Located at Jade Valley Wine & Resort, in Shanxi Province, this home, Well Hall, is very near the historic sites of Lantian Man--the million-year-old fossils of a subspecies of Homo erectus--and about 30 miles from the city of Xian.
The layout of Well Hall follows that of Chinese courtyard housing, or siheyuan. Visitors enter the house on the south through a doorway that leads immediately to a narrow courtyard with the well in the center. The courtyard provides direct access to bedrooms on the east and west and a kitchen-and-dining wing on the north. A walled patio with a pool extends to the north.
Qingyun Ma served as both architect and developer of the project, budgeting time, materials, and design into his own schedule and that of its craftsmen. His builders spend most of the year farming but are free during the winter for construction work--hence making it a 'slow' house.
In addition, Qingyun Ma wanted to use only local materials in building Well Hall, The bricks are made in a nearby village and were brought, as needed, to the worksite by basketful, rather than by truck. This allowed Ma to build Well Hall in stages and to change the design as his ideas evolved.
Qingyun Ma didn't use construction documents to convey his ideas to the workers, but rather, he used sketches. And he scaled the building according to the size of a brick, as it made better sense to specify a wall of a certain number of bricks than to break some to fit an idealized measurement.
With its brick walls and clay-tile roof, the exterior of Well Hall is typical of the area, as it has been for centuries. High solid walls and M-shaped roofs have historically served dual purposes: collecting water into a central well and deterring thieves from the nearby mountains. The M shape also allowed for two short end beams instead of one long one, an economical way to build in poor villages.
One change Ma made, in design only, was by using red and black bricks, rather than one color only, and then alternating them to form a unique diagonal pattern in the facade.
The interior reflects Ma’s Western influences. He added a second story to provide loft spaces in the bedrooms, and used elements not typically found in Jade Valley houses, like metal-and-glass banisters, skylights, and a wall with angled mullions. He surfaced some walls and floors with Lantian stone, which comes from a nearby quarry but is usually discarded once the prized jade core is extracted.
Qingyun Ma hopes Jade Valley will bring economic sustainability to the region, employing local residents as builders, grape growers, and wine producers. Ma’s plans for the development call for dozens of buildings and, if the pace of Well Hall is any indication, constructing these new structures will not happen quickly.
Outside of Jade Valley, fast-paced development will continue to fill China with outstanding pieces of architecture, but homes like Well Hall prove that sometimes slow is good.