Futuristic Addition Adorns Traditional Beijing Courtyard Home 
Futuristic Addition Adorns Traditional Beijing Courtyard Home 

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One of the biggest costs of Beijing's rapid economic development has been the destruction of many of the city's old courtyard houses, which line the once numerous alleys known as hutongs.  The crux of the problem is how to preserve the old buildings and, at the same time, bring them and the rest of the city, into the 21st century.  One of China's most famous up-and-coming architects,  has devised a striking solution.

Zhang Wei spends his life working to preserve the folklore and traditions of old Beijing.  He was not sure what to expect when he went to see what had been done to modernize a courtyard house in the city center.

"I was shocked by it," Zhang said. "When I first walked in, I couldn't figure out what that shiny thing was.  It looks like an egg.  It also looks like a water drop.  It's really beautiful."

The surprising addition that put a smile on his face is a large silver bubble that looks like a drop of liquid mercury, oozing over the corner of the traditional courtyard house.

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The bubble's highly-polished metal surface reflects the trees and its edges disappear into the sky. The space is being used commercially as a shop to sell wine and antique furniture.  The bubble conceals the staircase to the rooftop deck. Also hidden inside is a modern necessity not available in traditional courtyard homes - a toilet.

The architect, Ma Yansong, is better known as the winner of a high-profile international competition to design a 56-story residential building in Canada.  Due to be completed next year, Ma calls his design the "Absolute Tower". But it has been nicknamed the "Marilyn Monroe Tower" because of its swirling shape.

While on the verge of being famous internationally, Ma's grand beautification plans for his hometown, Beijing, are much closer to his heart.

"This is Tiananmen Square.  This is the square, this is the Forbidden City and this is the Congress building and the national museum.  So, we basically covered the whole concrete plaza with trees," Ma explained.

Covering Tiananmen Square with trees, or building huge floating gardens in downtown Beijing, is not likely to happen any time soon. But Ma is at least pleased with the bubble in the hutong.

"We basically make a new space.  It looks like a silver, liquid thing.  It looks very futuristic," Ma explained.  "It looks absolutely not [like] the old building, but it's attached to the old building, and forms a new courtyard."

One of the house's main tenants, Wang Xiaolin, applauds that effort.

"I think preservation also needs innovation," Wang said.  "So, I think what we are doing here is preservation and innovation.  I think after a few years, other people will realize it too.  Just imagine - in old Beijing hutongs, you can randomly see some buildings like this.  Wouldn't that be great?"