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Saturday, November 24, 2018

The value of restraint!

Compiled by Team IAnD
Photography: Marc Goodwin, Xia Zhi; courtesy v2com
Read Time: 3 mins
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anySCALE Architecture Design studio restores, conserves and readapts a 300-year-old Huizhou-style property deep in East China’s Jiangxi Province with a sensitivity that blends the grace of ancient China with the luxury of a 21st-century hotel.  

Named after the English translation of “Tian Jing” - a regional architectural feature comprising of narrow courtyards that lets daylight into surrounding rooms, the Wuyuan Skywells property is an authentic luxury retreat in rural China and captures the essence of a bygone era in the millennium-old Yan village.

A multiracial couple earlier based in Shanghai, the clients used their life savings to purchase the property and turn it around while acting as custodians rather than gentrifying hoteliers.

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One of the key requirements was to preserve not only the recoverable artefacts but to also recreate the grandeur and elegance that was associated with the mansion, which, due to its remote location, was fortunate enough to survive a tumultuous 20th-century China. Having once served as an inn for merchants traversing through the region, a haven for Chinese soldiers fighting the Japanese invasion of the mainland, the building had suffered much neglect for most of the 20th century. 

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Eliciting the help of anySCALE Architecture Design, the property involved extensive repairs of heritage features, particularly, the ornately carved timber frames. For this, the team painstakingly searched for and recruited talented local artisans, like Yuzong skilled in centuries-old crafts. His replacement carvings for the main beam in the entrance area are particularly significant as they employ motifs inspired by the clients’ background and story.

To improve lighting conditions in the interior rooms without adversely affecting the original aesthetic of the building, windows with elegantly carved frames are installed on the walls facing the Skywells. The colour scheme for the interiors utilises a warm neutral palette with a spare bold accent. Brick and clay walls stand restored and rebuilt according to local tradition and keeping the structure cool during hot summers. In terms of energy use, the hotel has a better level of thermal insulation and wastewater management than the local standard. 

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Honouring the local architectural history and features of the Qing era and restoring in a manner where current and future generations can understand and appreciate traditional design, original and traditional elements in public areas are retained while the more private spaces for guests are contemporized with playful fittings and modern-day amenities, with the interior design of the 14 suites dominated by a mélange of warm and cool neutrals interspersed with occasional bright accent colours.

The patio, which is a narrow open sky surrounded by the house and the façade constitutes the fulcrum of the house. The exercise of conservation and restoration unleashes a natural, comfortable and approachable low-key luxury that reflects the designer's modern thinking and exquisite transformation.

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The project is on a winning spree of awards and is lauded by the LEAF Award Jury “… for “the ‘lightness of touch’ of the modern interventions. With interiors sensitively renovated with Zen-like charm and simplicity and maintaining the grandeur, elegance, and beauty of the original wood and stone features, the historical narrative of the building lives on with its new custodians preserving the past for generations to come.” 

Honours won so far include an ICONIC award, a RED DOT award, and an ABB LEAF award. The project has also been shortlisted by the INSIDE Awards being held in late November in Amsterdam.

Fact File:
Client: Wuyuan Skywells: Edward Gawne, Selina Liao
Architect Firm: anySCALE Architecture Design
Architects: Andreas Thomczyk, Mika Woll, Amy Mathieson
Designers: Danxin Sun, Kevin Wang
Area: 1,385 sq. m.
Location: Wuyuan, Jiang Xi Province, China



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