rural urban framework (RUF) has proposed two renovation strategies for the large earthen buildings in china known as tulous. built over 1,000 years ago, the defensive structures have thick exterior walls that protect a shared open space at their center. originally, the building would house a large number of residents, with each family occupying a vertical section of rooms accessed through a shared corridor and balcony. over time, as residents moved into independent housing, tulous have evolved to accommodate different functions, including religious activities, markets, or schools.
all images and video courtesy of rural urban framework
‘as the tulous do not correspond with contemporary desires of dwelling, despite preserving the only available open space behind their protective walls, many of them are experiencing individual transformations or are being abandoned,’ says RUF. however, rather than move out, some residents have found inventive ways to expand their tulou residence. these include directly plugging in a modern house from the outside of the tulou wall, or rebuilding the tulou section by section each with individual style and layout, but retaining the collective footprint.
in response, RUF has developed two interventions that rethink the programmatic, structural and spatial characteristics of tulous. ‘the aim is to give a new life to the tulou, making it once again center for a new form of collectivity,’ explains the design team. ‘to transform the old house for collective living into a new house for collective experience, we designed different prototypes in relation to different tulous. two of these strategies have currently been built: the plug-in on the outside and the tower on the inner courtyard of the tulou.’
the first intervention, the plug-in, transforms the traditionally introverted building — which now serves as a children’s school — into a more open and accessible structure. one of the structure’s small windows has been turned into a new entrance that leads to a new public library. built entirely out of timber, a funnel staircase plugs into the enlarged opening, inviting people to sit, read and rest in the shade. the plug-in also serves as an open amphitheater for activities in the exterior courtyard.
the second intervention, the tower, rethinks the tulou’s shared space with a spiral staircase that connects each floor of the building. new public programs are introduced with the changing rhythm of the steps, encouraging people to sit, read, or even drink tea inside the tower. bridges connect to the upper corridor of the tulou which becomes a public reading room. finally, the top of the tower becomes a place to take in the views across the landscape.
‘the materiality of the 500 year old tulou corridor structure is reflected in the new 12 meter high timber tower,’ say the architects. ‘a continuous timber railing between old and new is connected by the spiral staircase that wraps around the central column. the decking is placed on the inside of the railing along the steps. the last step meets at the same height of the interior roof eave, forming a platform that offers a view of the horizon whilst still being inside the calm and sheltered courtyard of the tulou.’
the plug-in and tower strategies, designed by rural urban framework, were built in lantian village (fujian, china) by students in collaboration with carpenters as part of the jockey club HKU rural urban design project. students from the university of hong kong and the hong kong design institute engaged with both carpenters and local residents to learn about traditional timber craftsmanship and the challenges that villagers and their tulous face when confronted with urbanization.
plug-in / site plan
plug-in / floor plan
plug-in / section
plug-in / structure diagram
tower / site plan
tower / floor plan
tower / section
design: john lin and joshua bolchover (rural urban framework, the university of hong kong)
project team: chiara oggioni, bo yee lau, yi sun
project partner: the university of hong kong, hong kong design institute
contractor: liu landscape engineering ltd.
total cost: $USD 55,000/ RMB 390,000
date: completed september 2019
funded by: the hong kong jockey club charities trust, shizhong county government, as part of jockey club HKU rural urban design project
image credits: rural urban framework (RUF)
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