Amidst the rolling hills of ChongQing in China, creative designers at Describing Architecture Studio have recently finished a beautifully unique refurbished housing project for a small family called the Rain House.
Right from the beginning, the conceptualization of this house was rooted in the concept of memory. Designers wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to pay homage to the very hills the plot stands on, blending the house into what’s typically seen in the area in a slightly more modern way so the family can truly enjoy the breathtaking landscape.
Both when the original house was built and now in its refurbishment, designers were presented with a unique challenge that was entirely out of their control. This was the fact that increased traffic in the area presented a serious problem in continuing to build up the area and navigate the area with flow rather than jams.
The development of roads was undoubtedly a good thing for residents, as it met their travel needs in an area that was previously very rural and not necessarily easily accessed, but their presence changed the landscape just enough that the visual fabric of neighbourhoods changed in order to negotiate around and between the roads.
The roads were only the beginning of the changes to the neighbourhood, which are now evident in the amenities that are immediately present in the homes. These changes were directly correlated to a generalized increase in income of the residents in the area, increasing the presence of tap water, gas power, and Internet originally, and leading to all kinds of modern living features now.
Now that road developments and modernizations have largely slowed in the area because the neighbourhood is fully but subtly contemporary despite its ongoing traditionally inspired charm, many designers are trying to pay better tribute to the landscape itself by getting creative but respectful with their homes. Within this project, for example, teams couldn’t help feeling that the position of the sun and how it hits the land should be taken into better consideration from the beginning of their plans.
Incorporating the sun’s position into the actual plans of the home and accounting for where the light will fall aligns well with the Chinese practice of Fengshui. This practice is central to the Rain House, which features single framed stone walls, self-made hollow bricks created locally, and pre-cast slabs, just like most of the houses did when the neighbourhood really started populating more in the 1980s, for the sake of authenticity.
The original house that was transformed into the Rain House featured these as well, but with less weather proofing and modern materiality for support. It was an old three bay house full of wooden casements and windows that did not feature any inset glass. The yard was sunny in most places but also shaded by a stunning 200 year old yellow-horned tree that casts its silhouette quite far from where it sits in the sun across a small river.
Now, in the new house, only certain elements of the original structure remain, most of which have been harvested from what was still usable of what was left and aspects that have been recreated as authentically as possible. A new specific location was chosen for the house in terms of how it is oriented on the site. It provides views of the surrounding woods and farmland but still provides great access to transportation.
In terms of styling, the goal of the design was to achieve a sense of simplicity and uniqueness in one place. Part of this is rooted in the fact that designers chose to work with the uneven terrain of their plot rather than working against it, placing rooms of certain functions very intentionally. The living room, for example, has a slightly higher elevation than the bedrooms because being placed lower on the hill gives the resting spaces more privacy away from the front road, which sits higher.
The same traditional stone walls that you’d have seen in the original house in previous generations are present in this new design in the transitionary space between the new volumes that replaced the original three. Now, three larger rectangular volumes make up the bulk of the house, with two tower structures added on.
Sunlight actually plays a very large role in this house beyond just the Fengshui elements we were talking about previously. Designers also included extremely large windows (with glass this time) in places that they knew would let the most sunlight flood into the shared living spaces and provide tons of comfortable, natural light.
In contrast to the original building and its very traditional materiality, the roof of each of the large rectangular volumes is made from steel rather than wood or bricks. This was a choice for the sake of good weathering and modernizing, and also to provide contrast in shape and angle in the way that the different roofs on the home’s various volumes are tilted and the way they catch the sun.
Another much more contemporary looking element of the house is the glass wall that looks onto the south facing yard. This creates a visual blending of space between the interior common rooms and the beautiful scenery outside, as well as the immediate courtyard. Several of these panes slide like patio doors to quite literally create a blending of indoor and outdoor spaces as well. This wall also provides even more sunlight than anywhere else in the house.
Inside, the house is heavy in its stunning wooden materiality and neutral colour palette. This gives different spaces, especially the bedrooms, a sense of spa-like calm, particularly when the sun hits them and makes them gleam. This theme extends right into the centred tower, which is the tallest building and serves as an open and multi-purpose activities space, changing depending on the needs of the family in the moment.
In fact, the material choices in this home actually played one of the biggest roles in the home’s authenticity within its building process. Here, designers involved bricklayers, stonemasons, and carpenters, just like there would have been in the building of the original house, but this time they collaborate with ironworkers and welders for the more contemporary iron and steel elements.
Photos by Lian He