Kengo Kuma revives traditional Chinese houses


It’s too late for most of urban China’s traditional courtyard houses or siheyuan. They’ve been sacrificed in the name of progress and replaced by high-rises. In the Beijing neighbourhod of Qianmen East, some of the remaining properties are now inhabited by newcomers, and as a result “the historical siheyuan became like slums”, says Kengo Kuma.

The lauded Japanese architect has been involved in transforming Qianmen from a down-at-heel residential quarter near Tiananmen Square into a mixed-use community of offices, houses, shops, hotels and restaurants.

The architect is working with local artisans to rebuild the structures. Already completed is a 196㎡cafe and similarly-sized office, where Kuma now has his Beijing studio.

The exteriors of the reworked courtyard house now has a new brick wall and glass curtain wall with and extruded aluminum screen – a modern take on latticing achieved by locking together two different types of extrusion.

Kuma explains that “by assembling them as one might do for a jigsaw puzzle, we formed an organic pattern that respects the design called huagechuang”, which can be found at traditional Chinese windows and doors 

The Japanese architect is not the first to attempt to save or revive the few remaining courtyard houses. For Beijing Design Week 2014, local studio People's Architecture Office came up with a modular Courtyard House Plugin system, intended to make those in disrepair habitable again. 

Kuma has created a striking effect with this metal at another project in Shanghai. There, his tower is draped in ‘pleats’ of perforated aluminium.

Kuma said recently that he avoids iconic architecture at all costs. That said, his eye-catching twisting Dallas Rolex tower is in progress.