© 2019 by Priestman Architects

  • PA Media

Post-Earthquake reconstruction demonstration Guangming Village House


The disastrous Ludian earthquake of August 2014 killed over 600 people and destroyed most of the rammed earth buildings in Guangming Village, neighbouring villages and the main town. This inspiring single house project is part of a long and ongoing demonstration programme for post earthquake re-housing which has also been elegantly tailored to the occupants’ needs. The project delivers improved traditional construction through effective low technology community based solutions which are founded on scientific research and experiment. Built for around 33% of the cost of standard concrete frame and infill block housing of rural China, the proposition has the potential to be widely implemented.


Guangmin Village House

The house uses modernised rammed earth construction techniques using the rubble of destroyed houses in the village, re-usable steel shuttering and readily available simple tools. The material mix and tie beam reinforcement has been extensively researched, improved on and tested to be feasible, earthquake resilient and environmentally beneficial.


It is one of only two houses in the village designed and backed up with research for earthquakes. Others have no tested methodology that assures safety. Funded by charitable donations from Hong Kong, the program is lead by Professor Edward Ng of The Chinese University of Hong Kong in collaboration with Kunming University where a testing and training centre has been set up. Rammed earth walls are a traditional form of construction and major part of the tangible - and delightful - culture of these remote mountain villages. A crucial part of the program is the training of building team leaders who guide local unskilled labour. This promises a more sustainable re-construction system and significantly reduces costs by avoiding specialist contracting from outside the community.


Guangming House main facade

Thick rammed earth walls have high thermal mass and low temperature volatility which gives relative coolth in summer and warmth in winter. This is evidenced by measurements taken by the team over the course of 12 months. The brief for the 132sqm project evolved from extensive discussions with the elderly householders and their son, who were living in an improvised tent long after the earthquake. The house is set back and rotated slightly to the street line which allows two distinct and miniature garden spaces; one a more public space for chess with neighbours and the other a vegetable garden and entrance to the house.


More or less square overall, the house is planned as two rectangular two-storey blocks in rammed earth construction each with four basic domestic rooms. The blocks are pulled apart to create a dramatic two metre wide semi-outdoor atrium space with open stair. This is appreciatively used for the handicraft business of the owners and as flexible space for guests to share meals. Combined with the entrance gardens this simple architectural move makes a rich sequence of spatial experiences for a humble building.


Binding the house together, and so as to maintain integrity in future earthquakes, the single lightweight pyramidal roof is built from locally available mild steel, plastic tiles and plastic roof lights. The roof is lifted above the walls on steel stilts to form a narrow glass clerestory giving an interesting and unusual light effect. Externally the two street-facing windows have projecting concrete frames which visually counterpoint the solidity of earth walls. At 2nd floor, carefully proportioned slot windows combine to form an elegant facade.


This exemplar, carefully conceived and sustainable project is comprehensively fit for purpose and has delighted two generations of the family. The son has now been taught the new rammed-earth techniques, is a CUHK technician and is teaching the techniques to others in the community.

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