YAODONGS, LIVING UNDERGROUND

Around 40  mln people live in cave dwellings called yaodongs. I was very excited to finally be able to visit them, and after 3hours in train and 2h in buses we found one of the most curious yaodong villages in China. Now, on the fringes of Sanmenxia city we can find the underground village discovered in the 50s and then published in famous Architecture without Architects by Bernard Rudofsky.

You can not see the village from afar. You can only hear it.

Houses are created by sunked rectangular courtyards measuring ~ 8 x 6 m, from which separate arched rooms were dugged. The earth that surrounds the indoor space serves as an effective insulator keeping the inside of the structure warm in cold seasons and cool in hot seasons. Consequently, very little heating is required in winter, and in summer, it is as cool as an air-conditioned room. We visited the caves on a hot August day and the rooms stayed nice and cool.

Entrances to the dwellings were separated from the courtyard itself.

Old entrance.
Renovated entrance.

In the middle of the courtyard a tree was planted providing shade and a well dugged collecting rain water.

Not renovated cave-room, with some Chinese furniture and a  kang on the right – a heated brick bed.
A renovated cave-room with Mao’s time interior.

And now  the horror part of the story. The site was unfortunately discovered by Chinese tourism industry. And transformed into Underground Las Vegas. The layout has been changed – dwellings have been connected between each other with LED lit corridors, courtyards filled with giant sculptured of tea pots and ground level built up with noodle booths and stages surrounded by huge newly constructed fake castle. Now not only you can hear the village, it will blind you from miles away. And you can take a photo with a giant Corn sculpture. Mr. Rudofsky – is – not – impressed.

Giant corn, Chinese opera masks and stage lights – ancient village bling bling style.
Newly added corridors.

The whole process of renovating the dwellings was called a process of ‘beautification’. Adding new brick facades, pavements, LED lights, corridors and Chinese architectural elements like screen walls.

There was still a part left behind, un-beautified. Those were actually houses still serving people as homes.

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