What do you get when you pair traditional Qing dynasty architecture with a modern minimalist interior? If these Suzhou apartments are anything to go by then I believe the answer is a calming – almost zen-like – oasis, steeped in history and beauty, yet offering all the modern conveniences of the 21st century. Basically, the very best of old meets new.
Located in China’s ‘Venice of the East’, these stylish serviced apartments were once the ancestral home of architect IM Pei. After restoration late last year by B.L.U.E. Architecture Studio, the apartments now stand as an experiment and exploration of urban regeneration in a historic area, paving the way for the modern revival of Suzhou.
The site consists of a traditional Chinese garden complete with four ancient wooden structures dating back over 100 years. The garden further boasts four contemporary concrete blocks which were added in the 90s.
Speaking of the design inspiration behind the renovation and restoration process, the team at B.L.U.E. Architecture say their main priority was to “inherit the spirit of the historic house, not just by preserving and restoring its appearance, but most importantly by recreating its spatial experience”.
“The house once belonged to one family. Even though it is to be transformed into serviced apartments, we do not want it to be separated into several isolated rooms. In fact, after the transformation, 55% of the space is communal, allowing visiting tourists, guests and neighbors to meet and communicate here. The definition of home has been expanded both in terms of concept and space.”
In the older wooden structures, natural stone and walnut wood textures were used to create a simple yet inviting look. The finished space is a far cry from the original sparse, damp shell, worn down by years of disregard.
Although B.L.U.E. Architecture strove to maintain as much of the original structures as possible, this was unfortunately not always possible.
In our design, we did not strictly follow tradition. We brought some very modern ideas and concepts to the old house. This in itself was already a challenge, but there were also a lot of difficulties in solving the contradiction between the traditional architecture space and modern lifestyles. For example, adding a bathroom on the second floor of the old wooden structure building.
For the newer concrete buildings, the studio opted for a minimalist aesthetic with lighter oak woods and gray terrazzo flooring. This helps to create a more relaxed and modern atmosphere for the private living quarters.
“By boldly introducing the modern design into the historic space, the juxtaposition of old and new shows an interesting dialogue between tradition and the modern lifestyle.”
Indoor Outdoor Living
When asked what their favorite part of the space is, B.L.U.E. Architecture immediately referenced the garden space. Their love for the outdoors was so prominent that in rooms that had no courtyard, the designers inserted a terrace. In doing so, they were able to maintain “an open relationship between the courtyard and the interior”.
Overall, these apartments are an inspiring lesson in sensitive historical restoration. At the same time, B.L.U.E. Architecture have not compromised in designing a comfortable space suited to its thoroughly modern residents. The result is a truly unique and special home that combines the very best of the past and present.