Village House Prototype, From Concept to Construction

The studio not only explores how a concept of a building can be transformed into a real built experience but also experiments with materials in practice as well as suitable building technologies for rural construction in China.

Rather than focusing on broader village revitalization issues, we specifically rethink architecture’s relationship to nature in the countryside by developing a prototypical house. Located between mountains and farming fields, the chosen site for the house is a sloped terrain, initiating a productive tension between ground and roof.

The house’s construction will be sponsored by the local government in Guizhou, Urban Environment Design magazine (UED Beijing) and China Building Centre (CBC Beijing), presenting an alternative educational platform for township construction in China.

To prototype (‘first-strike’ in Greek) a house in this specific context has the potential to open up a series of chain changes in larger rural areas and to generalize more pragmatic results; benefiting the local industry, injecting new social and cultural resources in the area and promoting new economic conditions.

Through hands-on experimentation with materials and their active properties (e.g. formwork for concrete casting), the studio seeks novel construction procedures able to influence the project outcome and direct its design process and methodology.

A site visit also serves as essential design criteria to the house’s development.

Minimal Paper

Thesis Abstract

The thesis is dedicated to the material on which this text is printed on – paper. Paper is associated with fragility and rigidity at the same time. Its dual properties contribute to its humanistic touch. Though uncommon, use of paper as a literal material in architecture is not novel. From the Japanese shoji which exhibits planarity and translucency of paper, to the innovative use of rolled or folded derivatives of paper (honeycomb, origami structures, Shigeru Ban’s paper tube systems), paper remains in its pre-defined form. The thesis goes one step backward to the paper pulp and embraces the versatility of its geometric potential. The technique of Molded Pulp Packaging is taken as a key reference for opening up more formal possibilities and bringing breakthroughs to the application of paper in architecture. Specifically, the thesis introduces the making of paper with minimal properties in various aspects through iterative designs of wood-and-fabric-based paper-making formwork and techniques.

Minimal materials / The comparatively isotropic properties of paper pulp and the self-bonding properties of cellulose fibers upon drying allows the fabrication of physical minimal surfaces which locally minimize the surface area bound by a given network of boundary curves. Papers in the form of minimal surfaces obtain rigidity through their anticlastic profiles. Undulation and corrugation of the edges and stress lines give further reinforcement. The geometric manipulation in both the global and local geometry gives strength and intactness to the fragile paper. Spatially, it offers thinness and doubly-curved surfaces.

Minimal connections / The monolithic and self-connecting properties of paper pulp allow minimal connections among numerous pre-fabricated paper modules. The artefacts can come seamless and jointless.

Minimal waste / The recyclable nature of paper and the abundance of wastepaper around us makes this material perfect for fabricating temporary space without creating much waste. Paper components can be easily reduced to pulp again and serve another architectural life. Formworks produced are also reusable. As a side note, all the pulp used in the thesis originates from locally-collected wastepaper.

Building with Pressure

Thesis Abstract

Casting a concrete slab with an inflatable formwork is essentially carving out excessive material from the bottom of the slab with air pressure. This idea of removing material resonates with Pier Nervi’s waffle slab, as well as Robert Maillard’s mushroom slab. This thesis, however, also extends beyond the structural and construction realm, and becomes a design tool which uses the ceiling to articulate the spaces below.

The design of the inflatable formwork was inspired by the technique of upholstery; a method to provide structure to a sheet of PVC by pinning it down to a checkered grid and applying air pressure. The grid is defined by the position of the columns, and the sheet of PVC provides the concrete with a form active structure. Because of the nature of the fabric like material, ribs are formed around the columns and capitals, behaving as a second layer of structural supports against buckling. With increasing height, pressure, and corrugation in the formwork, a Gothic imagery emerges and the slab has the potential to become a vault-like structure.

This thesis begins with a building method that is both material and cost efficient. And as it progresses a style emerges, it acts as a tool to help us rethink the ceiling as an architectural form, using its arrangement, depth and weight to convey the spaces beneath it.

