Contemporary housing developments in China, and Asia alike, have been experiencing a constant surge of suburban sprawl in relation to its economic growth and global consumerist culture. The consequences are widespread areas of vertical private residences with extraneous space. However, this increase in architectural production caters to post-capitalist competition of corporates rather than to demands of the general population, where Eastern familial values still bind dependency of multiple generations within a common structure.
These conditions pose a challenge for Chinese studio Y.AN Design as they studied the rural area of Wenling, south of Zhejiang province, China. The built landscape here, like many other places, consists of multi-storey tube houses with monotonous design; the basic layout divides a unit into three parti: a front mass, a back mass, and an intervening stairwell for natural skylight. However, this setup negates many opportunities for communal zones that are common in older housing configurations—a trait that defines Chinese living spaces. Using this conflict between an unspoken and unknowing demand for social interaction and the spatial surplus, the designers at Y.AN Design renovated a fifth storey attic as a way to re-ignite exchanging activities for the inhabitants. This is Half Space.
In many cases, the attic is left barren to accommodate storage needs. Therefore, it’s usually kept dim and enclosed, resulting in a dense atmosphere. By a simple act of adding skylights and large openings that lead to outdoor balconies from both sides, the inner environment is elegantly lifted with lightness. Unexpectedly, the architects also added a mezzanine to this storey and turned it into a more dynamic interaction of elevational heights within a small space. The sudden increase in surface area also adds more possibilities to Half Space’s functionalities. Partitions are put in place to create programmatic functions to different parts of the space, including a living room, a cloakroom, a tea room, an additional bedroom, a workplace, and even storage.
Like many minimalist projects, the interior is composed of generous white planes that run from wall to wall. The ceiling is decorated with spherical lights hanging from double-height instances, giving a mesmerising feel and a soft contrast to the geometries. Meanwhile, the floor is cladded with burlywood for an enticing experience where family members can spend time with each other through numerous activities. Little touches like a small vase of dried flowers or a hanging tote bag also adds life to the structure’s existence, transforming a stark visual into a soothing sanctuary. The attention to design choices like having a voluminous grand sofa for a vision of people gathering, and movable partitions for a flexibility in spatial usage is subtly intricate yet incredibly necessary.
Repurposing unused space is a design methodology that’s required with the rapid growth of population and all the problems that it has created. Although Half Space can be seen as a micro-scale project in this approach of solving housing issues, the project, along with many similar others, gives criticality to the current operation of constructing new space. Through simple gestures and modest manipulation of architectural intervention, one can revisit lost values to bring them back, heighten the quality of life, and project towards the future.