Traditional Chinese Courtyard Houses Making Quiet Return

More Well-Heeled Chinese Choosing Updated Imperial Courtyard Houses Over Western Facsimiles

An updated courtyard house at Beijing's Cathay View development

An updated courtyard house at Beijing’s Cathay View development

“Chinese houses surround their gardens, while Western houses are surrounded by their gardens,” the old Chinese adage goes. Despite the proliferation of Western-style villas in the outskirts of Beijing or in far-flung areas of Shanghai in recent years, some well-heeled Chinese — those who can afford standalone houses — are starting to look at China’s distant past for architectural inspiration. Mostly updating the traditional northern siheyuan (四合院) design — in which four buildings surround a central courtyard — to include modern conveniences like two-car garages, newer developments of courtyard-style houses like Beijing’s Cathay View are trying to appeal to wealthy buyers who value jade over diamonds, Sanyu over Picasso.

As Sina (Chinese) points out, modern courtyard houses are designed to maximize interior space while incorporating both traditional Chinese and modern Western features. Taking its interpretation of Chinese design a step further, Sina notes that traditional siheyuan reflect Confucian ideals and feng shui philosophy, as well as the ancient Chinese literati home environment aesthetic, ostensibly giving these residences something of a cultural resonance that Western-style houses simply don’t have.

While it’s too early to call the gradual re-emergence of traditional courtyard houses a “trend,” since they’re typically confined to astronomically priced villa developments far beyond most people’s budgets, it’s clear that this type of design is gaining in popularity among China’s elite. Whether they’re spotted bidding on Chinese antiques in London or contemporary art in Hong Kong, we’re seeing this group of wealthy individuals, many of whom have already bought the “toys” that denote wealth — the cars and clothes — moving on to more culturally relevant interests.

Contemporary courtyard houses with two-car garages

Contemporary courtyard houses with two-car garages

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Market Analysis, Retail