Preserving Architectural Gems: 8 Beijing Hutong Plug-Ins Update Historic Shells

Passing through historic Beijing neighborhoods, seeing only the preserved street-facing facade, you’d never know that surprisingly modern structures contrast with aging surfaces within the courtyards just out of sight. Instead of just demolishing the ‘hutong’ courtyard houses found only in this Chinese city, architects are adapting them to modern life, slotting houses, hostels, museums, tea houses, cinemas and more under the existing roofs.

Tea House by Archstudio

In a truly stunning adaptation, Archstudio has completed a tea house and cafe within an existing hutong house, enclosing it from above with new roofs while leaving atriums open for bamboo and other greenery. The intervention connects the site’s five existing structures with a glazed corridor following the path of the original courtyard, forming three tea houses with their own unique views.

Twisting Courtyard by Archstudio

A river of glossy grey bricks streams through the courtyard of a Siheyuan house in the Paizihutong area of Beijing, upgrading the historic architecture with spaces that meet modern requirements of living. Archstudio‘s stunning pathway arches over the new volumes and even continues right into the dining room as part of the floor.

Mini Hostel Inside Hutong by ZAO / standardarchitecture

The firm ZAO / standard architecture inserted a small hostel inside a renovated Beijing hutong, exploring the potential of small-scale accommodations that slot right into the city’s existing architecture instead of displacing it. The glazed facades of volumes made of board-formed concrete project into the courtyard, facing each other (in some cases, with views of toilets, much to the horror of many Westerners looking at these images.) “The result is an architectural operation that brings back the courtyard as generator of the program, as it activates the building by creating a direct relationship with its urban context.”

Lai Yard House by Minggu Design

Tucked away behind weathered brick facades near the ancient city wall of Beijing, this courtyard home was crumbling. Minggu Design protects and preserves the original Chinese architecture while enhancing and adapting it for the 21st century, inserting volumes made of wood and glass to complement the surroundings without overpowering them. They used the new volumes to intentionally block and filter light to the original interior, creating a tranquil cave-like feel.