Residence of Three Generations / MINOR lab
Common and Uncommon Living for Seven. We were commissioned in early 2019 by a couple who wanted to build a shared home for their wife’s families. The 212-square-meters site is located in a village on the outskirts of Beijing. It was the residence of the client and her family when she was a child. Being away for many years, the couple now wants to return to the village life with the family. The client’s parents and her younger sister’s family of three will be living here on a daily basis. The client couple who live in the city will come here on weekends to reunite with family and experience village life. For them, it is a vacation house.
Neighbors in the village are mostly 1-2 story brick masonry structure courtyard houses. Normally, villagers use temporary thermal insulation boards and corrugated steel sheets for space expansion. Neighborhoods are more independent and private. The client and architect both hope that the new construction will be integrated into the context and grow out of the original village texture. Therefore we naturally reached a consensus on using brick housing with sloping roofs. The periphery of the house is solid, heavy, and private. The taupe bricks conform to the texture of the surroundings. The slope of the roof is meticulously calculated to avoid affecting the houses. Massing itself, though, is not what leads the design. We tried to sort out the needs of the seven occupants as well as feedback from the neighbors, hoping that the space can be the extension of the occupants’ past memories, current perceptions, and imagination of ideal life.
Considering each family member’s habits and daily needs, the residence has four independent bedroom suites with bathrooms. Three independent relatively buildings massing three families are connected by interior circulation with public spaces such as living rooms and kitchens. In respect of the tradition, the parents’ suite is located on the north side of the courtyard, facing south. Younger sister’s suite is adjacent to the parents’ room in order to take care of them. Its sliding reeded glass window faces the landscape corridor on the side of the atrium. Therefore it can be completely open to extending the interior space out, to interact with the public space and parents’ room through the physical and view corridor. Nephew’s room is located on the second floor on top of the parents’ room. Due to the height regulation of the site, the attic-like room has a view in front of the desk facing south on top of the courtyard and the rooftop.
The suite for the elder sister’s family is relatively more independent. In addition to the bedroom, we also designed a lounge, a tea room, and a reading room in the suite for their vacation activities. The massing of this suite is 0.9 meters lower than the others, creating a more comfortable ceiling height and establishing a sophisticated spatial relationship with the courtyard. While the interior double-height gable wall plays a structural role in the building, as a readable elevation, it defines the active lounge and tranquil tea room on the first floor. A steel staircase is attached to it, extending on the second floor as a bridge between the reading room and the bedroom.
Permeable Courtyard. The courtyard is where the human living happens in nature, while nature integrates into people’s life. A 2-meter-tall solid boundary wall defines the privacy and scope of the site. The front yard, courtyard, two small patios, and several peripheral yards permeate between the boundary wall and the interior space. The boundary is therefore sometimes merged with the building volume and sometimes peeled off, creating opportunities for the interior space to open up, providing ventilation, natural lighting, as well as an ever-changing landscape, and views of the four seasons.
The front yard connecting the gate and entrance is the solution to the beveled corner on the southeast of the site. The brick staircase extends from the boundary wall to the roof terrace. The glass elevation on both the north and south sides of the living room brings the landscape of the front yard and atrium into the interior space. Two patios on the east and west sides bring nature and lighting in between the two bedrooms and the living room. The ambiguity of the virtual space transforms the opposing relationship between private and public, dissolves isolation, and generates sharing, allowing the conversations of spaces to become positive interactions for the family.
The courtyard is the visual center of each living space. The branches of a maple tree in the courtyard go all the way to the roof terrace, inviting nature into indoor and outdoor spaces of different heights. The building massing and the trees in the courtyard form a front view blocking the surrounding noise on the roof terrace overlooking the mountains. There is one indoor and one outdoor public passage leading to the rooftop, and a private indoor circulation from the elder sister’s suite. Everyone can choose their own way to the patio without disturbing others.
Family Living and Independent Living. With the rapid development of urbanization, the Chinese family structure has shifted from large family shared living to the small family unit since the late 1970s. The traditional Chinese family has very close relationships and common rules. The ideal large family lifestyle is at the expense of personal needs, while the small family unit of one couple and their children are independent and with personality. This project is an observation and experiment to establish a new model for small families returning a shared family life. In this house, small families are independent of each other, at the same time living together with seemingly blurred but clearly defined boundaries. We hope that design can maintain the personalities of small families and a reasonable sense of boundaries between each other while creating a respectful and shared atmosphere with sufficient interaction. The house is where people agree to disagree, meet and relate as a family, and naturally form strong emotional bonds.