Hutong Bubble 32 by MAD


Beijing architects MAD have completed the first of a series of proposed bubble-shaped additions to traditional hutongs in the city.

Beijing Hutong Bubble by MAD 15

The first bubble, called Hutong Bubble 32, provides a toilet and staircase in a hutong - a traditional but basic housing typology based around a courtyard that is under threat from rapid development in Beijing.

Beijing Hutong Bubble by MAD 14

MAD's Beijing Hutong Bubble project proposes adding similar bubbles to many of the city's hutongs to improve living conditions while preserving the vernacular urban fabric.

Beijing Hutong Bubble by MAD 13

Here's some more information from MAD:


Beijimg Hutong Bubble by MAD

MAD’s proposal for the future Beijing 2050 was first revealed at its exhibition MAD IN CHINA in Venice during the 2006 Venice Architecture Biennale.

Beijing Hutong Bubble by MAD 12

Beijing 2050 imagined three scenarios for the future of Beijing―a green public park in Tiananmen Square, a series of floating islands above the city’s CBD, and the “Future of Hutongs,” which featured metallic bubbles scattered over Beijing’s oldest neighborhoods.

Beijing Hutong Bubble by MAD 21

Three years later, the first hutong bubble has appeared in a small courtyard in Beijing.

Beijing Hutong Bubble by MAD 6

China’s rapid development has altered the city’s landscape on a massive scale, continually eroding the delicate urban tissue of old Beijing. Such dramatic changes have forced an aging architecture to rely on chaotic, spontaneous renovations to survive the ever-changing neighborhood.

Beijing Hutong Bubble by MAD 2

In addition, poor standards of hygiene have turned unique living space and potential thriving communities into a serious urban problem. Hutongs are gradually becoming the local inhabitants’ dumpster, the haven for the wealthy, the theme park for tourists.

Beijing Hutong Bubble by MAD 3

The self-perpetuating degradation of the city’s urban tissue requires a change in the living conditions of local residents. Progress does not necessarily call for large scale construction – it can occur as interventions at a small scale.

Beijing Hutong Bubble by MAD 4

The hutong bubbles, inserted into the urban fabric, function like magnets, attracting new people, activities, and resources to reactivate entire neighborhoods. They exist in symbiosis with the old housing.

Beijing Hutong Bubble by MAD 9

Fueled by the energy they helped to renew, the bubbles multiply and morph to provide for the community’s various needs, thereby allowing local residents to continue living in these old neighborhoods. In time, these interventions will become part of Beijing’s long history, newly formed membranes within the city’s urban tissue.

Beijing Hutong Bubble by MAD 11

Unexpectedly, a manifestation of this idealistic vision has sprung up in one of Beijing’s hutongs, just three years after the exhibition. Hutong Bubble 32 provides a toilet and a staircase that extends onto a roof terrace for a newly renovated courtyard house.

Beijing Hutong Bubble by MAD 16

Its shiny exterior renders it an alien creature, and yet at the same time, reflects the surrounding wood, brick, and greenery.

Beijing Hutong Bubble by MAD 20

The past and the future can thus coexist in a finite, yet dream-like world.

Beijing Hutong Bubble by MAD 17

The real dream, however, is for the hutong bubble to link this culturally rich city to each individual’s vision of a better Beijing.

Beijing Hutong Bubble by MAD 18

The bubble is not regarded as a singular object, but as a means to initiate a renewed and energetic community. Under the hatchet of fast-paced development, we must always be cognizant of Beijing’s long term goals and the direction of its creativity.

Beijing Hutong Bubble by MAD 19

Perhaps we should shift our gaze away from the attraction of new monuments and focus on the everyday lives of the city’s residents.

Beijing Hutong Bubble by MAD 32

Beijing Hutong Bubble by MAD 33

Posted on Monday September 14th 2009 at 12:08 am by Sarah Housley. Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • Lizzie

    Exciting and inspiring. It transcends the limitations of drawing a line between old and new. So often we demolish the old to create the new or hold on, sentimentally, to the old not allowing room for the new, This is an opportunity for organic growth rather than homogeneous change from a singular umbrella development.

  • Really like it.

