The Ancient Town of Fenghuang, located in Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Hunan Province, is a famous historical and cultural city in China. It was once called the most beautiful town in China by New Zealand writer Rewi Alley. And it enjoys the same reputation in the south as the Ancient City of Pingyao in the north. Outside the Ancient Town of Fenghuang, there is little-known natural scenery, beautiful Miao villages, and mysterious folk culture with a long history in Miao Township. The whole village is built along the mountains, where stone houses scatter and the roads made of slab-stone wind and stretch. Surrounding trees flourish and the smoke from the kitchen curls upwards, presenting a tranquil and leisure scene like a paradise.
Bona Villa, an innovative public welfare project for poverty alleviation launched by China Foundation For Poverty Alleviation in 2013, is aimed at exploring a new "Rural Tourism Poverty Alleviation +" model, and is committed to building a platform for the connection between the countryside and the outside, and reassessing poverty villages’ value and creating village-oriented development opportunities. Currently, it has been carried out in more than 20 villages nationwide. Lahao Village in Fenghuang is one of Bona Villa projects and is constructed with funds donated by Sinopec.
At the invitation of China Foundation For Poverty Alleviation, we were involved in the whole process of the project, including the selection of village site, overall planning, architectural renovation, interior and landscape design, which lasted more than two years. In this process, we not only felt the difficulties and challenges of rural construction, but also experienced the improvement of the rural environment brought by our own practice, and deeply realized the social responsibility of architects.
Lahao Stone Houses are located on a hillside, which is high in the north and low in the south, with a relative altitude of about 30 meters. There are towering old trees and mountains around the village. The settlement pattern of the village is not complete. Some houses are well preserved, but some have collapsed. There are also several brick-and-concrete houses built by villagers in the gaps, which has caused great damage to the texture of the village. When we did the survey, Lahao Village was already in the state of a "hollow village", with only a small number of elderly and left-behind children living here.
Through detailed investigation and analysis, we selected an area on the north side of the village where the old houses were relatively complete as the main building of the homestay project. On the one hand, we sorted out the space of the village, reorganized the public spaces, roads, parking lots and other infrastructure, so that the structure of the homestay was clearly presented; on the other hand, we selected twelve houses for renovation, which included public areas, homestay and other functions. It is worth mentioning that the homestay project has no walls or borders, so that it coexists with the reserved houses. The village grows like nature, and the new and the old merge together naturally.
The transformation strategies of the project are to protect the original ecological landscape, respect the original site, restore the architectural texture, and minimize the damage to the natural environment. First of all, within the boundary of the existing houses, the main house is transformed, and only the attached toilets and chicken coops are demolished. Each house forms a courtyard, and the original trees in the courtyard are retained to ensure privacy while forming a maximized view of the landscape. The houses are connected by stone paths, and visitors will climb up the stairs, which provides an experience of varying scenery with changing viewpoints.
According to the requirements of the homestay itself, the window positions of public spaces and guest rooms are carefully considered to obtain a unique view of the landscape. These window scenes may be towering old trees or verdant mountains, providing different scenery at different heights. There are currently six homestays that have been implemented, concentrated on the east side of the village, and the rest of the house renovation will be implemented in the future.
The stone wall in Lahao Village is unique in Xiangxi region. It does not use any mortar for masonry and has a thickness of 55 cm. We only modify the stone walls on the south side, allowing the stonemasons to rebuild it in accordance with the traditional dry-laying method, while retaining the stone walls on other sides. After the stone wall on the south sides are rebuilt, the lighting windows are enlarged, which greatly improves the original lighting conditions.
Inside the stone wall, the steel structure system is inserted and the roof is raised 80cm to float above the stone wall. At the same time, a side skylight is set on the upper part of the stone wall to allow more light and landscape to enter the interior. The steel structure system is used inside the stone wall, which is a means of industrialization. On the one hand, it can cope with the site limitation of transportation and the accuracy of rural construction; on the other hand, the steel structure system and the stone wall system are organically integrated to meet the diversified functional needs of the homestay project. At the same time, there is a strong contrast between the new and the old, the light and the heavy, forming a dramatic effect in the village.
In addition to the transformation paradigm of the main building, we adopt differentiated transformation strategies in some parts. For example, the house on the south side of No. 2 courtyard retains the original rammed-earth brick walls, with steel structures implanted inside. A tea room is expanded on the south side of No. 4 Courtyard, which is protruded out of the mountain with concrete slabs. The facade is made of glass totally, bringing the forest and valley inside.
In the reconstruction of Lahao Village, although there is a juxtaposition of the new and the old, the memory of rural life is still present as a whole. The stone walls of the building are preserved, and the stone gate of the courtyard is also carefully preserved. Flowers and plants grow in the gaps of the stone retaining walls. The wood from the old houses and other collected old objects are used to make the landscape. These old objects are recycled. , Integrates the relevance of villagers’ lives into the local context.
Lahao Stone Houses are the starting point of Lahao Village's “Rural Tourism Poverty Alleviation +“project, and a series of public spaces and public landscapes will continue to appear in the future. We hope that the transformation strategies of Lahao Village will serve as a good example. They not only respect the old houses and the lifestyles of the villagers, but also awake the memories and emotions of the village and allow the continuation of the rural culture.
设计单位：原榀建筑事务所 | UPA