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Boxy-shaped House W in Beijing excels in energy efficiency

by Phoebe Liu on Sep 19, 2017 in Architecture , Interiors
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Square and boxy, internally House W tells a story of soaring ceilings, vast skylights and an entire wall composed of glass panels on the garden elevation

Square and boxy, internally House W tells a story of soaring ceilings, vast skylights and an entire wall composed of glass panels on the garden elevation

From the road, the boxy shape of House W offers no clue to its spacious, airy interiors, the result of a carefully considered design crafted by Beijing-based Atelier About Architecture

Born in China and educated in Australia, Wang Ni and Zhang Dawei, the founders of Atelier About Architecture (AAA), have a considerable international footprint, despite their young age. Having practised their craft in many different countries, they launched their studio in 2013 and have since set about embracing their traditional cultural inheritance while introducing innovations set against a background of internationalism. Their aim is simple: to dispel the notion of a gap between Eastern and Western cultures.

The stark white rendering of the external and internal walls is interrupted only by the glass of the windows, and the occasional doorway or feature wall crafted from timber

The stark white rendering of the external and internal walls is interrupted only by the glass of the windows, and the occasional doorway or feature wall crafted from timber

House W, or "Jagged Villa" as the architects describe it, is an intensely personal project, as Wang and Zhang were simultaneously both client and architect. It took the pair three years to complete the design, which naturally underwent numerous redesigns and adjustments over that period. But there's nothing quite like realising one's own dreams to spur you on – especially when the effort invested in the project has resulted in significant growth for the studio.

One of the first challenges that faced Wang and Zhang had to do with the terrain on which House W sits. With its back to the hills, icy blasts of air scour the north facade of the home; a serious concern given Beijing's notoriously frigid winters. "We needed to ensure that internal conservation of heat would be sufficient during cold weather to guarantee energy efficiency," Wang says. "Meeting the physical challenges of heat insulation while also creating a humanistic living environment internally was a challenge."

Carefully planned lighting casts not only illumination but also shadows, with the play of light and dark creating a sense of discovery and drama

Carefully planned lighting casts not only illumination but also shadows, with the play of light and dark creating a sense of discovery and drama

In response, AAA defined the programme of the building as well as the sizes and positions of the windows based on the site and available sunlight across the seasons. The outside walls were wrapped with 150mm insulation panels, as was the huge glass box of the internal atrium, ensuring that heat will be kept in and the cold kept out.

So successful has the design been that studies of the home's energy efficiency and heat retention over the first winter season revealed that internal temperatures – without any heating – achieved an average of 11ºC. Meanwhile, in the warmer months of summer, cool air is introduced from the basement and discharged as a result of natural airflow, reducing indoor temperatures.

Such is Wang and Zhang's belief in their design that they have invited the Architecture and Technology Research Institute of Tsinghua University to conduct a six-month professional study of the residence. The ultimate aim is not just to gather evidence to support their theories, but to further develop designs for a passive house that would meet international standards.

Handle-less cabinetry, black-framed sliding doors and sleek glass panels in place of traditional balustrades on the upper level are bathed in natural light flooding in from the skylight overhead

Handle-less cabinetry, black-framed sliding doors and sleek glass panels in place of traditional balustrades on the upper level are bathed in natural light flooding in from the skylight overhead

HOUSE W
Interiors & architecture design: Atelier About Architecture
GFA: 1,200 sq-m
Structure consultant: Liu Su
Lighting consultant: Zhou Hongliang
Energy efficiency consultant: Wang Jincheng
Facade consultant: Tang Binfeng

Photography by Chen Hao & Sun Hai Ting

This is an excerpt from the “Heat exchange" article from the September 2017 issue of Perspective magazine.

To continue reading, get your copy of Perspective.

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