    Especially like how “its shiny exterior renders it an alien creature, and yet at the same time, reflects the surrounding wood, brick, and greenery.”

  • pok

    Very ineresting.
    It’s like inserting Anish Kapur’s work into Hutong area.
    Any information on the material?

  • ste

    interesting reaction to the surrounding.. a materialized dialog between old and new…simple yet effective! love it

  • Amanda Smith

    The idea of gentrification is great but the execution needs to be re-considered. Having a series of alien like bubble incisions into the existing hutong fabric is akin to having tumour like growths on an aging body. They are definitely not a sensitive reaction and solution to the preservation of the hutongs that yearns for an evolving growth, rather than having intervening additions that are contextually ill, program-less and add chaos to the historic site. Preservation does not simply means addition of trendy looking objects that will not stand the test of time, but a thorough and careful masterplan study of the entire context.

  • Like the big picture and how it will work in this urban tissue !

  • N

    at least, he has done something nice

  • yimyim

    whats traditional about the hutong that the bubble is joined to, or is that also made by MAD, im confused… ?
    MAD are good though, arent they! nice opportunity

  • horrible haridas

    beautiful! very very nice!

  • Eric

    The bubbles are going to age real soon stylistically (more like it already has aged). Agree with Amanda, this is not a very sensitive solution to a disappearing historical urban fabric. I am slightly sad because this seems one of the hutong areas in Beijing that are more well preserved.

  • R

    Amanda Smith makes a very good comment, though I would not so much compare it to a tumor but more to jewellery: taking an – what people consider to be – old and decayed building, or typology, and then “faking” to make it expensive and valuable by adding one shiny piece of jewellery to it. Also, through this gentrification the typology might live, but it’s current inhabitants will probably not be able to afford it any longer. They’ll become homes for the well-to-do and creative classes and/or museums. This does not mean that this specific project above itself is not good – the way it deals with materials, shape etc is interesting – but maybe it should be considered as one project instead of a strategy. The typology of the Hutong is in my opinion interesting enough to survive on its own right and not by adding stuff. Though I am also aware that explicit additions like this might be the only way to prevent this typology from disappearing.

  • jh

    ‘…provides a toilet and staircase in a hutong – a traditional housing typology that is under threat’
    so a bubble toilet safes the chinese housing tradition? that’s great. why didn’t anybody else came up with that solution before?

  • CROFTdesign

    The sections are absolutely horrible. There’s no consistancy in the form of the exterior membrane or spacial order…

  • rima

    first time that i see a project for china that care somthing about traditional chinese housing, so this is nice. (…)
    Bubble solution seems too easy and reductive to me.

  • I Can Has Cheeseburger

    While it is a inspiring idea, I don’t see how this will improve living conditions while preserving the vernacular urban fabric.

    Even then, does it has to be an organic form? I do like the jewel analogy to the tumor one but this is just another fancy architecture in my opinion!

  • Hutonger

    jh, right now, all poeple live in Beijing’s old hutong has to go to public toilet. if they can’t live with it and move out someday, rich poeple will take over and transfer this “urban fabric” into couple big villas, then community dies. its actually hapenning now.

  • LOW

    1 word

  • derma

    interesting concept/spaces but I find it a bit disrespectful to the existing architecture…

  • ness

    i like it … but it looks out of place for me

  • Michael

    @ Hutonger:
    But isn’t that the standard model for a, not museum-like, livable preservation? First you have the poor people living in an area. Then the creative artist people who also are poor moves in. After a while it becomes an interesting melting pot of old and new, culture and garbage, which in turn attracts all the arty middle/upper class’ers. They come in with their money, refurbishes and actually protects just the things that made the area interesting in the beginning. Maybe not with all the interiors intact but still, and preserving the street life. Like SOHO in NY/London, Marais in Paris, SOFO in Stockholm or similar.
    Then if we are lucky some private (or state) interest will fund the exact preservation of a single house as a historic museum over old times.

    What do you think about this scenario?

  • jasowas

    @michael: The gentryfication (u described) is, once started, not stopable…

    the the only protection would be to protect an area, on the other hand is the gentryficationprocess that bad?

