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Great Wall Style: Building Home with Jim Spear Hardcover – January 30, 2014
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Frank Lloyd Wright’s “organic architecture” comes inevitably to mind when looking at the buildings Spear has created by altering down-at-the-heels structures in a style that is both modern and yet generally faithful to the Chinese tradition of adapting construction to the local environment. His practice of designing not just the building but the interior and often its furnishings also reminds one of Wright’s work.
Spear has created dozens of homes as well as restaurants, an “eco-retreat” (hotel/conference center), and a glass-blowing factory, among other single structures and complexes, in three villages near the Great Wall. Though the homes are designed for the well-to-do, the families that sell the original buildings apparently are paid quite amply for them. And what seems even more important is that his projects have revitalized communities that were bleeding population. The schoolhouse that he turned into a locavore restaurant, for example, had lain unused because there were no longer enough kids in the village. Before Spear’s developments, people merely passed through these villages on daytrips to the Great Wall, with little benefit to the residents. Now these places are destinations, with the creation of new jobs both a cause and a result.
Better to leaf through the book (above) than to try to envision from this and other descriptions the elegant design sense that produced these buildings. “Marriage of old and new,” “juxtaposition,” “preservation and enhancement,” “modernism in a Chinese idiom” would all be apt. But they can’t convey the striking accentuation of a house’s skeleton from painting the beams white and rafters black (or removing a low ceiling to expose rafters blackened by generations of oven smoke) or the beauty of a floor paved with slate salvaged from the roof of an old farmhouse, a terrace of stone fragments shed by the Wall, or a living-room wall almost entirely of glass opening onto a view of the Wall but kept private by a garden wall that’s just high enough….