This is my (SE) final undergraduate design project, based in Kunming, China. Kunming is a medium sized city in China’s South Western Yunnan province. The city boasts a warm and comfortable climate all year round, earning the city the nickname of ‘The Spring City’. The city centre is located on the flat land between the Green Jade Chicken and Golden Horse mountain ranges. Intensive development has caused the urban landscape to sprawl into the foothills of the surrounding mountains.
The Refuge for Mothers and Children responds to the urgent needs of single parent families which are caused as a result of Chinese government policy. Mothers who give birth to children without having the father to sign the birth certificate are forced to pay crippling fines. This financial punishment is further compounded by the social stigma attached to single parenthood, often leaving mothers and children without friends, family, employment and education. In many cases mothers are forced to find unsafe accommodation and their children are forced into work at young age as they are refused registration at state schools.
This project provides mothers and children affected by this legislation with residential accommodation, educational facilities, medical and social support, and, employment. It aims to set a precedent for such projects, providing a flexible, economical and repeatable design solution.
The site is located within the complex street network of Jinbi Market. A wide variety of goods overflow from the neo-vernacular retail outlets to create a lively atmosphere in one of the few remaining low rise areas of the city. The small scale of the buildings, and the streets between, endow this area of the city with a genuine uniqueness in relation to its surroundings.
The design responds to the context by reinterpreting a number of it’s characteristics such as ambiguities in the sense of enclosure, fragmentation, permeability, urban sprawl, passive environmental strategies, colour and texture.
A fragmented white roof cascades down from the rooftops to ground level, sheltering the residential red cubes from the harsh sunlight. An open ground floor houses informal educational spaces for the children, while the adult educational needs are catered for on the first floor. The two floors are linked by voids, courtyards and shared spaces. A garden runs from the ground level, up a stepped landscape to the rooftop of the hostel. The Hostel’s role is to provide cheap accommodation for volunteer travellers who provide classes and education to the mothers and children. It also offers a place of work for the mothers in need of employment.
The courtyards bring together all the events, activities and people. A double height entrance space provides the welcome to the building, while large doors allow the central courtyard to flow into the inside spaces, helping to dissolve the boundary between outside and in.
These vertical incisions through the building play an important role in the safety and security of the residents, allowing mothers to see the different play spaces regardless of their location. Courtyards a crucial social and environmental feature of much traditional Chinese architecture, the design aims to reflect such traditional features within a contemporary setting.
The communal kitchen and living area is an open, light space designed to allow both social and private use. Windows on the Eastern elevation mean the room is brightened by the morning sun which casts crisp shadows across the floor. Openings on both sides of the room enable cross ventilation and the scents from the kitchen to travel into the courtyard and surrounding streets.
The Library is among the most important spaces in the building. A landscape of bookshelves creates an adventurous and exiting space for adults and children to come together and pass on their stories, perform, teach, play and relax. The bookshelves join the ground and first floor meaning that the library acts as the central point of learning. The use of colour throughout the building is implemented fabrics of different colours help to define moods and atmospheres within the building’s different spaces whilst also being lightweight, child-friendly and economical space dividers.
The building’s technological and environmental strategies are embedded in the design. Ranging from the courtyards which penetrate the structure vertically, drawing warm air up and out of the building, or the plan configuration which encourages cross ventilation throughout, to the cushioned residential cubes which dampen the noise in the domestic areas of the building and also provide cross bracing to the temporary steel structure. The white roof has been designed to serve a number of purposes, including reflecting the sunlight which at over a mile of altitude can be of dangerous UV levels, allowing air to pass between the roof and the cubes, protecting the cubes from rain and allowing views out from and light into the residential areas.
Despite the limited palette of materials employed in the design, a diverse range of textures are achieved by varying surface finishes to standard materials. For example, due to availability of the raw materials and the unskilled nature of the workforce, concrete is used extensively for the lower floors of the building, but by exploring different shuttering materials and techniques, such as bamboo, a variety of textures can be achieved throughout the building very economically.
The building consists of two principal structural strategies. The lower levels are made from concrete which sits atop the transfer slab currently in place on the site. Above this is the temporary and removable modular steel structure in which the residential cubes are located. This approach allows the the community to rapidly respond to its changing needs. The average life expectancy of newly constructed Chinese buildings is under 30 years, with the primary reason being that buildings cease to be fit for purpose. The ability to be adaptive and flexible is key this design’s sustainability, helping to ensure that structure lives beyond the average life expectancy.