Pinch, Sweep, Warp

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The Pinch, Sweep and Warp are three earthquake reconstruction projects located in Yunnan Province, China. The series maximizes the social and programmatic impact of small-scale, i.e. area of around 100 sq. m. interventions. Each challenges how architecture is shaped by a specific material and construction process.

Both multifaceted and site specific, Pinch, Sweep, Warp is a multi-object design project that is a site specific architectural response, prototypical to the landscape’s seismic activity.

The three timber structures are experiments in ruled-based construction, which is typically defined as developable geometry. By contrast, these projects are concerned with the translation of doubly curved surfaces into linear geometry while also taking into account specific material constraints derived from timber construction.

Located in Yunnan’s remote mountainous landscape, each project aimed to respond to the active seismicity of the region by addressing structural logics between timber and foundation. Each was also designed to maximize the use and viewing experience of the landscape via structural wooden trusses and decked, ruled surfaces. The outcomes are three structures, each with a diversity of social programs directing the design of the projects; a library, a play area and a roadside market.

The projects are the result of ongoing collaboration with a local timber workshop, and thus challenge standard architectural practices that separate design from building as two distinctive exercises. They represent experimental construction methods that adapt complex geometries to simple local techniques.

It has won 12 international awards, Most notably, Best Small Project of the Year 2014 by the World Architecture Festival (WAF), Best Experimental Project by the World Chinese Architecture
(WAACA) and Best of Best Category (9 categories in total) by Perspective Global, Highly Commended by Architectural Review Library Awards 2018 The WAF jury commented: “An elegant project that demonstrated research into a material, building system, making an urban place that has answered a vital need for enclosure, congregation and culture in a remote and earthquake-stricken zone”

It has been exhibited at a range of venues and locations, including The Museum of Modern Art in New York.

It is has been featured in edited books, such as the Phaidon World Atlas of Architecture.

It has been reviewed in 27 professional magazines, such as Lotus International, Detail, Architectural Record, Architectural Review, Architecture Interieure, Domus, Azure.

House Me Tender

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In the context of Hong Kong’s longstanding tradition in precast construction, ‘House Me Tender’ expands on the use of concrete precast technology in high-rise construction, by pushing both industry and academic research in new directions. It proposes a self-supporting structure made of precast volumes of different sizes and functions, from standardized main living spaces to customized extensions. A 9-storey prototype was first developed in detail with a team of professional engineers and precast experts as proof of concept to further support the hypothetical development of a 40-storey high-rise, the dominant building type in Hong Kong. Visual catalogues of precast plugins allow future residents to personalize parts and order straight from the factory according to the dimensions of living space. Protrusions of plug-in elements provide shaded and naturally ventilated exterior spaces, desirable in a subtropical environment.

The design scheme aims to offer individualization through mass production using reconfigurable formwork. Such flexibility also allows for apartment sizes to be adjusted over time in response to inhabitants’ needs. The project thus offers a clear production/structural/tectonic and social agenda. Individualization, through mass production from reconfigurable formwork and adaptability of apartment sizes overtime, from recombination of modules, make up the overall identity of the building and ultimately accounts for its social agenda.

It has won one international award: Best Residential Future Project Award 2015, Architectural Review, London The AR jury commented: “This proposal cleverly exploits the Hong Kong precast tradition. It envisages plug-in possibilities which would please tenants and enliven the local built environment.”

It has been exhibited at the 16th Venice Biennale 2018 as part of the Hong Kong exhibition titled: ”Vertical Fabric: Density in Landscape”.

It is has been published in two peer-reviewed journals (Journal of Engineering Technology and HKIA Journal), presented at two international conferences (ACE 2014, AAE 2016) and lectured to professional bodies (HKIA, HKIE).

