It’s rare to see a firm as high-profile as MAD Architects take on the challenging and unglamorous work of social housing, but it has indeed done so with its recently completed Baiziwan Social Housing project. The development is designed to resemble a mountain range and features extensive landscaping, including raised walkways and large amounts of greenery.
Baiziwan Social Housing came about when MAD founder Ma Yansong, who is also a lecturer at the Tsinghua University and the Beijing Architecture University, was invited by the housing authorities to design some much-needed social housing. It took eight years to realize and is currently home to 3,000 people, most of whom are on welfare or young professionals, though more residents will continue to move in over time.
The project is located near Beijing’s central business district and covers a sizable area of 93,900 sq m (roughly 1 million sq ft). Its 4,000 apartments come in three main sizes: 40 sq m (430 sq ft), 50 sq m (538 sq ft), and 60 sq m (645 sq ft). They are spread over 12 residential buildings, which, as mentioned, are meant to resemble a mountain range – a theme that MAD has long been interested in.
Two of the buildings are built to the stringent Passive House standard and have excellent insulation and a high level of air-tightness, meaning they will maintain a relatively steady temperature. Much of the project was also prefabricated, cutting waste and speeding up build times, plus the buildings are designed to maximize daylight inside.
“Throughout the design process, MAD sought to ensure that every tenantable room across the project would get sufficient sunlight,” explained the firm. “The resulting scheme therefore adopts a Y-branch building form, with communal corridors located along the north face of each building to enhance sunlight exposure in the residential units. Considering a more environmentally friendly construction process, the clients requires that over 80 percent of the building components should be prefabricated off-site. This prefabricated method allows for a higher quality of housing production in a controlled, systematized way.”
The landscaping is significant too and an impressive 47 percent of the development is covered in plants and trees, which is considerably more than most social housing in China, says the firm. A circuit of raised walkways weaves around the entire development, forming a park that hosts communal activities including a gym, community gardens, badminton court, children’s playground, an urban farm, and communal support services. It also features an amphitheater and a raised garden, while retail space, kindergartens, pharmacies, and elderly care facilities can be found elsewhere.
“Over the past decades, China’s residential design and market have shifted dramatically,” added MAD. “Rapid real estate development has led to the homogenization of residential design. Welfare-oriented housing development has not been considered as priority during the housing privatization period. Entering the new era that China advances its investment in social housing, for existing low-income urban dwellers and influx of migrants, MAD aspires to offer a design solution for a more humane, equal, and vibrant living environment.”