Sustainable Housing & Design in Southwest China


This week’s blog post is a special feature from the Architectural Educational Foundation’s Travel Scholarship Winner, Kevin Yoshida, AIA.

I travelled to China in May 2014 as part of delegation that represented members of the American Institute of Architects, Housing Knowledge Community and the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability.

Our studies were focused in the Yunnan Province in southwest China and delved into the local vernacular of low density building forms rather than the high-rise residential complexes the dominate the headlines about development in the new Chinese economy.

Among the country’s 56 recognized ethnic groups, twenty-five are found in Yunnan.1

The architecture in the town of Xizhou is defined by the courtyard house of the Bai culture. This building form is a manifestation of the rules and etiquette for social interactions, family dynamics and daily life. The courtyards are also responsive to how the household responds to the environment, admitting and reflecting daylight to the appropriate areas of the house as well as shaded during appropriate times.2

These courtyard homes are densely packed to define streets in the neighborhood centers and do not overly interact or activate the public realm. Gateways and walled courtyards create an urban pattern of long streets and alleys with white walls and ink mural. In the less dense parts of town, the courtyard walls often sit directly adjacent to active farming.3

Local architects are adapting local vernacular forms with contemporary construction materials and adapting contemporary floor plans using traditional proportions and detailing, much like the interpretations seen in New Urbanism pattern books in United States.


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