Time passing, life changing, more and more possibilities coming up, all these have directly and drastically left marks on Beijing Hutong, which seems to be history, but for me, it’s more like future.
From June 1st 2019, number 36 Guozijian Street, a small Hutong house will be put into use after more than two years of design and construction. There will be a small exhibition about our design practice. Actually it’s more of a review of our past, and we hope we can find something fun out of it, like finding new knowledge in an old book.
This house also tries to re-organize and reserve the old memories, and hope to touch people with it.
We retained the building-yard relationship and the original building scale. We even inherited the illegal addition from decades ago as a miniature of people’s life in that time period and a part of history. However, we constructed a structure formed by a lower concrete frame and an upper wood frame to ironically demonstrate the grafting of old and new. The black bricks from the century-old house as well as the red bricks from the recent addition are all reserved, and the root of a hundreds-year-old tree is right at where it was. All the old memories and craftsmanship is conserved through them. But the construction of the building applied a completely different technology. The 400mm thick hollow wall containing thermal and moisture insulation, air-conditioning system and water supply and drainage system makes a good example. Beijing Hutong bears an ever-changing history. That’s why we don’t want this house to be a specimen of a certain time period. With all the symbols and metaphors, we hope to record the current status of Hutong life.
This project went through a long struggle. We’d also like to share some backstories. Over 30 years, people have been wondering what the future of Hutong would be. 30 years ago, Hutong had already became what Chinese called “Dazayuan”. Hutong inhibiters began to build their own house on where used to be courtyards to create more living space for more people. As a result, there were no longer living rooms in private houses. People simply used Hutong as their public living room. That’s how we realized that our physical home might be small, but the home inside our heart is big.
Toilets causing problems in Hutong, is a rather extreme example of space influencing daily life. But the generally extrovert space model in Hutong, actually makes people living here more extrovert. People are less cautious about privacy or details in life. They tend to, or have to, communicate more and share more. This is an example of space influencing personality. We might have an impression that people living in Hutong are very talkative.
What does Hutong look like now? In some cases, what used to be public space is now parking lot, causing a decrease of living quality. On other occasions, people would restore the building into Qing-dynasty-style independent courtyard. But with higher privacy also comes less neighborhood communication. Neither of the two situation is what I want to see. My expectation of Hutong’s future is a neighborhood that inhabitants have more space and better living quality, and more importantly a yard and a better relationship with neighbors. This is what I think Beijing Hutong should be.
I was inspired by the multistory parking devices and had my first design. Normally it would look like this, nothing special. But when I go to work for instance, I can sink the house and make a yard, which can be used by other people to park a car or play chess. When I come home at night, kids can play safely around here. Of course I can also lift it up to have more rooms, meanwhile a spectacular scene that people always ignore in which roofs and tree tops interwoven together will be created, in which a naked Eddie Peng maybe running around. I hoped with such a design, people would have more communication and interaction, which, in my opinion, was more important in Hutong life.
Around the end of 2016, an opportunity came to us when a friend of mine planned to build his own house in Hutong. When I showed him the idea, as a Beijinger with the same imagination, he was also very excited. This machine-like house is more than an improvement of the existing social problems. It’s a contemplation of infinity, time and life. Everything that moves reminds us of life, and with life comes death. When we place a “moving building” into the ever-flowing river of time, words like ruins and relics would come to our mind. We all feel that this concept is complied with Hutong in terms of vitality.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to realize the idea, so there was our second design. A home without a wall. Rooms were only divided by floors of different height. We believe that this would bring people dignity and equality. It constantly reminds family members that, although you live in your home, everyone in the family reappears as a complete individual in society. You will have more understanding of everyone’s privacy, habits and hobbies, including yours. The change this design truly brings to people is the process of transforming from dangerous relationship to daily etiquette. This change is not only the handling of interpersonal relationship, but also an incubator to promote certain new family emotions, and our response to all kinds of changes of peoples’ relationships happening in Hutong space in contemporary society. Extrovert space might just be the beginning of mutual respect.
However, because of the too big window facing Guozijian Hutong, we had to give up this design. That’s why we finally chose this final design. We built an intact brick wall by the street as a respond to the regulations. The horizontal window on the top gave the wall more independence. We even made to door to be a part of this wall. Looking back now, although it’s a new house, it seems to have been built for 50 years. Being familiar and strange at the same time, perhaps it’s a memory from future.