Beijing's green courtyard

By Dang Xiaofei
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Today, February 26, 2014
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Nanluoguxiang Street, one of the oldest communities in Beijing, is usually thronged with tourists. One of the most captivating features of the area lies in the old courtyards. However, due to disrepair and poor living conditions, this unique construction, the symbol of Beijing, is on the brink of disappearing.

In the center of the courtyard are pomegranate trees and a well and underground is the artificial wetland.

To fight this threat, the old constructions are transformed to meet the demands of the 21st century. The No. 3 courtyard of Banchang Alley in Nanluo-guxiang is an example of this. A "water recycling" concept integrated into the repair work has allowed the courtyard to operate in a green way.

Saving Rainwater

This is an average courtyard, free from the luxuries reserved for the rich; but the tranquility as well as the vitality of the compound is palpable from the first step inside. Walking through a short passage and a circular entrance, you find yourself in a small courtyard where two big trees stand. The newly-decorated main house in the northern quarter of the courtyard, two wing houses to the east and west, and a house opposite the main building constitute a standard Beijing courtyard.

Processed water constantly flows into the flowerbed and fish pond, saving water and adding vitality to the courtyard.

"This courtyard was passed down from my grandfather. It is home to three generations of our family," said the courtyard's owner, Chen Geng. "Three years ago, it became dilapidated and wasn't fit for living in, so I decided to knock it down and rebuild it."

After surveying the construction, Sino-Ocean Land Holdings Ltd. concluded that the construction needed moderate repairs instead of full-scale reconstruction. Its proposal included the courtyard's inclusion into its zero-carbon demonstration project, which has sponsored environmental renovation in over 100 communities so far, and covers all expenses. In the courtyard, the alterations consisted of three parts – rainwater collection and recycling, the construction of an artificial wetland for wastewater treatment and adaptations to the courtyard environment – aiming to make the old courtyard livable as well as environmentally friendly in the areas of water conservation, emission reduction and environmental improvement.

The original courtyard had no water-saving facility. During the renovations, the courtyard was paved with water permeable bricks. "They look like ordinary gray bricks but are actually made of a special material with extraordinary permeability," Chen Geng explained. "No matter how heavy the rain is, puddles of stagnant water never form."

During the renovations, the courtyard was paved with water permeable bricks. 

In this water collection area, which is essentially a well, the elevation facade is tiled with seepage-control bricks that guarantee rain flows to the floor. The base is a layer of sand about 50 millimeters thick, air permeable but waterproof, which can prolong the quality guarantee period of the collected rainwater. "The natural rainwater is first channeled to the well," Chen Geng said. "After several rounds of filtration, it is used to irrigate flowers and plants and in fish ponds."

"Preliminary calculations show that the system can collect and process as much as eight tons of rainwater annually," explained Wang Yutian, a staff member at the Strategic Development Department of Sino-Ocean Land, "and the maintenance cost is next to nothing."

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