Pingtan Book House, Huaihua Hunan Province, Chinese Commercial Interior Architecture Images

Pingtan Book House in Hunan Province

30 Nov 2022

Architects: Condition_Lab

Location: Huaihua, Hunan Province, China

Pingtan Book House Huaihua Hunan Province

Photos by Zhao Sai

Pingtan Book House, China

Pingtan Book House – A Traditional Timber House Squeezed with an Infinite Loop of Risers and Treads

Pingtan Book House Huaihua Hunan Province

Imagine a staircase that never ends, as an infinite loop of risers and treads squeezed into a traditional timber house. Adding to the mystery, the staircase has no destination, but rather is a destination itself. The walls of the house have been transformed into a matrix of bookshelves and windows overlooking a courtyard. However, this is no ordinary children’s library. The Pingtan Book House is a place where kids can read and play at the same time, and a new village library paradigm in China.

Pingtan Book House Huaihua

For years, Dong Minority villages have been confronted with the ever-present reality of the decline of their beautiful architectural heritage, eradicated by the arrival of a foreign material – concrete. Entire villages, built over centuries from a single sustainable material – indigenous China Fir – are rapidly losing their identity. Dong’s cultural DNA is being challenged by contemporary living and the quest to modernize. As a school built entirely of concrete 20 years ago on the edge of the village, the Pingtan primary school is a prime example of this condition. The complex, which accommodates more than 300 children aged 6-13, is comprised of a cluster of five buildings, including a Hall and Canteen, Classroom, Dormitories, and an Administration building, all surrounding a courtyard.

Pingtan Book House Huaihua

For these reasons, Condition_Lab saw an opportunity to make a small insertion by introducing a timber structure that retains the Dong architectural DNA, and which could reawaken a sense of wonder in their heritage. The design fosters a form of “living heritage” to reconnect and inspire children, while allowing them to appreciate their precious culture via direct engagement. The project is the second library designed by Condition_Lab in the region, with the first being Gaobu Book House, located 10 km upstream and acting as the elder sister in this family of interventions. The idea is simple – each project takes the traditional typology of the Dong “Galan” timber frame house and adapts it to a contemporary design, where elements such as stairs, walls, windows, and floor are reinterpreted.

Pingtan Book House Huaihua Pingtan Book House Huaihua China

Condition_Lab collaborated closely with local carpenters and students from the CUHK School of Architecture. ‘Local’, ‘slow’, and ‘attentive’ are all key attributes of the project, and the library wouldn’t be possible without them. Through a process of participation, the firm gained the trust of villagers and the school principal, enabling them to create a social narrative that also helped find donors to sponsor the project. In the end, the building was built with a single donation of 600,000 HKD from the Chan Cheung Mun Chung Charitable Fund, which covered the entire cost of construction.

Pingtan Book House Huaihua Hunan Province

This remarkable achievement, seldom occurring in contemporary construction, embraces a Book House built entirely using a single material, with every element, including walls, stairs, and floors, built with timber. The only ‘foreign’ material introduced was polycarbonate, used in façade panels that allow sunlight to filter in and provide external views. Construction followed traditional Dong carpentry details, where ‘Dragon Joints’ composed of male and female interlocking parts are used as the main structural bond.

Pingtan Book House Huaihua Hunan Province

The value of this project lies in two fundamental lessons. First, it relates directly to the children of Pingtan who, beyond enjoying playing in the library, have learned that their culture lives and remains relevant in this rapidly changing world. The second lesson relates to the discipline itself, at a moment when architecture, particularly in urban metropolises like Hong Kong, appears to have lost its soul to ever demanding developers. That reality makes one aware of the social importance of architecture. Social impact does not require large amounts of financial investment, and design is not limited to high-end projects. To put it simply, architecture must have a purpose.

Pingtan Book House Huaihua China

Pingtan Book House in Hunan Province, China – Building Information

Architecture: Condition_Lab –

About Condition_Lab
“All the world’s a stage”, William Shakespeare

Condition_Lab embraces design as a creative vehicle for problem-solving through purpose. The firm’s goal is to help people to leverage design to effect change through purpose. Every project has a mission, and architecture’s influence transcends the individual building.

Founded in 2018, Condition_Lab is an alternative architectural practice combining Social Enterprise, Research, and Design all in one. By developing designs, models, prototypes, and buildings, the firm aims to connect people through creations.

Condition_Lab’s philosophy revolves around the paradox embedded in the word “condition”, referring to a context or circumstance as a noun, while implying change as a verb.

Condition_Lab consists of three directors: Milly Lam (1991), Paula Liu (1993), and Peter W. Ferretto (1972), who work together along with a team of Researchers, Architects, and Students. The firm is headquartered within the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and its projects are based in China and Africa.

Pingtan Book House Huaihua

Photography: Zhao Sai

Pingtan Book House, Huaihua Hunan Province images / information received 301122 from v2com newswire

Location: Changsha, Hunan Province, China

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