Creating Vernacular Modern in Rural China

Creating Vernacular Modern in Rural China

One of the Bay Area’s venerable firms, EHDD (founded in 1972 by Joseph Esherick, George Homsey, Peter Dodge and Chuck Davis, the last of which is still active in the office), joins the list of firms that have been working in China. However, its new project is not a speculative skyscraper in Shanghai or some other bigger-than-thou marquee building.  It is an architectural triumph of another sort: a much-needed rural school that incorporates modern methodologies for sustainable design. It also manages to evoke Chinese vernacular architecture in a modest, graceful way–an aesthetic coup that seems to be a rarity in modern China.

Traditional tile roofs and a courtyard layout help ground this modern complex.

As Jennifer Devlin, one of EHDD’s current principals, says of the project in a short but effective video, “[We set out to design] first and foremost a seismically safe school that met key green sustainable principles…that were really not our imposing our way of doing things in Bay Area, so much as responding to the environmental and social conditions there appropriately.” The Zhang Jia Yuan Elementary School is laid out like traditional courtyard house, with swooping roofs of clay tile. The sustainability enhancements also include things as simple as insulating silk curtains. “The children….warm up the room, and at night you close [the curtains] to capture the heat,” says Devlin.

Reverse clerestory windows, which also provide the support for future solar panels, balance out the light entering the classrooms.

The pro-bono effort was inspired by EHDD’s participation in Public Architecture’s 1% program, which encourages the profession to give one percent of their time to charitable design.