New Orders

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The project investigates a series of alternative structures for housing through a design-research prototyping process.It proposes a new method of designing and building vertical architecture, which in turn has the potential to transform how interior and exterior space is organized, programs arranged, structures articulated, and circulation defined. The series explores nine specific massing and structural organizations, each at 1:1 scale, which through analytical diagrams are further architecturally tested as speculative towers for urban high density living at 1:100 scale. Nine proto-structures were initially conceived and realized as castconcrete columns. At 1:1 scale, concrete as process rather than just concrete as material sets the main design-research methodology. The value of working at 1:1 scale lies in realtime material computing, in the empirical feedback from active forces of materials. This project emerged through a series of trial and error experiments with specific material properties, particularly concrete. Studies of the transformation from liquid to solid led to the development of new formwork techniques that responded more sensitively to the particular pressures of the material, its fluidity, and continuous transition between tectonic 8 elements. Design research and analysis was informed by the work of early structural rationalists such as Felix Candela, Pier Luigi Nervi, Heinz Isler and Robert Maillart, all of whom worked to develop specific structural systems for improved performance with reinforced concrete. New Orders was inspired in part through this work, though it departs from precedents in its direct response to the high-rise urban context of Hong Kong. The experimental methods of design and casting tested in New Orders were further realized in several subsequent designs, including Smoke Shafts, a series of ventilation chimneys fabricated in a precast factory in Dongguan and incorporated into a mixed-use building project in Shenzhen in 2018, and Casa Trevo, a cast-in-place concrete house (of an area of 250 square meters) under construction in Lisbon, Portugal and due to be completed in summer 2019. It has been presented at 4 international conferences (ICSA 2016, ACSA 2016, ACE 2016, AAE 2016); selected and exhibited at the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture; and been published in two peer reviewed journals. It has received positive reviews from conferences proceedings: “Pertinent research-based learning practice, work of a high standard” (AAE conference, The Bartlett, UCL), “Global evaluation10 of paper: Very Good” (ICSA 2016, World leading conference on Structures and Architecture), “Appropriateness of Topic: Highly Appropriate / Conceptual Adequacy: Outstanding” (ACE 2016, International Conference on Architecture and Civil Engineering).


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Crest is a rest area and restaurant situated on a gentle slope along a riverbank in Anji county, Zhejiang Province. It was designed to test how effectively locally grown and produced materials such as bamboo could be used in contemporary architecture, using complex geometry and novel construction techniques, such as the way bamboo poles are jointed, in combination with highly skilled local craftsmanship. It was designed to test how local and imported building strategies could be combined to produce a new architectural expression of the vernacular.

Crest was submitted to represent the Department of Architecture of the University of Hong Kong in the 2017 National Universities Bamboo Design and Construction Competition, where it was selected as one of twenty final projects to be constructed. The competition was organized by the Chinese government to promote innovative and experimental green construction practices through an engagement with sustainable materials and local building techniques. The competition stipulated that all competition entries utilize bamboo as the major building material.

The design process also merged research and teaching practices through design. University of Hong Kong students were invited to participate in the project, and gained hands-on building experiences by working closely on-site with a team of local craftsmen.

Crest is composed of three distinct parts, including a) a retaining wall and concrete foundation, which receives b) a bamboo structure, which in turn supports c)a pleated roof, covering a shaded areaof around 150 square meters.

The project belongs to a larger body of practice research work that investigates how ruled-based construction practices can be applied to specific, rural contexts in China through different materials.

As ongoing experimentations from Crest, ruled-based prototypes were developed and built at a series of scales (from a wall to room size element) in an effort to explore how a range of different construction techniques might perform in relation to different sizes of structures. Prototypes include a curtain wall, mush-room, and roof shell. These techniques included formworks made of bamboo poles for concrete casting. An additional variable concerned the variety of materials to be used in the building’s construction, which included naturally grown bamboo, fabric, concrete, and wood.

The project received second prize at the 2017 National Bamboo Design and Construction competition, Anji, Zheijiang province. It has also been published online in various professional platforms and featured in national and local television programs throughout China.

Slope House prototype

The Slope House prototype is an educational engagement with real life construction.

It presents students the unique opportunity to experience the construction of a real project while inhabiting it. The project investigates how material systems, structural logics and spatial ideas can translate from a design proposition all the way to a built architecture space; a fully functioning house.

It is a further development of a MArch fall design studio 2018 titled ‘Village House Prototype, from Concept to Construction’, experimenting with materials in practice as well as suitable building technologies for rural construction in China.

