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Description:

Features
- First residence to use exterior applied insulation
- Elimination of finish materials.
- Reinstatement of natural day-lighting and ventilation

This project marks a significant turning point for A00 Architecture. At the time, two years of searching for green building materials in China had yielded almost nothing. More importantly, the architects had realized that most of the toxins found in interiors came from finish materials: glues, varnishes, paints, etc.

The first challenge that emerged was that of designing a high-end home without using any finishes. This would evolve into a design approach called ‘barely finished’. The second challenge was that of convincing the owner to leave his house somewhat in the rough at a time when there was still no public awareness towards healthy interiors.

Rather than try and convince the owner to use a ‘barely finished’ approach for reasons of health and ecological responsibility, the architects chose a completely different tactic: the big con. For the new wing, which was separated from the main house by a small internal courtyard, they suggested using unfinished, outdoor materials in order to create the illusion that the courtyard was larger than it actually was. Local red infill brick was used for the walls and left raw. Both the ceiling and floor were finished with bamboo flooring. The steel staircase was minimally finished. No plaster, paint, glue or varnish was used. Floor to ceiling glass on the courtyard side and a lighting scheme focused on the brick wall at the back helped enhance the overall illusion.

The owner accepted the proposal and for many years had no idea what the real goal of the architects had been. The house rented at a premium before it was even finished and the owner became one of A00’s best clients. At the time of writing, he is in the process of building what promises to be one of the greenest homes in Shanghai... with no con necessary.

A number of other lessons were gained from this house. For example, it was the first house to be insulated from the outside in Shanghai, thereby protecting the structure and thermal mass. More importantly, it was an example of how bigger is not always better. Here, the architects had successfully argued that the house would rent for more if it was smaller and of higher quality.

In its original state the house was nothing short of a disaster. Two low-quality additions to an otherwise beautiful but dilapidated historic townhouse had made the internal spaces dark, unventilated and unusable. Moreover, the house looked into the side of an office tower, 4 meters away. Consequently, the owner was unable to rent the house for over one year.


A00‘s solution was to demolish the entire addition and rebuild only 1/3 of it, thereby creating a courtyard in the middle of the house. This approach completely transformed the house in terms of use and perception.

Formerly outward looking, squeezed in by the neighbors and dwarfed by the office tower, the house had no room to breath. The new pavilion radically changed this by creating a void, a breathing space right in the center of the plan. Suddenly the house became inward looking and focused on the quiet, private universe of the courtyard garden.
Locating the new pavilion at the back of the lot also allowed for the rediscovery of the old house and its original form. Whereas the old addition had almost completely covered up the original structure, the new one revealed the original lines and proportions of the old house.
Finally, the introduction of the courtyard brought back natural daylight and ventilation to each room

In terms of the old house, the architects reinterpreted the original style, making it simpler yet more refined, with the feature ribbon staircase serving as the best example of this.
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