In contrast to the extremely urbanized downtown, the mountain area surrounding the city center of Beijing is still kept rural and natural. The site was a primary school abandoned for years in a mountain village in Beijing, consisting of four rows of brick and timber frame houses arranged in a repeated way and surrounded by high perimeter walls. As a rent property, the client wanted to renovate it into a high-end boutique hotel. Due to the lease terms and local regulations, any addition, subtraction or major change to the original structures was not allowed.
Unlike most projects in Beijing, this project hired local villagers (many of them were not professional workers) for construction in order to strengthen the connection with the village. Affected by the COVID-19 control policies, traffic restrictions and seasons, the building materials had to be sourced from locations as close as possible, while the actual construction time was only three months. Therefore, we had to find a low-tech and light intervention strategy to reform the site experience.
As an extreme common material since prehistoric times, hemp rope has been rarely used in architecture on a large scale. In this project, we used 60,000 meters of hemp rope to change the facades while barely touching the existing houses. Through the mesh of ropes, the original orange-colored tiles and walls are revealed in a changing degree as viewers change their standing points. More importantly, the ropes generate very rich and dramatic light effect inside and outside the houses, in both intended and unintended ways.
The site is situated close to Miyun Reservoir, but it is not easy to be aware of the water on the site. We recreated the atmosphere of a waterfront settlement with a system of public paths elevated from the reflection pool, undulating up and down in gentle slopes. After the hotel started operation, we unexpectedly found that the various heights of the paths encouraged many ways of playing with water for both adults and children.
The only area next to road was transformed into the major entrance. Thus, the first house from the south is used as public space and service space, including the reception desk, restaurant, kitchen, staff housing, etc. The other three houses are guest rooms, including six double rooms and five suites. Every room has a courtyard with complete privacy. Glass vitrines equipped with bath tubs or serving as tea rooms protrude from guestrooms to enable guests to “dive” into the courtyards and experience them in an immersive way.
The original straw roof sheathing was moldy and replaced by wood board. Other than this and some changes of partition and fenestration, the original houses were almost kept intact. Due to the extensive use of natural materials such as timber and hemp rope, and short-distance suppliers, the carbon footprint of the entire renovation project is estimated to be close to zero.
Renovation is an extremely common situation in today's commercial activities. Changes of tenants often result in significant amount of construction waste. At the end of the lease period, this project will come to a much more environmentally friendly ending: all the steel will be recycled, and the hemp rope will be buried on site and return to dirt. After helping this project to complete its ephemeral life, all the natural materials we used will also return to their life cycles in natural world.