Gaobu Book House 

Gaobu 2019

The Gaobu Book House serves the rural community of Gaobu, a Dong minority village of 2,500 people located on the Pingtan River in Tongdao County, Hunan Province. Like many other Chinese villages, Gaobu is challenged by modernization and the so-called “village hollowing” in which the working-age population migrate.  

Most children in Gaobu are raised by their grandparents until the age of 10 when they are forced to leave and study in nearby towns. Due to lack of educational facilities such as libraries, children spend most of their leisure time online and playing games on phones rather than reading. Hence, we came up an idea to offer an educational incubator, a “house” for children to learn through playing, to preserve Dong’s traditional architectural design, re-energise the rural community, as well as cultivate children’s interest in reading books by adding in interactive elements. 

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The 200m² two-story Gaobu Book House adopts the traditional Dong house “Ganlan” typology as the creative starting point, where local timber is used for the framing. and the timber frame is adapted and reconfigured as to accommodate different programmatic and spatial configurations. This spatial subversion generates a building that at first glance appears traditional, however on closer inspection, new unconventional relationships emerge. By working with-in the system, rather than against the system, materiality and craftsmanship inject new life back into the village.

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Having witnessed how stairs become a key architectural element in Dong daily life, a place which people usually congregate around and where children love to play, stairs become the generating idea of the building. The central staircase acts both as a means of circulation and as the identity for the building. The ground floor is conceived as a covered open space for public gatherings and local exhibitions, while each internal wall of the house above is made up of 12 bookshelves, each dedicated to a specific educational theme. 


Research Design team

Prof. Peter W. Ferretto (CUHK)

Prof. CAI Ling (GZU)

LAM Man Yan Milly 

LIU Ziwei Paula

CHOI Sungyeol

WONG Yuk Tsin Beryl

WANG Haoran Howard (CUHK)

WU Haoming 

LIU Xiaoyun (GZU)





200 sqm     


Photo credits

Xu Liang Leon