Building a dwelling among men –
Dialogue between the Primitive Hut and Scroll Forest
Inspired by the theme of “Building a dwelling among men” 結廬在人境, the first line of Tao Yuanming’s celebrated 5th century pastoral poem, we conceived of a pair of architectural re-enactments embodying the dialogue between the active and contemplative within one’s life journey.
A thatched hut, set adjacent the picturesque serenity of Chung Chi’s College Lake Ad Excellentiam in a sunken arbour beside the road (未圓湖竹林), enables students to soak in the experience, pause and reflect, and put their thoughts on a bamboo scroll (竹簡). The inscribed scrolls are then rolled up and taken across the road to Yasumoto International Academy’s busy plaza (康本國際學術園廣場), and inserted in a bamboo fence installation. Filling the fence scroll by scroll, a wall gradually appears, literally constructed with the myriad rolls of individual thoughtfulness and hopes that are shared with all passers-by.
Lakeside: 21st century Primitive Hut
The hut nestles within the roadside glade by a luscious bamboo grove and the embracing shade of a majestic camphor. Perched on a vantage point, the hut’s main orientation is anchored precisely to capture the wonderful lakeside view of the zigzag bridge framed by the naturally arching bamboo blades. Responding also to a lesser, perpendicular view axis, it gathers the site’s visual acoustics. By listening to its lyrical murmurs, the humble cottage perfectly matches the forest, giving off a refreshing earthiness that clears one’s mind in the autumn breeze.
Architecturally, the hut attempts to situate a renewal of the idea of the primitive hut – the most fundamental unit of architecture as shelter – within the Chinese University’s humanistic topography. The hut’s size, materiality and enclosure, with walls, desk against window, chairs, bookshelf and benches is designed to invoke the archetypal settings for scholarly contemplation in both western and Chinese traditions, such as those depicted in paintings of St Jerome’s study and landscapes with a thatched cottage by Tang Yin (唐伯虎), as well as summoning more modern exemplars such as Thoreau’s Walden in the new world and Le Corbusier’s Mediterranean ‘Petit Cabanon’. Local references are bracketed by Hong Kong’s most ancient evidence of dwelling, Han dynasty clay L-shaped houses found in the Lei Cheng Uk tomb (李鄭屋古墓陶屋模型), and images of Mai Po wetland’s（米埔濕地）last thatched hut of the 1970s.
Location Chung Chi College, CUHK
Completion October 2014
Concept & design Thomas Chung
Design team Sophia Au, Tommy Li, Andrew Yu
Building team Janice Chan, Ok Chan, Shirley Cheung, Ho Yuen Ling, John Ip, Shen Luyuan, Sonia So, England Tsui, Arthur Wong, Sian Wong, Hilary Yip, Leroy Yuen, Fiona Yung, Kitty Zhou
Project co-ordination Siushan Cheng
Images I·CARE, Dr Joseph Man Chan, Tommy Li, Andrew Yu
Plaza side: Scroll Forest, wall of shared hopes
On the plaza side, a thick but porous 6 x 2m wall for holding the scrolls are made from tightly bundling 16 layers of standard folding bamboo fences, angled and shifting every two layers to create over 1,600 scroll-sized slots. Stabilized by a horizontal platform draped also in folding fences, the scroll-cum-fence wall frontally welcomes visitors from the train station, while acting as a large directional sign pointing towards the secluded hut when viewed from the top of YIA’s grand staircase.
The choice of the rustic folding bamboo fence comes naturally from ‘plucking chrysanthemums along the eastern fence’ (採菊東籬下) the best-known image of Taos’ same ode to life in domesticated nature. After visitors’ momentary reverie in the secluded hut, their written words of wisdom are actively wrapped up, and inserted to build up this scroll forest into a wall of shared hope (竹簡心林).
Construction and materials
Our aim was to use vernacular construction and local natural materials. We invited local bamboo scaffolding experts to build the thatched shelter. While green bamboo poles form the primary structure, reed especially cut from the Mai Po marshes are dried to form the roof’s top layer, and the substantial thatch came from drying cut grass directly from the hills on campus. For the semi-interior setting, the walls, platform and furniture are clad entirely using bamboo scrolls to embody the scholarly ambience. A host of enthusiastic architecture students helped with making the furniture, as well as meticulously assembling the fence wall installation. It took almost two months from inception to realization including various testing and mockups, while actual construction took less than one week – the hut was erected in three days and the bamboo fence assembled in a weekend.
Making original architecture – a return to origins
In the midst of the ongoing vicissitudes in Hong Kong’s history, this project opened up a precious chance for us to rethink why we build and what we build for in our lives. We recall the primitive hut as a reminder of the basic premise of architecture as original shelter. In our dialogue between the Primitive Hut and Scroll Forest, we hope to contribute architecturally to this process of reflection and rethinking, of society, life and oneself afforded by ‘Building a dwelling among men’ [b* a.d.a.m] Here, we are guided by Joseph Rykwert’s classic book On Adam’s House in Paradise and his enlightening excavations of the idea of the primitive hut – the home of the first man.
In our perennial desire for renewal, we see our project as an attempt to make original architecture in 21st century Hong Kong, or, as Rykwert put it, to build “a primitive hut situated permanently perhaps beyond the reach of the historian or archeologist, in some place I must call Paradise. And Paradise is a promise as well as a memory.”
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