ELEMENTS 3: WÉI QIANG (围墙) IN BEIJING (北京): VERANDAS IN THE CHINESE CITY

Published: 28/09/2016
Observing contemporary residential buildings in the endless metropolis that is Beijing you can find a certain uniformity; and, only seldom, some surprises. Typologies are always the same: either towers or linear blocks; façades are generally composed of recurring elements with little variations, thus giving a homogeneous image to the city streets.

It would be an interesting operation to analyse more in depth which rules, which commercial images, (which catalogues?) are used in the composition of contemporary Chinese blocks of flats, therefore discerning what is recurrent and fixed from what, on the other hand, is ornament, added to banally provide an identity to each single building.

High rise buildings in Beijing

Among the serial elements that we can find everywhere and every time in the façades of Beijing, the protagonist of this third number of our Elements column are the verandas: large glazed surfaces, surrounding ubiquitous verandas, are an important presence in local residential constructions.

In older buildings they often are a spontaneous evolution: once loggias and balconies, they were closed and transformed into new elements: verandas. In this way, worthless external spaces, with no possible use in local climate conditions, became precious new inner areas. Thus, assembling a veranda provides an easy and cheap chance to enlarge the home surface, for example obtaining a new space to hang clothes. In older buildings, these customary alterations are quite easy to identify, as the palimpsest is recognisable when a façade retains a surviving, not yet transformed, loggia; or when, in the same façade, every veranda is different from the others: assorted colours, assorted materials, assorted ages. This phenomenon, as many others like air conditioner installation, is a symptom of a diffuse, spontaneous, self re-arrangement of buildings elements which characterises the image of the Chinese daily city. What described before indicates that, all at once, verandas turned to be a must. In fact, if they appeared as spontaneous addition, later they became an inevitable element in new constructions.

Detail of verandas in 90' buildings

In elevations lines of verandas are piled up: large glazed surfaces offering a view to pieces of daily domestic life. It is hard to explain the reason of this presence, maybe local construction regulations allow to build larger areas thanks to verandas, or they are the only way to have an adequate solar enlightenment in a city where the sun seldom shines, or, again, people simply feel they are an unavoidable part of their houses.

Anyhow, Beijinger verandas display a design manner with no interest in environmental sustainability issues. They obviously are an additional cause of heat loss in a city with freezing winters, and, on the other hand, without any form of shading they are an absurdity in air conditioner-addicted summers. Therefore, verandas are a quite interesting object to observe and analyse in Chinese metropolises, they are part of the image of the city and they provide indications about daily habits and common residential design. Thus they could become a really characterizing element, trying to give a real answer to public necessities as lighting problems but also responding to more sustainable principles.

Filippo Fiandanese

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