AUTHOR: KE ZHANG, CHENYU LIN
TRANSLATOR: JAMIE CHEN
PROOFREAD: CICI LIU
The city of Beijing was established over 3,000 years ago and has been the capital
of China since the Liao dynasty.
The city has gone through five dynasties, Liao (916 - 1125 AD), Jin (1115 - 1234 AD), Yuan (1271 - 1368 AD), Ming (1368
- 1644 AD) and Qing (1644 - 1911 AD), and the reign of 34 emperors over the
span of 860 years. Beijing connectsChina internationally with the rest of the world,
it is also known as the cradle of civilization. In this article, we will be introducing the Siheyuan, a historical type of residence distributed throughout Beijing.
Siheyuan is a traditional Chinese courtyard building. Dating back to the Yuan dynasty, this dwelling since then has become the most dominant housing type in Beijing. The layout of a Siheyuan is composed of four buildings positioned along the north-south and east-west axis and with the central courtyard space left open. Such a structure forms a vastly private living environment and at the same time allows the interior to be free and open to ligurces.
SIHEYUAN AND FENG SHUI
Photo: TING XIE
Feng Shui plays an important role not only in the daily life of Chinese but also in the architecture. In addition to this, the layout of Siheyuan also heavily relied on Feng Shui and Eight Trigrams (Ba gua.)
Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese system of practice used to analyze the geographical situation (for example the direction of the ground, veins, mountains, and water) of locations such as residential buildings or graveyards. Ancient Chinese believed that having a good or bad Feng Shui can have an enormous impact on the prosperity of the people living within the house. Bagua on the other hand is a set of eight symbols used in the Taoist cosmology in representing the elemental principle of reality. [Eight Trigrams (Ba gua) comes from I Ching, which is a set of eight symbols used in ancient China to deduce the relationship between time and space of the world.] The ancients usually relate the Bagua symbols (Eight Trigrams) with the architecture’s topography, which is then Feng Shui.
In the layout of a Siheyuan, the main entrance is often placed on the southeast position of the Bagua diagram (Eight Trigrams), and the corresponding back door will be located in the “Qian” position. Therefore, the divine “Qian Shan Xun Xiang” position is considered auspicious in geomancy. In the Bagua diagram (Eight Trigrams), “Xun” represents wind,
which in our natural system wind can cross over between heaven and earth. Consequently, placing the doors into the
right position can benefit the householders with profits pouring in from all sides.
“Kan” aligns with the true north, which corresponds to water in Wuxing (Translated as the Five Phases, which encompasses the elements of Gold, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth). Positioning the main house to true north at the “Kan” position can avoid fire. This layout also complies with nature's pattern. The Siheyuan is built facing the sun and blocking the wind, and the house is also lodgeable in the way that it is warm in winter and cool in summer. Complementing the southeast-facing main entrance, the layout of “Kan” embodies the principle of “Kan Zhai Xun Men”.
THE MODERN APPLICATION OF SIHEYUAN
-- QISHE COUTYARD
While the preservation and inheritance of historical architecture has always been a topic at hand, the further step of this discussion is how to maintain these ancient architecture along with keeping their traditional culture and at the same time meet the demands of our modern living lifestyle. The architecture firm Archstudio may have the answer in their reconstruction project, Qishe Courtyard.
Qishe (combination of 7 houses) Courtyard is a makeover project designed by Archstudio in 2020, located covertly in a hutong (alleyway) within a core old quarter in Beijing. This “three-layered courtyard” project took up about 5382 square ft, with about 50 ft wide and 138 ft in length. The project received its name “Qishe” because the architecture originally
consisted of 7 pitched-roof buildings and coincidently the building’s address lies on the number 7 within the hutong.
Archstudio’s restoration project of the Qishe Courtyard not only restore and conserve the traditional Siheyuan’s symmetrical layout and historical fragments, but it also provides a more functional space with a modern sense of touch. The team added in utilitarian facilities such as garage, restrooms, kitchen, and etc., while preserving the original architecture’s gateway, arch carvings, and even a decayed tree. In order to integrate the idea of renovating the old area while adding in the new sections, Archstudio embedded a curved glass plane veranda into the Siheyuan where it closely combines the separated areas.
“A veranda, a basic element of traditional Chinese architecture,... functions as a circulation route, reshapes the spatial
pattern and layers, and provides a playful walking experience. The veranda features a curved plane, and presents
variations according to different landscapes and spatial functions. It's closely combined with the curved edges of
the pitched roofs, hence forming several arc-shaped transparent spaces, which integrate the houses, landscape and
the sky into the same picture.”
Through the ages, the foremost essence of ancient Chinese architecture is not to seek the permanence of its original structure. On the basis of its original architecture, Archstudio’s project of the Qishe Courtyard, transformed the Siheyuan
into a new spiritual residence that meets the needs of modern life. The traditional architecture, therefore, is given a new mission that continues to prolong the thousand years of Chinese culture.
Special Acknowledgement for Photo Authorization