Return to Home Page
Go to the Site Map
Project Sponsors
Return to HomeReport SummaryMore About the FilmPeople & Projects to WatchSite MapContact Green Dragon Film



While Max and River filmed an interview with Yang Xin, a Beijing entrepreneur developing one of Beijing's 33 historic cultural districts, Caroline explored the surrounding alley hutong (hoo-tong, 胡同). Down one quiet lane, a red door beckoned her and she plunged into what turned out to be one of Beijing's most beautiful examples of a residential siheyuan (sih-huh-yoowan, 四合院).

< param name="allowScriptAccess" value="sameDomain"> < param name="quality" value="high"> < param name="scale" value="noScale"> < param name="wmode" value="transparent">
“The most ecologically friendly buildings are the ones that peasants live in…courtyard homes that face south for solar gain, they pitch roofs to collect the rainwater, they grow vegetables in their from yard. Yet as soon as those people have money, they build a block house that looks like a bathroom with a flat roof and that’s it. They want something new and progressive. That’s very much the countryside mentality here. They don’t want to be reminded of their roots. Westerners want to live in a country cottage, Chinese want to live in a big, flashy building.”
- James Heinrick, Roggeo Design




Source: La Chine et le chinois. CHINE-INFORMATIONS






Regional climate should be considered in building design for energy-efficiency and environmental protection, and there are many helpful practices that are climate-responsive in traditional folk houses.

The Courtyard building style, also known as “Siheyuan”, has a long history in Chinese architecture. 'Si(sih, 四)' means 'Four', which here refers to the four sides: east, west, north and south. 'He(huh, 合)' refers to the surrounding, meaning the four sides connect into a square. There is normally only one gate, so when the gate is closed the courtyard disconnects with the outside world, leaving the family with utter tranquility and joyous peace.

Most of the existing courtyards are relics of the Ming (1368 - 1644) and Qing (1644 - 1911) Dynasties. The ancient furniture, fish pond, wooden doors and windows, and cane chairs remind you of their flourishing past. Those flashed bricks, Chinese eaves and cornices, fine brick designs, and wood carvings, reveal a strong classical tone of old Beijing. Many would tell you that you cannot fully understand Beijing until you have lived in the courtyards. Siheyuan offer good ventilation, natural light, space, comfort and quiet privacy. It is also good for security as well as protection against dust and storms.


- Natural Daylighting
The main room is situated on the north side facing south into the courtyard, allowing maximum daylight into the room. The roof eaves above are purposefully high, the window sills below short and the depth of every room limited so that daylight reaches right to the back of the spaces.

- Water Catchment and Infiltration
Rainwater is directed through the gutter system into storage cisterns while courtyard pavers are made of a semi-pervious stone tiles to enable water to naturally infiltrate into the ground.

- Passive Temperature Control
Mortar is applied on the ceiling followed by a thick layer of clay/soil above and then covered with roof tiles. Together this provides insulation to keep rooms warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

This family also maintains a large grape vine in the main courtyard as their main outdoor shading device.

Venture into a Siheyuan shortly before
dumpling time on a Sunday, and do not
expect to leave sober

Narrow rooms fill with natural daylight



Beijing has 33 historic cultural districts. The one Yang Xin is developing is called "West 4 Historic Culture Protection Area" (西四历史文化保护区). It is 350,000 sqm, includes 8 alleys (hutong) and has remained almost unchanged 700 years since the Yuan Dynasty. Yang Xin has assembed a number of foreign design firms specializing in historic architecture to preserve and restore the community's buildings while simultaneously incorporating modern structures to revitalize the area.


Family gather outside for a game of majong
and take meals here when the weather is pleasant

Rainwater is captured by cisterns for
use in the courtyard garden


How the Chinese Construction Industry WorksThe Role of the Chinese GovernmentAwareness & Attitudes to 'Green'China's Cultural ContextGreen Building Products in China
Explore Video Clips by Interviewee