Seven architects were invited to participate in the preservation and restoration design of seven courtyards between West Sanding Factory Street and Luanqing Hutong. The No.37 Courtyard of Luanqing Hutong is an incomplete Sanheyuan that was originally connected to West Sanding Factory Street on the North side as a residence for a Japanese Hospital. In the plan, there is a narrow inner Hutong that links the three courtyards in the south to West Sanding factory Street. This layout thus created an entrance to the courtyard from the Hutong in the north. The former Luanqing Hutong was a small alleyway with a width less than 4 meters, and the two sides were densely surrounded by old peeling walls.
The original tenants in the courtyard of the 37th have already moved away, and the house is in ruins after more than ten years of vacancy. The middle beam of the house in the south has collapsed, and the roof, doors and windows have long since disappeared. The silt accumulated in the room is more than 1m thick. In the house, however, two large trees have grown, and the canopy is quite big. One of the trees has already grown through the roof and some branches have also broken through the windows.
The natural forces in the midst of the earth have come back again, re-occupying the human domain and giving birth to new lives. In the face of this touching scene, I was immediately touched and decided to leave these uninvited guests, the two "house breaking trees", to coexist with the new house. The original courtyard of No. 37 was facing south, one would enter the gate from the southwest corner and then into the inner courtyard. People coming from the North side of Sanding Factory Street can first pass through a narrow inner alleyway (Hutong) to bypass the courtyard along the street, and then turn into the new North Gate hidden in the narrow Hutong.
Between the gray brick gables is a bamboo steel wall, and in the middle is a large transparent vertical sliding door. After pulling it open, a narrow doorway appears and the path curves to the east side, introducing one into a bright, circular courtyard. The gray tiled roof and a curved wall filled with bamboo brings one into a tranquil atmosphere; at the center of the gray brick paved courtyard, is a magnolia.
Originally, the house in the south had five and a half open rooms; the central part had collapsed, where the two large trees have grown. Following this unique layout, two open rooms were split into "a room in the middle of the house" to keep the trees, and the roofs on both sides were repaired using the ancient method. To ensure that the original living area is not reduced, we extended the side rooms into the courtyard appropriately, leaving a gourd-shaped courtyard in the middle, so a traditional Sanheyuan would now have two curved and consecutive spaces from large to small, bright to dim. Together with an entrance porch, a small two-in-one "Gourd Garden" is formed.
The “Gourd Garden” is deviated slightly to the east side, which further enlarges the room in the west wing which has already utilized the “geared timber structure (gou lian da勾连搭)” method to obtain a large depth. The curved wall has a series of open and close bamboo steel screen doors and the continuous vertical grille filters the strong sunlight and provides a relatively private interior space in the courtyard. On the east side, the curved wall is sunk into the room, exposing a pillar. The curved wall, like a snake, travels through the ordinary courtyard and redefines the excessively rigorous spatial order. This new addition and the original building are filled with skylights, illuminating the interior while creating a free and flexible leisure space.
Different from the tradition of having all windows facing inward, the boundary from the outside became ambiguous. The walls of the "Gourd Garden" are relatively enclosed, and the vertical barrier prevents the direct confrontation between the interior and exterior space while one is sometime able to have a glimpse through the corners. The angle between the barrier and the glass is at an oblique angle, allowing sunlight in at different times of the day; and this design also allows people to have unique spatial experiences at different sides of the courtyard. Compared to traditional Siheyuans, the “Gourd Garden” has its interior space opened to the sky and separated from the courtyard; this spatial contrast strengthened the Siheyuan’s endocentric spirit and portrayed the importance of having an “empty core” to this form of vernacular architecture.
Two curved walls extend southward to another narrow opening, from which they enter the second courtyard in the inverted room. Only three roof were repaired for the room on the south and the two in the middle utilized overlapping bamboo steel of the original wooden frame size to outline the gourd directly above the small courtyard. The transparent bamboo steel roof conforms to the scale of the original roof tile and forms a more see-through effect in the middle of the roof as it introduces a sufficient amount of sunlight to the small courtyard to facilitate the growth of the trees.
The sun falls through the grille roof, the shadows in the courtyard are mottled, and there is a vertical narrow slit between Zhaoqing Hutong and the small courtyard on the south wall that seemingly contains hope and imagination. The last entrance to the small courtyard, where the brick wall is covered with blue brick gray tiles, leads to a scene of green trees and the blue sky that have been stacked in layers, and infinitely extended. Entering the "Gourd Garden" from the south side is a completely different experience from the north side; you will first encounter the a wall with shadows then turn east into the small porch and finally entering the house on the south from the right side through a hidden door.
The small courtyard can be divided into three small units based on functionality. The east wing and the southeast corner can be used as two complete LOFT apartments. A small courtyard separated from the south side of the east wing brings in the warm sunshine in winter and the refraction makes the south wing brighter. The southwest corner is a （两开间的）office space; the deeper west wing which can be divided into two can be used as an exhibition and event space; the two entrances in the north and south can also be used separately.
Different from the usage of lightweight transparent bamboo steel slabs in the No. 4 courtyard of Heng Hutong, to redefine public and private spaces in the urban courtyard, the experiment of “Gourd Garden” further attends to the spiritual space above the trivial daily life that is also the most intrinsic and essential life connotation of the courtyard. Many years of research and experiments have proved to us that even in such a dilapidated courtyard, it is possible to implant a living space with a traditional humanistic spirit through the language of contemporary design while maintaining the original architectural texture of the courtyard. It reshapes the endocentric spirit of the traditional courtyard, regains the prominence of the Chinese literati, and rebuilds the peace of the inner city by creating an introverted utopia to neutralize the bustling outside world.
The prototype of the "Gourd Garden" originated from an ancient ideology in Chinese literati – Taohuayuan; here it is not a completely isolated illusion, rather it now exists in the daily life of the city. It is not secluded as it has maintained an export to the outside world. Although it is not easy to be discovered, it reaches a peaceful and restrained world through the dark passage of “if there is light”. In the present, it is no longer a village surrounded by mountains but a fragmented remain in the modernized city that still possessed the sky, one scoop of water, and a few trees. This utopia longs for a mysterious existence within the rowdy metropolis. The significance of this experiment is that it is attempting to re-establish the connection with the outside world through the method of self-isolation. Therefore, this small “Gourd Garden” has become a prototype as it tries to promote the value of the existence of every single individual. This utopia hidden within a set of layered enclosures reveal a more universally significant spatial model for the old city regeneration agenda. While we attempted to maintain the original, traditional and vernacular layout patterns and historical features as much as possible, the interior space can evolve into other unique spatial experiences.
项目组：方雪、陆婧、刘羽、Bernat Riera、金晨佳（方案设计）| 李永才、王喆（建筑施工图）| 张溯源、崔谊、王思洁（设备施工图）
合作公司：荷捷建筑顾问（北京）有限公司，H&J International, PC（结构），互联盟建筑设计（北京）有限公司（施工图合作）