Beijing’s historic courtyard housing is ripe for remixing, inspiring everything from giant bubbles to prefab interventions and sleek smart home makeovers. At this year’s Beijing Design Week, the schools Politecnico di Torino and EPFL of Lausanne transformed one of these hutong courtyards into a blue-painted playground, blurring the lines between public and private space.
The installation aimed to revitalize the historic Baitasi neighborhood, helping locals build new connections among themselves and visitors while better integrating the neighborhood into the surrounding city. Baitasi has been experiencing rapid depopulation, as community members leave for other parts of the city.
To encourage interaction and transform the space, the design team painted the courtyard and several interiors blue, and placed prompts and tools for games including ping pong, Chinese chess, and hopscotch.
“You can find out more about a person in an hour of playing than in a year of conversation,” reads one window quoting Plato.
Beijing’s historic hutongs are small meandering alleys carving out clusters of single-story homes surrounding open-air courtyards. This local architectural form dates as far back as the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), but many have been destroyed by the city’s explosive growth. Today, less than 1,000 Hutong homes remain.