Projects   Residential – House of the Month – March 2004
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Cantilever House

Photos © Satoshi Asakawa (top three extriors) & Ma Xiaochun (bottom three interiors)

Floor plan | Section

The Commune By The Great Wall, Beijing, China
Antonio Ochoa­Piccardo

One look around the expansive metropolitans of China and there’s no denying that a building boom dominates this country. Hi-rises tower over centuries-old temples, technologically advanced buildings mingle with low-income housing and you can’t help but notice modern styling mixing with old-world flavor. And this phenomenon is not strictly occurring in the bustling Chinese cities – outside of Beijing, in the mountainous and picturesque area of Yanqing County, a new outcropping of modern housing is intermingling with one of the oldest relics in China, the Great Wall.

The Commune by the Great Wall is a development planned as a site for weekend houses complete with scenic views and a shared clubhouse. In this first phase, the houses are used as models for potential clients to tour and are rebuilt at the clients’ request. The developers, SOHO China, approached 12 young Asian architects to design the modern dwellings. Venezuelan-born Antonio Ochoa, whose practice is based in China, was one of the architects chosen for this project. His completed design is the Cantilever House.

The cantilever design made sense given that Ochoa was working with a rocky, uneven landscape. He explains that his goal was to "not intervene with the surroundings, allowing the house to enjoy the beautiful landscape and the mountain to be part of the house." The house stands on two supporting concrete walls and is cantilevered on three sides. The dramatic slate stairway leads to the entry of the house but also extends towards the rooftop garden. The rooftop, designed with a garden, pond, deck and bench seating looks out onto the valley and up to the Great Wall.

Ochoa’s motive with his architecture is not to have a signature style but to "have the architecture belong to the place where it is built." His goal to keep the house as a seemingly natural part of the landscape is not only seen in the shape of the house but also detected in his choice of colors and materials. The red-colored concrete, which references both traditional Chinese imperial architecture as well Ochoa’s own Latin-American background, blends in with the ruddy barren winter hills. The hard wood portion of the exterior balances with the summer months’ heavily wooded area.

When designing the interior, the developers’ guidelines were minimal so Ochoa created the layout to the house as if he were to live there. The internal staircase leads to four bedrooms, each with varied views and access to natural light. The two structural walls create a spacious double-high living room and the glass-paneled wall opens up to a terrace. Creating a grid pattern on the facades, some of the glass panels are intermittently replaced with isolation panels made of wood and polyurethane.

Ochoa’s belief that architecture is "a corporeal, aesthetic experience," and must be perceived by "traveling through the space" rings true with those who have toured his house. As phase two of The Commune by the Great Wall has begun and requests for copies of the model houses are made, the architect finds that his design is a popular choice – six additional Cantilever Houses are under construction.

By Randi Greenberg

Gross square footage:
5,005 sq. ft.

View complete specs

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