Classic Chinese Architecture is Renewed in the Dajia Project

Lacime Architects re-envisions historic courtyard living for a new housing development in Suzhou


Next to Qingjian lake in the historic city of Suzhou, Chinese architectural firm Lacime Architects has drawn on the city’s rich vernacular and history to create a modern take on classic courtyard living. Suzhou is renowned for its natural beauty; even the Chinese idiom 上有天堂, 下有苏杭 (‘There is heaven above and there is Suzhou and Hangzhou below’) essentially refers to the region of Suzhou and Hangzhou as heaven on earth, and the firm drew on this connection to nature to create the Dajia (‘big family’) housing project in Suzhou Industrial Park.

Suzhou is known for its picturesque canals, waterways and ancient gardens, and its orderly urban planning was captured by the Pingjiang tu, a centuries-old stone engraving and rubbing map of the city. Inspired by the map’s depictions of water-friendly communal spaces and how the waterways flowed through the city, the team at Lacime Architects decided to make water a central element of the new housing project. The team was so inspired by the importance of family in Chinese culture, which historically helped define traditional housing based on the concept of the courtyard, that they even named the project after it. 

The architects drew on the traditional city to inspire the layout and appearance of the stunning housing community. The project spans two blocks on either side of a peaceful river, and each block comprises multiple courtyards. The entire site is highly orderly, with multi-entry courtyard houses where a rhythmic progression from public to private spheres is created through the passage from outer courtyard to inner sanctum. 

The two blocks are connected by a pair of striking double-roofed bridges. Arches appear throughout the site, like in the site’s slightly raised roofs that evoke the Yangtze River Delta and reference traditional roofing styles. Materials such as ultra-white glass, aluminium plating and white stone create a concise and clean-cut style that effortlessly blends into the surroundings.

Text / Babette Radclyffe-Thomas
Images / Yao Li, Yuan Yang and Mlee