Mrs. Fan is from a traditional Chinese family. Newlyweds like her are expected to purchase a car and move into a new house in the suburbs to start the next phase of their life. But for people in their early 30’s who wish to be financially independent, the astronomical price of real estate in Beijing makes buying a house on their own nearly impossible. Mrs. Fan was born and raised in the Changchun Jie Hutong neighborhood in the center of historic Beijing. By the time she was in high school her family had moved to the suburbs while her old neighborhood, with outdated infrastructure and overcrowding, continued to descend into slum-like conditions. But Fan never got accustomed to suburban residential towers, preferring the intimacy of the close knit community she came from.
The affordability of the Plugin House, thirty times less than the cost of buying a typical apartment, made moving back to where Mrs. Fan grew up a practical reality. The living standard and energy efficiency of a Plugin equals or exceeds that of new apartment towers. And her daily commute to work is now reduced from four hours to one. The Plugin replaces part of the old house and adds new functions such as a kitchen and bathroom. The Changchun Jie neighborhood has no sewage system, so public toilets are usually the only option. But an off-the-grid composting toilet system integrated into the plugin makes Hutong life much more convenient. The Plugin House is custom designed for Mrs. Fan. The living room ceiling extends upwards to provide a double height space with skylights on either side. Sunlight is channeled in from above to flood the previously dark interior with light. To relieve Mrs. Fan of her claustrophobia the small bathroom also has a skylight but receives reflected sunlight from a blue privacy screen. Even on gloomy days the bathroom is covered in a blue tint. A roof deck gives her breathing room from the dense surroundings and private social space.
PAO’s proprietary prefabricated Plugin Panels makes the Plugin House very affordable. Originally developed for the Courtyard House Plugin for “house in house” renovations, the new Plugin House System is waterproof and can be used outside of an existing structure. These prefabricated modules incorporate insulation, interior and exterior finish into one molded part. Plugin Panels attach to each other with an integrated lock making construction a task simple enough to be completed by a couple of unskilled people and one tool in one day. Wiring and plumbing are integrated into the molded composite panels.
The architectural form of the Plugin is defined not by limitations imposed from regulations but instead the negotiated demands from surrounding neighbors. On all sides of the Plugin the structure cannot block sun light, air circulation, and views of the people next door. Even as the structure was built, new demands came about. The Plugin Panel material makes accommodating these changes practical, chopping off entire sections of the building can be done on site. As an expression of intersecting social forces the Plugin House is a new urban vernacular born from local conditions. For original residents like Mrs. Fan to move back to these historic parts of Beijing is rare. Through improving living standards for an affordable price within given social constraints the Plugin House attempts to breathe new life into old neighborhoods.