Towards a Sustainable Future: Local Materials and Methods in Contemporary Chinese Architecture

In the past decade, there has been an increase in interest in handcrafted buildings and in using local and renewable building materials. Urban planners today are adopting sustainability as a way to address concerns about environmental and economic costs associated with construction. This refers to “meeting your own needs without compromising future generations’ ability to do so.”

China has the largest population and fastest economic growth in the world, which has encouraged its architects to use more local construction methods. This article will provide some insight into how sustainable construction has shaped contemporary Chinese architecture. It will examine the reuse of local materials like wood, bricks and stones, bamboo, rammed Earth, recycled kiln bricks, and tiles.

Qimen Black Tea House / Atelier Lai

Qimen Black Tea House / Atelier Lai. Image © Xuguo Tang

“After removing the wooden frame, we re-arranged column nets in the rectangular wall using the most common Chinese Fir as beam-column structures. The floor plate is supported by a traditional column and tie construction on the first floor. Skeuomorphism is used on the second floor. The wood structure roof, however, is constructed with a crown-shape cantilever to protect and cover the old wall. “

History Museum of Qifeng Village/ SUP Atelier

History Museum of Qifeng Village / SUP Atelier. Image © Rui Wang

“We chose to use local materials, and we focused on recycling and processing. Durable materials can be reused, from the simple wooden floor on 2nd floor to the roof of the building, all the way down to the black tiles. The polished wooden slabs and the sorted black tiles can be used, which saves building materials while keeping the historical context intact. “

Tibet Namchabawa Visitor Centre / standardarchitecture

Tibet Namchabawa Visitor Centre / standardarchitecture. Image Courtesy of standardarchitecture

The building looks almost like a few pieces of rock sticking out of the mountain. It is constructed as a series stone walls that are set into the slope. There are no windows facing west. It is not hidden from view, and does not stand out from the background as an example of “Tibetan architecture”.

Nicha Tujia Restaurant / Atelier A

Nicha Tujia Restaurant / Atelier A. Image © Byungmin Jeon

This building uses a lot of red bricks, which include the facade and walls, as well as floors. Most of the bricks have been preserved to preserve their original appearance. There are only a few additional bricks. These bricks are not new, but they were recycled from buildings in Shanghai. They then travel all the way to Beijing. They have the exact same quality and colour as the original bricks, which can’t be found in Beijing. In keeping with the authentic and unaffected style adopted by Atelier A, the mark on the additional bricks has been deliberately left uncovered.

San Sa Village / LLLab.

San Sa Village / LLLab.. Image © Fernando Guerra I FG+SG

“Observing the natural phenomena of wind and sun helped reveal the hidden wisdom of the materials. The landscape pavement of old slate, the porous red clay in the private courtyard, and the stone brick joints at building wall base gave rise to the impressive material characteristics. These elements, along with the dignity of the architectural geometry, create a sense of tranquility and leisure.

Building of the Ceremonial Hall in Lizigou Red Brick / KEYWORKS+RENGARCH

Lizigou Red Brick Ceremonial Hall Building / KEYWORKS + RENGARCH. Image © Leo Sun

“We see it as our challenge to preserve domestic knowledge and tradition with a new function that is accessible for future visitors and villagers. We discovered a common archetype house through many conversations and researches within the local area. It was an earth cave house that looks like an arch. These later forms combine red brick elements with additional arches. The common language of red bricks and arches is maintained. However, the new forms have more spatial dimensions.

In-Hutong Renewal Chuziying Hutong 3 / CU Office

In-Hutong Renewal of Chuziying Hutong 3 / CU Office. Image © Weiqi Jin

“As a demonstration project to renew the bungalow district in Tianqiao’s northern section, Beijing, the reconstruction budget is very small, making this demonstration project more real. It is not designed to use expensive or complex materials, but only four of the most common materials, wood, gray bricks, steel and glass. The gray bricks can be constructed using either traditional or modern construction techniques, depending on the location. They converge and translate the old and the new.

Bamboo

Bamboo Lodge / QAD

Bamboo Lodge / QAD. Image © Ce Wang

My design philosophy is natural, rustic and environmentally-friendly. After I cut bamboo into strips and sheets, I soak it in lime water. Then, the bamboo should be dried naturally in the shade to get the antiseptic, insect-preventive, and mildew proof properties. The different textures of bamboo are what I use to express space. The bamboo strips are the interior, while the bamboo skins, which act as building blocks, make up the space’s exterior. Bamboo weaving is arched to create the unique skin for each space.

Wuyishan Bamboo Raft Factory/TAO – Trace Architecture Office

Wuyishan Bamboo Raft Factory / TAO - Trace Architecture Office. Image © Shengliang Su

To create shading louvers, bamboo stalks are used along the veranda. They also provide insulation that is well-ventilated. In-situ concrete is used to construct the structure. Hollow concrete blocks are used for the exterior walls system. Cement tile is used as the roofing material. Bamboo and wood are used for sun shading, doors and windows. All materials are unique and can be used without any surface finishing.

Rammed Earth

SanBaoPeng Museum of Art / DL Atelier

SanBaoPeng Art Museum / DL Atelier. Image © Sun Haiting

Time will erode the majority of materials in Sanbao Art Museum’s collections, including rammed earth and titanium zinc panels. This process of erosion is similar to the fermentation of wine. We also found that Sanbao village produces unique soil. Therefore, we built the continuous loam walls using local clay. It provides familiarity and tension. “

Chatouya Visitor Center / Tumushi Architects

Chatouya Visitor Center / Tumushi Architects. Image © Chao Zhang

“Local materials can be re-used. The earth can be re-rammed into walls and Chinese-style tiles recycled into Pavement. The facade feels modern and transparent thanks to the transparent glazing and metal panel. The teahouse’s raw concrete reinforces its sense of volume. The teahouse’s striped concrete texture gives it a greater scale. Landscape settlement is strengthened by the use of both discrete and contrastive materials. The tension between modern and traditional materials is reflected in the traces of time.

Qingxiao Residence/Shulin Architectural Design

Qingxiao Residence / Shulin Architectural Design. Image Courtesy of Shulin Architectural Design

Rural construction is limited by inconvenient transport and lack of resources. So, building materials are highly localized, using green tiles recovered in the village, the original building’s materials are recycled; including, rammed earth wall materials, local masonry blocks, bamboo, old stone slabs, recycled old rubbles, and terrazzo, which are convenient for local material retrieval, recycling, and are environmental-friendly.”

Kiln Bricks

Bricks dominate the museum’s materials. Recycled old kiln bricks mixed with new bricks is done to reflect local construction culture. The interweaving two historical periods through the use of old and new bricks must stimulate curiosity, interest, and create new questions. People who interact with them will inevitably recall their past and have a unique experience. It is impossible to erase the past, but it can be rewritten through a new awareness and maturity, a kind of contemporary archeology.

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