Believing in "architecture is for the masses", People's Architecture Office (PAO) has reinvented an old courtyard house to create a modern home in historic Beijing — at a price 30 times less than a regular apartment in the Chinese capital
Beijing has seen property prices soaring as high as its skyscrapers rise thanks to ongoing urbanisation, resulting in many residents relocating to the suburbs. But for locals as Mrs Fan, who was born and raised in the Changchun Jie hutong in the historic centre of the Chinese capital, staying where they grew up — in communities with strong connections with their neighbours — is not only a nostalgic but an affordable choice.
However, many of the old courtyards and alleys have gradually fallen away into serious disrepair due to outdated infrastructure and overcrowding. In response, Beijing-based People's Architecture Office (PAO) has undertaken innovative and culturally pragmatic renovations of a number of such structures, including their own office located next to the Forbidden City.
This time, for client Mrs Fan, PAO — founded by architects Zang Feng, James Shen and He Zhe — created The Plugin House, a spacious, bright modern residence 30 times cheaper than the average Beijing apartment.
The ceiling of Plugin House's living room extends upwards to provide a double height space with skylights on either side. Sunlight is channelled in from above to flood the previously dark interior with light. To ease Mrs Fan's claustrophobia, the small bathroom not also has a skylight but also receives reflected sunlight from a blue privacy screen — even on gloomy days the bathroom is bathed in a blue tint. A roof deck provides an outdoor area and breathing room from the dense surroundings and private social space.
PAO's proprietary prefabricated Plugin Panels are what make the Plugin House so affordable. Originally developed for the Courtyard House Plugin for "house-in-house" renovations, the new Plugin House system is waterproof and can be used on the exterior of an existing structure. These prefabricated modules incorporate insulation, interior and exterior finish into one moulded part.
Plugin Panels then attach to each other using an integrated lock, making construction a task simple enough to be completed by a couple of unskilled workers using just one tool in just one day. Wiring and plumbing are also integrated into the moulded composite panels.
This is an excerpt from the “A new city-centre typology" article from the May 2017 issue of Perspective magazine.
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