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Modern rustic aesthetics is given a fresh update in the country. A village housing takes a humble attitude and offers a new perspective in defining the domestic and vernacular landscape of Shanghai’s suburb.
Contrary to a utopian model of commercially driven architecture, House G is an atypical mode of a modern rustic aesthetic, and a rural intervention that it is an architecture designed for a local family, rather than for investors. The team at Interval Architects envisioned its design to be intrinsic to the needs of its occupants and their rural lifestyle. It is a modern rustic house that reflects the daily domestic lives and activities of the family, as opposed to being a spectacle inserted in the suburban landscape.
Overcoming site constraints
The 230 square metre residential is located in a suburban village two hours away from Shanghai. Its occupants is an aged couple whose children live in downtown Shanghai but occasionally visit.
The village has a set of serious regulations governing the design of the houses in terms of areas, height, orientation and etc. Local customs such as superstitions or cultural traditions and beliefs form another layer of constraints. The two sets of “rules” basically define the current domestic vernacular landscape in the rural areas of Yangtze Delta Region.
As a response to these constraints, the modern rustic house adopted a form that integrates elegantly within its surroundings as opposed to being an icon imposed onto the landscape. It took the form of a linear pitched-roof longitudinal volume that naturally blends in the context. The south facade is elongated to increase exposure to sunlight and views towards the paddy. Extended roof and continuous balconies emphasized the horizontality of the house, which perceptually reduces the height of it, and unifies the two separate volumes into a whole. The overhanging horizontal roof is also an element derived from the traditional vernacular architecture in Southern China.
Integrating public spaces within the house
Daily interactions between neighbours is typical in a village. As such, the first level of the house was designed to reflect the mode of communication and living habits of its occupants. The concept of publicness becomes hierarchical and was manifested in various spatial manners. Unlike apartment living in in the city, a vernacular house in the village must be functional to fulfill needs of a farmer and conducive for neighbourly interactions.
The yard on the South is the most public area of the house. It functions as the official entrance, a place for food production, and a place of interaction. Part of the southern yard is reserved for growing of crops and locally-grown vegetables. The earth still firmly ties to each village resident in terms of emotion, security, a reference to time, and food production. Another part of the yard becomes the extension of domestic life from the interior outwards. Benches and outdoor washing sinks are placed at the periphery of the court. They subtly define the boundary of the property and provide spaces of interaction between the house owner and their neighbors. The extended balcony on the second level not only provides shading and protection from rain but also defines an area for neighbors to gather.
The foyer of the modern rustic house is not merely an entrance, but also a leisure space for the house owners to play Mahjong with his neighbors. The living room performs not only as a space of gathering for the family but also is a religious space to worship the ancestors during special occasions. The second level of the house is the private domain and a place for mental retreat. Washrooms and bedrooms for the owner and their children who sometimes visit are connected by a double-height corridor which spatially extends upwards to the mezzanine on top. A bar table is placed in this corridor to provide a “node” for the family to have a cup of tea and relax, thus eliminating the nature of the space as pure circulation.
The continuous balconies and terrace is an extension of interior spaces on the second level. They provide a chance to enjoy the great views of the surroundings and a place for family members and close friends or relatives to gather in private. The small courtyard on the mezzanine level is the most private area of the house and is only used by the family members. It is a place to read, reflect, and contemplate, especially for the owner’s daughter who resides in the city and occasionally returns and seeks solitude.
Photography by ZHI Geng