UGC Grant

House Mutations

Gaobu  2019 - 21

This design research proposal investigates the feasibility to build an alternative timberhouse typology for the Dong Minority community in Hunan, China.  The goal is to createa design template for a self-build dwelling from prefabricated timber componentsaddressing two critical issues currently facing the Dong community, i.e.: preventing theirrich architectural culture from moving ever closer towards extension and, to propose anew commercial model to inject a financial stimulus into an area that has witnessed ahuge exodus of working adults who seek employment in the city. 

For centuries the Dong communities have been almost entirely self-sufficient, with the environment in which they lived being a measure of their standard of living. The“Ganlan” style wooden house “hanging building”, built on the slopes and supported bypillars on the lower sides, embodies the natural relationship between the interior andexterior worlds, connected to the core values of their culture: family and land – thearchetype sustainable house.  Although the Ganlan house constitutes the basic unit ofcommunity life, as Dong villages are rendered devoid of working age youth, traditional Dong architecture has lost ground and meaning. 

The unfortunate ramificationsresulting in the traditional house rapidly being replaced by either brick and wooddwellings or most recently by the self-build concrete framed structures. There is no denying that Dong culture is changing.  Villages and houses are rapidlyadapting to a higher standard of living; warmer, safer from the perils of fire andequipped with modern plumbing.  However, what we are witnessing today is nothingshort of a catastrophic demise, with the advent of concrete frame structures literallyeradicating an entire architectural heritage.  With the notion of prefabrication, selfbuild and community participation all engraved into Dong’s architectural DNA, thisresearch proposes an alternative modernization strategy that reconnects the house to itsoriginal cultural identity and in parallel prevents Dong’s traditional architecturalheritage from becoming a mere aesthetic maquillage instead of something profoundlyrooted in its material being.

Traditional Dong timber houses will soon no longer be built, replaced by a hybridconcrete pastiche, completely foreign to the territory.  Rather than yield to this trend,this research seeks to propose an alternative solution, in the form of a pilot prototypehouse, where material technology and self-build initiatives could become the catalyst forboth regenerating their house typology and simultaneously create an alternative industryas a source of income to the community.


Research Design team

Prof. Peter W. Ferretto 

Research Assistant

Beryl Wong Yuk Tsin

LAM Man Yan Milly

LIU Ziwei Paula

WANG Haoran Howard


Prof. CAI Ling (GZU)

Prof. Beale Patrick (The Univ. of Western Australia)


1, 066, 500 HKD


UGC Grant