Architectural restorations of historical projects are difficult to achieve. How do designers respect an original work while preparing it for modern use? Archstudio’s renovation of a Chinese siheyuan blends traditional and modern design practices in a project called Qishe. The name is a combination of two words: “qi,” which translates to seven in reference to the number of buildings in the complex; and “she” which translates to house.
Siheyuan is the word for a traditional residential complex that features courtyards surrounded by buildings on each side. They can be found in many places throughout China but are most well known in Beijing and the surrounding areas. Siheyuans are typically symmetrical in plan, focusing on the centralized exterior space to organize the complex. Archstudio’s renovation was able to successfully preserve these important qualities.
When the firm was first granted the project, the siheyuan was showing its age. Archstudio describes that the roofs, walls, doors, and windows were all missing or badly damaged. Luckily, critical pieces of the buildings—such as the main wooden beams and some of the arched doorways—were intact. On top of the natural decay of the building, temporary additions were added to the complex such as blocks to repair walls. Discarded construction material and plant overgrowth added to the deteriorating state of the complex.
After clearing the project of broken material, Archstudio began implementing new technologies to sustain modern living, such as HVAC, parking areas, structural reinforcement, and so on. The firm allowed the traditional circulation and flow of the siheyuan to remain the same and even added to these important characteristics using damaged wood members from the original work.
Perhaps most evident from photos of the finished project is the dramatic contrast of color and material. The dark floors balance the light finishes of wood and cloth as well as the gentle curves of the new glass panels. Taken together, Qishe is certainly a high-quality architectural restoration with a beautiful modern form that respects the traditional history in material and function.