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Reconstructing renovation

Updated: 2013-09-17 09:30
By Li Yang ( China Daily)

Reconstructing renovation

Ian Hamlinton explains how he found porcelain bowl pieces and used them to mend the old wall in his hotel Secret Garden in Yangshuo county, the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. Huo Yan / China Daily

A South African architect rebuilds notions about refurbishing traditional structures in a rural Chinese village. Li Yang reports.

Villagers call him "Crazy Ian". The nickname was invented years ago, when he started renovating tumbledown buildings in Jiuxian village, a rural settlement flanking the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region's Yangshuo area.

But South African architect Ian Hamlinton's apparent madness is now accepted as genius, since he effectively constructed a new approach to rebuilding, rather than replacing, crumbling structures.

Reconstructing renovation

The 40-year-old has inspired local farmers to rethink the demolish-and-replace model that rules China's development by renovating dilapidated edifices into modern and functional structures.

Hamlinton and his ideas have gradually found a home in the village - where he has lived for four years and plans to stay indefinitely - starting with his 2009 renovation of a 200-year-old mountainside dwelling. The house was overgrown with grass and trees, and its roof had collapsed.

The architect spent two years renovating the house into a beautiful two-story building with a first-floor gallery. He planted a tree in the hallway as a memento to the structure's previous state. And he used the original bricks and tiles wherever he could.

Hamlinton worked alone on the project. That was when locals started calling him "Crazy Ian" - a moniker that has persisted after villagers realized upon seeing his project's results that his motivation comes more from cleverness than madness.

Hamlinton is well traveled. He worked in Egypt, Jordan, India, Nepal and Thailand before moving to China.

He fell in love with Yangshuo the moment he arrived. So, he sold his car and houses in South Africa to settle down in the area of southern China celebrated for its idyllic karst scenery.

But he was less impressed by some of the country's new architecture, which he considers "ugly" and "impractical" - especially when contrasted against its older buildings.

"It is cool in summer and warm in winter to live in the old buildings. It is the opposite in the new ones," he says.

"In China, people compare their own building with each other's, and all the buildings look the same. And they spend a lot of money to decorate the insides of the rooms with industrial products.

"I like things very simple, and I don't add things to make beauty. The mud walls and the wood are natural things that make people comfortable."

Hamlinton innovated with what he could scrounge up during the renovation. On the grounds surrounding the house, he discovered dozens of porcelain shards - some dating to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and some from the 1960s and 1970s that are engraved with Mao Zedong quotes. He embedded them in the house's exterior walls.

Reconstructing renovation

Reconstructing renovation

Raising the roof  Comical crooner 

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