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Is Arts and Crafts Architecture the Next Direction for Luxury Residential Design in China?

Is Arts and Crafts Architecture the Next Direction for Luxury Residential Design in China?

 

A uniquely Chinese Arts and Crafts architecture would be a breath of fresh air in the formal world of luxury residential design.  During the past decade designing communities in China, I am often asked to help decide the design direction for the home’s exterior. Since most of the projects I work on are very high-end, the style is often inspired by the more formal and classical examples found in the great homes across Europe and North America. These looks really capture the elegance and sophistication needed to tell the story of a luxury community.

While I enjoy designing in these elegant styles, at times it has felt a little out of place to see a Tuscan or Italian community in the heart of China. A bit like Disney Land.  It can be successful and beautiful but at the same time not quite fit into China’s culture.  As a designer, I feel there is tension.

Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to design a project with Longfor in Beijing near the Summer Palace.  For this project, we paid great attention to the style and fit.  It was a blend of local design themes but with a classical flavor.  In the end, it was unique and the Summer Palace project for Longfor continues to be a benchmark in the home building industry.

After the Summer Palace project there was a shift in my thinking as a designer. Of course, with my experience I can easily create a beautiful community based on luxurious western styles, but what interests me is how local culture and style can be blended to create something unique and fitting for the luxury China market.

I believe Arts and Crafts design can be a powerful influence in the homebuilding market for two main reasons.

  1. Most high-end projects are based on styles that are formal and serious. It has become too common and it is time for a more romantic and human design direction.
  2. Foreign design examples are international but often don’t feel at home in China. Arts and Crafts has a flavor that can adapt well to the local market and become uniquely Chinese. It can be timeless.

 

A brief history of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Arts and Crafts was an international design movement started in Britain and embraced throughout Europe and North America.  At the time these countries were going through a rapid industrialization and the benefits of mass production were seen throughout society, including in the arts. The Arts and Crafts movement was a rejection and counterpoint to the hard industrialization and mass production. Mass production created excessive ornament and an ignorance of the qualities of the materials used. Ornament overpowered what was being decorated.

Arts and Crafts design stood for traditional craftsmanship using simple forms was often inspired my medieval, romantic, and natural details. Patterns found within nature served as inspiration, though not always literally but in principle.  In contract to the industrial process, it was important to express the craftsmanship of human hands and show honesty in the materials. In architecture, it became a richer human experience in contrast to the hard and cold modern industrial designs.

Europe, North America, and Japan all had their own unique interpretation of the Arts and Crafts movement during this period. There a numerous styles within the Arts and Crafts era including Prairie which is seen at times in China’s market.

Chinese Arts and Crafts Architecture

There is an opportunity to create an architecture that is romantic, human, and comfortable. Less serious and foreign and more local and unique. By interpreting the Arts and Crafts movement in China a new style appropriate for the local culture can emerge following these few principles.

  1. Long horizontal lines linking the architecture to the landscape.
  2. Eaves with details recalling traditional building methods such as wood construction.
  3. Larger groups of windows to open views to the landscape.
  4. Natural materials and textures that express craftsmanship.
  5. Details that link to nature rather than classical examples.
  6. Harmony is from good proportion and composition and not an overabundance of decoration.
  7. The long rich history of local wood construction can be expressed.

 

An Anji Example.

The first impression of this project site in Anji is how beautiful, clean, and special the landscape is.  I’m not the only one who thinks this is a lovely landscape, it has even been the setting for films and movies. The dramatic hillside is covered with trees, tea farms, and bamboo forests. From these hills you can look down onto a private lake that forms the heart of this site and it is around this lake that we were asked to design a private resort.

With such a wonderful site, it was important for the buildings to connect to nature and to use the landscape as part of the composition and circulation.  The restaurant and event center are pulled away from the main clubhouse and connected with open air loggias to maximize a visitors’ experience of the natural beauty.  Separating the buildings has the added benefit of helping the large main building dissolve into the surroundings.

As I toured the site and imagined the type of architecture that fits this legacy project, images of the great Arts and Crafts architecture filled my mind.  Arts and Crafts design expressed and hand build nature of the construction and often incorporates patters and compositions found in the natural world.  It is a warm and welcoming style perfectly fitting this special site.

The details were especially important.  Organic forms are incorporated throughout including on the stone railings, column capitals, and accent panels.  Since stone was used throughout we thought carefully about what was possible in this material and how the details should be built.  The selection of the stone was an especially long process involving may visits to suppliers in China.  It was key to find a warm and natural stone to fit this lovely site.

 

If you would like to see more of the masters of the Arts and Crafts movement research these architects.

Greene and Greene

Frank Lloyd Wright

Julia Morgan

Bernard Maybeck

 

 

Best wishes,

John Bigot


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