[COMMENDATION AR HOUSE 2010] Seperated from the outside world by gently defensive elements Li Xiaodong Atelier create an open and permeable house. Photography by Li Xiaodong
Though it often seems that any sense of history has been ruthlessly cauterised in China’s dash for growth, Beijing-based architect Li Xiaodong is on a mission to reconnect contemporary architecture with the nuances of place and vernacular tradition.
This does not involve aping historical models, but sensitively nurturing physical and experiential connections with the past to create an authentic and modern Chinese architecture. Li’s projects include the Bridge School in Xiashi, which won the 2009 AR Emerging Architecture Awards (AR December 2009).
The Water House is a family home in Lijiang, an ancient trading settlement whose old town is famous for its historic network of waterways and bridges. The site lies at the foot of Yulong mountain, its peaks forming a dramatic backdrop to Li’s architecture. The house synthesises traditional forms and techniques to make a contemporary building that resonates with place and history.
Conceived as an interlocking series of contemplative, inward-looking courtyards, the house is separated from the outside world by gently defensive elements such as low stone walls and shallow pools. Yet it is also has openness and permeability, conceived as a place to contemplate the grandeur of its surroundings.
The architectural language is refreshingly modest and unassuming. The cluster of simple timber and glass pavilions with tile-clad pitched roofs evokes traditional forms but is still evidently of its time. Lightweight, slatted walls delicately veil the light, and bamboo plants form a luxuriant green heart in the building’s central courtyard. The cooling, calming presence of water threads through the house and low eaves frame and enclose indoor/outdoor spaces.
Much of the construction was executed by local labourers. Li regards local involvement as essential to his projects, affirming a spirit of engagement with the region. The jury admired both his thoughtful approach and its highly poetic outcome.
Architect Li Xiaodong Atelier, Beijing, China
Construction supervisor He Yaoquan
Building contractor Yuhu Village