Beijing modern hutong house is designed according to Passivhaus principles

Shiyuan by Days in Yard Studio is a contemporary redesign of the hutong home in Beijing that makes the most of Passivhaus’ sustainability principles

This modern hutong house design in the heart of Beijing sits between two ancient temple clusters – the Northeast Watchtower of the Palace Museum and Zhizhu Temple. In such a historic and precious environment, the architects of the Days in Yard studio knew they had to think long and hard about their approach when they embarked on the redesign of a Chinese hutong house – hutongs being the alleys with groups of small dwellings found in parts of Beijing, of which only a handful remain intact – in a contemporary family home. The result, named Shiyuan (as traditional courthouses as they are known), is an elegant feat of sustainable architecture, retaining its period character while employing 21st century Passvhaus principles.

Traditionally, the courtyard of a hutong house serves as both a private space and a meeting place, the architects explain. Likewise, in this modern revamp, the studio kept the outdoor space at the heart of the open plan. It is visible from most rooms in the house, becoming the heart of the domestic space. The project rightly combines a residence for an architect’s family, with additional space for a design office and more social spaces, which the creative uses for events and cultural activities.

Modern hutong house for a family of architects

Photography: Zoulei

Much of the original building fabric has been compromised, with many architectural elements, such as parts of the wooden structure or masonry walls, either damaged beyond repair over the years or completely missing. Restoring these features, while reworking openings and vistas and taking into account neighbors’ views and lighting needs in what is a tightly knit urban context, were all paramount in the development of the design.

“When I took over the renovation of this courtyard, we had quite a few precedents to follow in terms of the construction of old buildings. For example, we observed more than a few relevant cases and examples in garden design, contemporary space design approaches, and novel use of materials. The questions we have raised here are: how to make a return to court life more livable? What technical standards could be used as a reference? recalls project architect Haipeng Ren.

The answer was found in the Passivhaus principles, which allowed the house to retain its character while opening up. Now the interior connects the two different rooms, through views through and the absence of rigid separations between zones, and exterior and interior spaces, thanks to the key role that the courtyard plays. The result is an environmentally sensitive design that brings the respected and treasured historic typology into the 21st century, while creating a comfortable family home. §