Eight design schemes were first developed by students during the course of a semester-long design studio. The proposals revisit the typology of a house on a sloped terrain, located between mountains and farming fields, in Guizhou province, China. Each student’s project rethinks architecture’s relation to fierce nature, in search of a new living typology demarked by two different material systems: a concrete ground foundation and timber roof structure.

One chosen scheme was further detailed by students to be constructed during a MArch elective in summer 2019, with a team of local builders. It is part of a bigger umbrella with many stakeholders (architects, planners, landscape architects) commissioned by the central Chinese government to rethink the revitalization of the countryside; one that is design-led through this ambitious pilot project. The HKU house will serve as one of the contributions to this larger construct of ideas on the topic.

The house’s construction is sponsored by the local government of Guizhou and is curated by Urban Environment Design magazine (UED Beijing) and China Building Centre (CBC Beijing), presenting an alternative educational platform for township construction in China.

To prototype (‘first-strike’ in Greek) a house in this specific context has the potential to open up a series of chain changes in larger rural areas and to generalize more pragmatic results; benefiting the local industry, injecting new social and cultural resources in the area and promoting new economic conditions.


Location: Xia Mu Tang Village, Wan’an County, Jianxi, China
Program: public shower room for villagers in rural China Prototyping workshop, The University of Hong Kong, Department of Architecture
Studio leader: Olivier Ottevaere
Teaching assistant: Chong Chak Yuen
Student assistants: Yang Meng Ting, Hung Chi Lok, Leung Ka Chi
Student participation (The University of Hong Kong): Wang Yi Xiao, Daniel Stiensmeier, Lui Pui Hang, Lau Ngai Lam, LawYik Chun, Lam Oi Chun, Chu Lok Yiu, Ip Chung Ming, Pang Leong, Tse Tsz Wai, Raphael Bernal Galvez, Wang Xiang Ning,

This prototype tests, at a larger scale the concept of responsiveness for concrete formwork with cheap and local materials in the making of a room. A series of bamboo poles mediates a geometry changing from a circular footprint at grade to a trefoil outline at the top. The double sided formwork uses bamboo poles and canvas from which a sequence of varied concrete undulations is cast. The experience of the interior space of the wet room is amplified by the concrete’s revived forces gained by engaging closely with the properties of the concrete material in response to the formwork.





Design team: Olivier Ottevaere (project leader), Weijen Wang, Chad McKee, Yvonne Meng (project manager)
Department of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong,
Students Team: He Yizhen, Ji Xiang, Liu Kaixuan, Sun Kexuan, Song Huiqing, Romeo Chang, Kevin Lai, Chan Shuman
Contractor: Anji ZhuJing bamboo technology co. LTD.
Client: Lingfeng management committee of Anji county, Zhejiang province.
Construction cost:  70, 000 RMB

‘Crest’ is a rest area and restaurant situated on a gentle slope along a river bank. It is accessed from the main road and served by a pedestrian path descending along the 40-meter length of the project. ‘Crest’ is made of three distinct parts; a retaining wall and concrete foundation receiving a bamboo structure which in turns supports a pleated roof, covering a shaded area of around 150 sqm.

A double retaining wall houses the main facilities and services such as toilets and kitchen from which a series of concrete slabs cascades towards the river bank to partly function as seating. The bamboo structure is organized in three rows of columns secured along the slabs’ edges. 31 different size columns, made of bundles of bamboo poles, are each flaring upwards, splitting and bending in 4 different directions to delineate the specific roof profiles.

A succession of V-shaped channels aligned longitudinally with the retaining wall articulate the roof-scape, gradually changing from peaks to valleys. At one end of the wall, the roof crest peaks over 6 meters, echoing the mountainous silhouette in the background. Towards the other end, the roof channels downwards to eventually merge and disappear with the landscape.

The main social space below the roof is qualitatively demarked by the articulation of its ceiling plane. In areas identified with more solar exposure, bamboo poles are placed closer together to provide greater shading, whereas in zones with less direct sun exposure, the clearance between poles is increased. Consequently, this not only offers a unique and differentiated material expression but also a confortable space for leisure, responsive to its environment.