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Book House
China
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Location:
China
Category:
education
Phase:
design development
Updated:
6 January 2023
Book House is a network project of children libraries for Dong minority rural villages in Hunan, China. Buildings that connect children to the beauty of reading through a design that reinterprets Dong timber architecture. It is a continuous project aiming that all children in villages along Pingtan Valley could own their Book House, a place where they learn through playing and reading, where design, traditions and materials are taught by osmosis.
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Introduction
Rural Chinese villages are disappearing at an alarming rate. Unprecedented urban growth has been decimating the physical and cultural identity of villages. Dong Minority villages have been confronted with the ever-present reality of their beautiful heritage rapidly evaporating. Entire villages built over centuries from a single sustainable material, indigenous China Fir, are rapidly losing their identity by the invasion of concrete. 

This project aims to respond to the rich heritage of Dong minority rooted in land. The traditional Dong “ganlan” house is the creative point of departure, where the timber frame is adapted and reconfigured to accommodate various programmatic and spatial needs. This spatial subversion generates a building that at first glance appears traditional, yet on closer inspection, new unconventional relationships emerge. By working within the system, rather than against it, materiality and craftsmanship inject new life back into villages.

In Pingtan Valley, schools and libraries are scarce, children are raised by grandparents until the age of 10 when they are forced to study in nearby towns. This social phenomenon is the inspiration behind the project, to offer an educational incubator, a house for children to learn through playing. It explores an alternative adaptive strategy for the Dong Minority rural villages of China, through implementation of architectural prototypes, in form of children libraries, design and built using traditional customs and crafts.
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Impact
Numerous Chinese villages face an unprecedented fight for survival, they are either left abandoned or get labelled as historical monument and stop being lived, becoming in the process de facto museum devoid of real life. Book House aims to revive the role of traditional architecture in contemporary rural Chinese villages through design. Reinstall a sense of pride and meaning in vernacular by adapting its purpose to suit modern life, but importantly remain faithful to the DNA of Dong Architecture. 

More than anything these villages need hope in future. Villagers are aware that their customs and traditions have to transform to remain relevant. Children represent this hope; teach children the value and beauty of their culture and villages have a chance to survive. Under this mission, Book House attempts to provide reading spaces grounded in local design, inspired by the local traditional Dong dwelling but is transformed into contemporary social space. The designs are built entirely from local sustainable timber by local carpenters, the Book Houses become magnet for local children; places to play, read and most importantly places to be proud of.

The project started in Gaobu (2015), then in Pingtan (2019) and is now expanding to other villages along Pingtan Valley. Though the process is slow, we aim to spread its impacts to all children in Dong minority. Typically, there are around 100 children in one village, it means with a single donation of 50,000 USD covering a library, working closely with local carpenters, at least 100 children reach to the world of learning and literature.
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Core team
Local, slow and listening are the key attributes behind the Book House project, without them all Book Houses wouldn’t be possible, as well as everyone in the villages, carpenters, children, even people who donated books to us. 

Condition_Lab, an alternative architectural practice combining social enterprise, research and design into one, has taken the chance to initiate the Book House project after visiting the Dong minority villages near Pingtan Valley for years. Instead of taking up the leading role, we work closely with local carpenters discussing with them about our design initiative; instead of being just the builders, the carpenters participate in the process of development. The team of 6 local carpenters, led by the master Yang Jian who owns more than 30 years of experience in building timber houses in Dong minority villages, has taken such an important role, passing us the knowledge of traditional Dong timber craftsmanship and realizing the Book House project.

Nevertheless, architects and carpenters are not the only important parties in the project but everyone in the villages whom we have been accommodated for these years, villagers who talked to us and inspired us the project rather than rejecting us as foreigners in the villages, people who donated books to us, and children who picked their favourite books and put on the bookshelves in all Book Houses. The Book House project was initiated, designed, finally realized by our team of Condition_Lab and local carpenters, and was supported by everyone who are not professional but love to help children in these villages.
Team with local carpenters and community

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Image gallery
Gaobu Book House_1

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Gaobu Book House_2

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Gaobu Book House_3

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Gaobu Book House_4

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Gaobu Book House_5

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Gaobu Book House_6

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Gaobu Book House_7

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Gaobu Book House_8

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Pingtan Book House_1

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Pingtan Book House_2

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Pingtan Book House_3

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Pingtan Book House_4

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Pingtan Book House_5

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Pingtan Book House_6

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Pingtan Book House_7

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Pingtan Book House_8

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Malong Book House_1

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Malong Book House_2

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Malong Book House_3

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Malong Book House_4

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Technical drawings
Gaobu Book House_site plan

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Gaobu Book House_G/F plan

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Gaobu Book House_1/F plan

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Gaobu Book House_section

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Gaobu Book House_elevation

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Pingtan Book House_site plan

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Pingtan Book House_G/F plan

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Pingtan Book House_1/F plan

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Pingtan Book House_section

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Pingtan Book House_elevation

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Malong Book House_plan

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Malong Book House_section

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Help bring our project to life!

There are no updates yet.

Help bring our project to life!
Where are we now
The Book House project is a continuous project aiming that all children in villages along Pingtan Valley could own their Book House, a place where they learn through playing and reading. To date, we have planted two seeds in the village of Gaobu and Pingtan, built in 2018 and 2021 respectively. We then have reached two more villages and guaranteed the next Book Houses in Malong and Baozeng: - Malong Book House – we have finished the design and set up a team of a project manager and 6 local carpenters; Baozeng Book House – we are working with the school in Baozeng about the design now while the site for the Book House has been fixed. Both projects are currently looking for financial support.
An indication of our team’s capacity:
100% expertise already found
100% materials / equipment already found
100% builders already found
Finance: € 35,000
The Book House project is self-initiated and pro-bono, all donations to the project shall go to realizing the Book Houses. With 50,000EURO, we build one Book House. Within such budget, every little amount means big to the project, 20,000EURO helps to get the timber framework done, 15,000EURO to build bookshelves, 10,000 EURO to create the window facades, or even 10 USD to buy a book, leading children to the world of reading. We hope the Book House project could be a project to help the locals in Dong minority villages, especially the children, and also a chance to connect people all over the world who love to help and people who need help in these villages.
  • Timbe
20,000
  • Bookshelves
15,000
Help bring our project to life!
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