Shiyuan a sustainably built Hutong in Beijing

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Traditional courtyard houses, consisting of several separate dwellings, were built in many regions and periods of the world, including the first Chinese dynasties, but also during the Inca period. Throughout history, the courtyard house has played an important role as a type of dwelling and today is experiencing a revival to solve a series of problems related to the population density of urban centers.
The intervention carried out by the Chinese architect Haipeng Ren of Days in the Yard studio starts precisely from this reflection, namely that “A courtyard in the Hutong or alley of Beijing is in itself a private residence as well as a meeting place: it has always been so. When did we Chinese people begin to prefer living in flats in the form of box?“All in a global perspective offering a direct reference to Italian or Spanish villages with similar spatial and social qualities, for a courtyard between two ancient groups of temples: one, a block away, is the watchtower north- east of the Palace Museum; the other, occupying half of the aisle to the north, is the Zhizhu (Pearl of Wisdom) Temple.
The Shiyuan project of the Days in YARD studio created for a private client, which allowed the architect maximum creative freedom, starts from a design approach centered on “first expand – then contract”. All aimed at transforming a small and limited space into something that was visually spacious, rich and versatile. Haipeng Ren’s first step was therefore to make the complex – consisting of a 168 square meter courtyard and 110 square meters for the interior – as open and comfortable as possible, while minimizing the environmental impact. To enhance the home experience, the architect opened up the lower level and merged it with the courtyard, creating a fluid interface that connects interior and exterior. The upper level bedrooms, on the other hand, offer a semi-private space with a multifunctional design approach that includes not only the living areas, but also workshops and a recording studio. The fact that Haipeng Ren himself is a musician greatly influenced his attention to acoustic aspects and audio-visual synesthetic effects when designing Shiyuan.
A key aspect of Shiyuan’s renovation was the desire to harmonize ancient Chinese building principles with modern Western-origin construction. As Haipeng Ren explains: “Here we have adopted the low energy building standard, i.e. the passive housing technology developed by the German Passive House Institute (PHI) and the project has met the PHI certification process for the design. Simultaneously, we also took into consideration the Active House standards (established by the Active House Alliance).”

Especially, the active house alliance not only pays attention to energy conservation during construction, environmental protection and sustainability aspect, but also evaluates the health and lifestyle of users inside the buildings. The basic philosophy is to create a meaningful living environment for people, ensuring the perfect balance of the site’s resources. So much so that in 2021, the Shiyuan project of Days in YARD won the first prize of the Active Excellent Award for design, the first competition in China sponsored by the Active House Alliance.
A recognition that highlights the careful planning work carried out by the architect Haipeng Ren, who considers measurable sustainability a crucial element of the intervention.

Christiane Burklein

Project: Days in the Yard
Head of architecture and interior design: Haipeng Ren
Design and Construction of Traditional Chinese Architecture: Haipeng Ren, Zhijun Liu Team
Interior and furniture: Haipeng Ren, Xue Zhao, Yong Liu and Yimu Team
Landscaping: Haipeng Ren, Haiyue Garden, Chengxuan Guo
Passive house consultant: HXP PLANUNG GmbH (Xin Liao, Xing Zhao, Peng Liu and team)
Location: Beijing, China
Year: 2021
Images: Zoulei, Yiqing, Haipeng (days in the yard)

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