Towards a Sustainable Future: Local Materials and Methods in Contemporary Chinese Architecture
Over the course of the last decade there has been a growing interest in the handcrafted buildings, as well as in the application of local and renewable materials in building construction. Under the concerns about the heavy environmental and economic expenses caused by construction, nowadays urban planners are embracing the concept of sustainability, which refers to “meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
China, with the world’s largest population base and fastest economic development, has encouraged their architects to consider methods of construction that are more responsive to local conditions. This article will offer some insights on how sustainable construction have shaped the contemporary Chinese architecture, by examining the reuse of local materials such as wood, tiles, stones, bricks, bamboo, rammed earth, and recycled kiln bricks.
The Contemporary Remodelling of Traditional Materials in Chinese Vernacular Architecture
Qimen Black Tea House / Atelier Lai
“After removing the old wooden frame, we re-arranged the column net in the rectangular wall, using the most common Chinese fir as the beam-column structure. On the first floor, a traditional column-and-tie construction is used to support the floor plate. While on the second floor, employing Skeuomorphism, the wood structure roof is designed with a cantilevered crown-shape to cover and protect the old wall. “
History Museum of Qifeng Village / SUP Atelier
“We decided to use local materials and focus on recycling and processing. From black tiles on the roof to the simple wooden floor on the 2nd floor, durable materials could be found and re-used. For example, the sorted black tiles and the polished wooden slabs can both be utilized, saving building materials while preserving the historic context. “
Tibet Namchabawa Visitor Centre / standardarchitecture
“Like a few slices of rock extending out of the mountain, the building is conceived as a series of stone walls set into the slope, with no windows facing the incoming road in the west, almost scale-less, an abstract landscape in the natural landscape. Looking from afar it neither hides itself, nor stands out from its background as a piece of ‘Tibetan” architecture’.”
Nicha Tujia Restaurant / Atelier A
“Red bricks are used extensively in this building, including the façade, walls and floors. In order to keep its original outlook, most old bricks are preserved. Only a few new ones are added. These additional bricks are not newly made but recycled, removed from old buildings in Shanghai and then transported all the way to Beijing. They are of the same high quality and pure colour of the original bricks which are nowhere to be found in Beijing. The mark of the additional bricks is deliberately left uncovered in accordance with the genuine and unaffected style of Atelier A.”
San Sa Village / LLLab.
“Observing the natural phenomenon of the wind and the sun helped to reveal the hidden wisdom and beauty of the materials. The old slate as the landscape pavement, the porous red brick in the private courtyard, the stone brick joints at the building wall base, and the collocation of red brick and blue brick used for building walls, all together made the relatively impressive material characteristics and the dignity of the architectural geometry present a feeling of leisure and quietness.”
Lizigou Red Brick Ceremonial Hall Building / KEYWORKS + RENGARCH
“We see our challenge in preserving domestic knowledge and traditions with a new function for the villagers and future visitors. Through numerous dialogues and researches in the neighborhood area, we found a common archetype of house – the earth cave house in the form of an arch. The later forms combine houses with red brick elements with more arches. We continue the common language of arches and red bricks combined with new functions and new spatial dimensions. “
In-Hutong Renewal of Chuziying Hutong 3 / CU Office
“As a demonstration renewal project of the bungalow district in the northern part of Tianqiao, Beijing, the reconstruction budget of this project is very limited, which thus makes this demonstration project more realistic. Therefore, it is designed not to use complex structures and expensive materials but four most common materials: wood, gray brick, steel, and glass. The gray bricks are constructed in two different construction methods, traditional and modern, depending on their specific location, converging and translating the new and the old.”
Bamboo Lodge / QAD
“My design philosophy is natural, rustic, environmentally friendly. I process bamboo into sheets, strips, and plates, after that, the bamboo is cooked at high temperature and soaked in lime water, then, it should be dried in the shade naturally to achieve the effect of insect prevention, antiseptic, and mildew proof. I plan to express space only through the different textures of bamboo. The interior of the room is made of bamboo strips, and bamboo skins, like building blocks, bamboo weaving is arched, forming the unique skin of each space.”
Wuyishan Bamboo Raft Factory / TAO – Trace Architecture Office
“Bamboo stalks are applied along the veranda to form shading louvers, which also provide well-ventilated insulation. Considering the principle of localization and economy, in-situ concrete is used for the structure, hollow concrete blocks for the exterior wall system, cement tile for the roofing material, and bamboo and wood for the sun shading, doors, windows and handrails. Without overmuch surface finishing, all the materials present their own characters.”
SanBaoPeng Art Museum / DL Atelier
“Major materials used in Sanbao Art Museum, such as rammed earth, titanium zinc panels and travertine, will be eroded by time. We’re expecting this process of erosion, like the fermentation of wine, time gives its unique flavor. In addition, Sanbao village naturally produces unique soil, slightly red in color, so we decided to build the continuous loam walls with local clay, it delivers certain familiarity and tension. “
Chatouya Visitor Center / Tumushi Architects
“Local materials is re-used. For example, the earth is re-rammed into walls, Chinese-style tile is recycled into Pavement. In the meantime, the metal panel and transparent glazing makes façade feel modern and transparent. The raw concrete of teahouse reinforces the sense of volume. While the striped texture of concrete gives the teahouse a better scale. The discrete and contrasting use of material strengthen the concept of landscape settlement. Traditional materials, embodying traces of time, constitute a tense relation with modern materials.”
Qingxiao Residence / Shulin Architectural Design
“Rural construction has unique restrictive factors like inconvenient transportation and lack of resources. So, building materials are highly localized, using green tiles recovered in the village, the original building’s materials are recycled; including, rammed earth wall materials, local masonry blocks, bamboo, old stone slabs, recycled old rubbles, and terrazzo, which are convenient for local material retrieval, recycling, and are environmental-friendly.”
Jingdezhen Imperial Kiln Museum / Studio Zhu-Pei
“The materials of the museum are dominated by bricks, recycled old kiln bricks are mixed with new bricks together to reflect the local culture of construction. This interweaving of two different historical phases proposed by the combination of new and old bricks must arouse interest, curiosity, create new questions and give new answers by interacting with the mind of people who inevitably evoke memories and enjoy a unique experience. The past cannot be erased but rewritten by recounting a new awareness and maturity, a sort of contemporary archeology.”
This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Local Materials. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.