Atelier studied the region extensively to formulate conceptual understandings of vernacular dwellings. From stone-and-timber construction methods to principles governing location and layout of villages, the architects hope to retain the basic structure of local life while protecting what they fear would be lost if left to natural and societal forces. Two years of preparation involved the locals, magisterial officials and experts of Buyi culture who convened to establish consensus on the project’s objectives.
Three types of relationship exemplify their vision: Tradition and Future; Man and Nature; Place and Spirit. The first is manifest in the experimental renovation of six houses, where an upgrade was carried out while incorporating extant building elements.
There was a conscious effort to leverage local builders whose skills with timber structure, masonry wall and stone-shingled roof maintain architectural consistency while the houses were retrofitted. Combining heat-retaining walls with insulating windows and fireplaces, the architects explore both active and passive climatic strategies to achieve optimal conditions. In some instances, a visible twist was executed by inserting a ‘glass house’ into hefty old buildings.
“The first houses we renovated focus on the optimisation of interior layout and performance. In the second batch we decided to venture into new programmes like the solarium. All in all, we tried to enhance their comfort and functionality through means of structural modification and energy efficiency,” Zhou said of the general strategies when it comes to architecture.
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Conservation and Regeneration of Gaodang Buyi Mountain Village
Gaodang Village, Anshun City, Guizhou Province, China
140,000 square metres
Ningxi Street of Buyi and Miao Autonomous County of Zhenning
SHANCUN Atelier, School of Architecture, Tsinghua University; Anshun Institute of Architectural Design
Zhengxu Zhou; Jicheng Feng
Zhenning Branch of Guizhou Bangtuo Engineering Co., Ltd.
SHANCUN Atelier, School of Architecture, Tsinghua University; Anshun Institute of Architectural Design; Haohao Xu