Zhi House

Concept, Design, and Construction
Miaoli, Taiwan
Design / February,2009–February,2010
Building / February,2010–May,2012
Site Area / 2828.61㎡
Subtotal Area / 716.04㎡

“She demands a hidden house similar to a groundhog’s burrow while in the morning seeing her sheep graze on the rooftop. ……” A letter with these special requests marked the beginning of Zhi House. The site is in a breezy valley, where a river runs through, and the land is fertile with fruits. This is the place her burrow and grassland would be.

The design of Zhi House follows the expectations of our clients, as well as the natural settings of the site. Like an earthworm breaking forth from rigid winter land, the house is half-buried in the ground forming a small hill, which in turn connects northwards with the natural hills. The earth-covered roof forms the skin of the house, and reacts to seasonal changes and the misty local climate. The living spaces underneath become a part of the landscape, and are protected by the earth to achieve a comfortable environment all year long – cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. This is a realization of passive solar design, taking advantage of natural energy for the heating and cooling of living spaces.

The sun shines into the earth-covered house through three vertical openings – courtyards – bounded by the sky, the earth and the architecture. The first vertical opening, in the form of a circle with a diameter of 25 meters, is the big south-facing courtyard that allows warm winter sunlight to shine into the house. The main entrance of the building, overlooking the big courtyard, is approached through a bamboo grove. Beyond the entrance, the lobby is connected to a long corridor leading to an exit to the roof. To the right of the lobby, there are living room, dining room and family spaces; to the left, spaces of private rooms. There is a wine cellar, tucked in the northern side of the building, which is a space for preparation, preservation and reservation – a place for seasonal celebration.

The second vertical opening, in oval shape, is a Zen courtyard. This is a family courtyard surrounded by bedrooms and private corridors. A platform for moon viewing, a moon-reflecting pool and two Chinese tallow trees, all views and sights from the courtyard are privileged only to the family members. The third vertical opening, shaped as a trapezoid by two concrete walls and French windows, is a private courtyard of the master bedroom. Intermediating the house and the natural hill behind, the private courtyard contains only one green maple tree and grasses, and reserves spaces for sunlight and wind.

A long corridor extends to connect all three courtyards, from the front entrance through center courtyard to the opening beyond the master bedroom, of the house to provide paths for natural ventilation. With careful selection, courtyards are planted with deciduous trees to be stages for the seasons. Courtyards are also places for family activities; from large to small, each of which serves for distinct type of activities from formal to intimate. From each courtyard, family members can reach the green roof as though groundhogs coming out from their burrows.

Planning to make the building into the family house, rooms are prepared for all family members on the second floor. At the northern end, where ceilings and roofs are low, spaces are used as multi-purpose corners. Some spaces with very low ceilings are designed with sunken floors and dormer windows; these are children’s secret bases in the house. There is a deck cantilevers over the family courtyard, and there are walls with sculptured openings to frame the mountain views to the east. Planted with green maple trees and shrubs, the roof is connected to the hill behind the house, where the forest of camphor is. In addition, a rooftop platform is created for the family members to enjoy the sunrise in the morning.

The building is enveloped with fair-faced concrete to complement the earthy texture and feelings of nature. The oval-shaped opening is a construction challenge: from the laying out, formwork, rebar assembly, to casting, each and every step has to be careful and precise. The coordination of architectural crafts and natural materials, such as earth and grass, works in harmony. With time, architectural crafts give ways to nature and become part of the landscape.