After working in Dashilar on two pilot projects, the local state-owned developer offered us the possibility of renovating a vacant property, transforming it into our design office.
The plot had been originally occupied by a courtyard house with two rectangular volumes parallel to the street (N-S orientation), with traditional wooden pitched roofs.
In the 60s / 70s, following the period of rapid industrialisation of China that affected also some of the urban fabric inside the hutongs, the courtyard was covered with a high roof, creating a sort of central aisle that would be able to host a workshop or some light industry.
When we started the renovation, the North block still presented its original facade with windows and glazed doors leading into small rooms, while on the South side a series of blind walls negated any relationship between the different spaces. The lower volumes were too fragmented to allow any flexible use and the building was short of ventilation and natural light.
We started demolishing all the false ceilings and most of the non-structural walls and carried out an extensive structural survey. In the process we removed the plaster on the lateral brick walls, discovering very interesting textures that were worth exhibiting.
We sanitised all the wooden columns and beams, adding hidden steel reinforcements where necessary, levelled the ground introducing floor-heating, improved the thermal insulation of the roofs using high-density foam panels (between the rafters in the lower volumes and above the wooden panels in the central space) and added a new waterproof layer. The high-walls of the central space, deteriorated by years of rainwater leaks, were completely rebuilt with a new stripe of double-glazed windows.
Once we obtained a clean and sound envelope we proceeded with the interior construction, which mainly consisted of a new self-standing metal mezzanine, glazed partitions on the South side and some built-in steel furniture.
The North volume, which doesn’t have any direct source of ventilation and natural light, hosts all the services (toilet, kitchen, storage, model workshop) while the South volume includes a small and a large meeting room. In the central space, the mezzanine allows us to place most of our design activity upstairs while keeping the ground floor as a flexible co-working / exhibition space.
The new spatial layout allows a much richer interaction between the different functional areas, creating new visual connections between different levels and across the volumes.
In order to operate successfully with a limited budget on a poorly conserved historical building we decided to embrace the irregularities and the mistakes of the original structure, playing with a dialogue between the roughness of the steel and concrete and the smoothness of the white walls and furniture, the warmth of the wooden structure and exposed bricks and the bare simplicity of the frameless glass.
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