  • i like it conceptually however deciding whether it really works is difficult to gauge without going to the site – but i think you may need some sunglasses – what happens when the sun is at an acute angle?

  • Gene wants beer

    Providing modern sanitation in order to upgrade hutong as a precious architecture is a brilliant idea, but its appearance as a bubble to me is like overpowering the existing system. Whether it’s jewel or tumor, its claim to coexist with hutong is debatable….

  • DiomedesRex

    Hmm… I find them less than fabulous, a band-aid rather than a prosthetic. Would it have been so hard to make it match the architecture?

    Interesting to note: a ‘hutong’ is not a building, it’s an alleyway between buildings, traditionally between Siheyuan. Extrapolate whatever you like from the use of a negative space as a way of marking decent sized hunks of territory.

    Alright, so here’s the larger issue: Hutongs are getting trashy OR are turning into burbclaves that exclude the poor. The bubble idea solves neither issue. I wonder if some hybrid of a Chinese Inn, an apartment, and an upper-classman dormitory might not be the solution?

    Imagine: One out of every nine Siheyuan is converted into a multilevel building with Chinese wood and stone architecture inside and out on a modern frame.
    Patterns vary, with some having a courtyard in the middle that is open to the sky, some have a rooftop living space, some get more exotic and use ‘light pipes’ to have indoor courtyards that have sunlight coming through the pipe. Each courtyard is only accessible to the people living in the apartments, and (in the light pipe idea) acts as a common room either for the floor or the entire building.
    L-shaped Apartments can be built into the corners, or rectangular apartments along the edges. Either way, each apartment should be as large or larger than a typical Hutong home.

    Exterior walkways allow people to have porches that look out over the city OR the courtyard. Allow lots of airspace and natural light.

    The bottom floor could be wholly or, by halves, taken up by shops or public baths.

    This would
    A) allow for high density living at a quality as high or higher than standard Hutongs
    B) continue the tradition of chinese architecture (while adopting locally harvested materials)
    C) make the conflict of Roads+Shops vs Hutongs a non-issue
    D) encourage a sense of community (as you share air space, clotheslines, or common rooms with your neighbors)
    E) have lots of access for air, light, and the authorities (both to keep up standards of living and to appease the government. These apartments would be perfectly livable even without electrical wiring and plumbing (with the addition of the public bath and possibly cooking area)

    Gee, I ought to get a high paying job for the Communist Party.

  • saif

    all of this for a toilet!?!! this should only be proposed for some function that will bring people together for informal gatherings in the neiborhoods and it will work perfectly, it has a radial feel to it and so works well in this sense with the outer finish reflecting the whole neighborhood around into a central point symbolically representing that same purpose (bringing people together)…but not have a WC in there, no offense but if someone uses this WC with no accoustic treatment around, it will be loud and embaracing. I think these neighborhoods need some feeling of solidity and i think these structures can provide them, specially that people are trying to preserve their homes and their memories.

  • jakob

    i’m in beijing right now and would love to see the bubble in person. does anyone know the exact address? will happily answer questions about materiality etc. after my visit. so please please, the address (in chinese characters is fine), thank you thank you.

    • Wang Julian


  • DMV

    just beautiful

  • lemon

    i don’t know whether it fit for beijing traditional hutongs ,but it’s funny

    maybe its mordern with traditon

  • Heritage preserver

    TOTALLY agree with Amanda Smith. Modernisation is fit for younger countries like in the west, where their history only lasts a few hundred years. For China, which has a written history of over 5000 years (and an unwritten one of over 12000 according to archeological evidence), it would be detrimental, because the unique pieces of history would be gone for ever. The Hutong bubble is not helping us preserve anything, rather, if it is going to be built as a permanent solution, it will quickly demolish the hutongs. Its shape isn't even efficient! Like R said, a piece of antique is worth nothing if you purposely add something new to it. Its like polishing the blade of 5000 year old sword and sanding and then laqcuering its handle, making it look no different to a modern shiny replica.
    Hands off, Western world. You've done enough damage to China already. First you smash and rob the ancient imperial garden, then you promote tobacco to China's young generation when its outlawed in your own country, and now you are trying to make extinct China's remaining heritage?!

  • Aay

    An ideal grafted space.