Disassemble-reassemble, dismantle-reconstruct, disjoin-rejoin are contrasting pairs, extreme terms, but also devices which help produce a new entity, without erasing what history has produced or deleting existing identities. Thus, they appear as the only viable tools in a society which is undeniably globalised.

As a tribute to the Yin Yu Tang House which was originally located in the village of Huizhou in the Anhui Chinese province, and then disassembled and re-erected at the Peabody Essex Museum to narrate China’s reminiscences, memories and traditions, we decided to disassemble a traditional Chinese villa, typical of the region where the site is located We would then reassemble it under a new set of rules in the competition area. In particular, we transformed what was originally conceived as an extensive building system into a solution where the volumes are stacked, thus giving rise to a real housing unit. The basement, detached from the rest of the house, is reminiscent of the ancient villa’s public and communal area, whereas the house proper is on the upper level. This represents, on the contrary, a private place, hidden from indiscreet stares, just like the traditional enclosure. Thus, while maintaining some key, Chinese, traditional elements, we designed a modern, flexible house, based on the principles of environmental sustainability. The first two floors house an exhibition area and a double-height studio, both fitted with a sliding walls system, which makes the space totally flexible. The house on the third level is also defined by sliding panels, which ensure the creation of multiple spatial layouts, with the different dwellings which may be combined in various ways. Lastly, a garden on the fourth level includes some significant, symbolic elements also typical of the tradition. These include the door, in this case signalled by a spiral staircase, the path, emphasised by a broken line where some bonsai trees stand, water which here becomes a swimming-pool and lastly, variously placed rocks also evoking a traditional layout.

All the apartments are conceived as independent units. However, they can also be combined in various ways, an arrangement made possible by the entry stairs and the central patio-hothouse. This element, which evokes the ancient courtyard and the traditional Chinese patio, becomes the building’s main feature. It develops over two levels, with the hothouse lit by a system of reflecting panels placed in the interstitial space between public and private areas on the lower level, whereas the patio reaches the level of the garden. The patio-hothouse affects the entire public and private space, and consists of a transparent double-glazed structure, into which both rainwater and water from the swimming pool flow. The patio-hothouse provides light, marks the passing of time and creates special optical effects. However, it also serves another function: it collects rainwater and makes it available for domestic use. Today more than ever, water is a precious resource with a symbolic meaning, but above all, it is a vital element, which must be preserved at all costs. The system was conceived, so that it conveys the water through the double-glazed walls into a large, underground tank where, treated and distilled, it is ready for use in all the apartments.

Year: 2007

Architect: Anna Rita Emili

Collaborator: Matteo Centi