The first time the MAT Office team members visited Qianfuxiang, a narrow alley in the Chinese capital, their hearts sank: some dilapidated residences and a grey brick wall surrounded a new youth residence, borne out of the shell of a former office building. But then, they noticed the Chinese scholar tree right in the inner courtyard.

The second time they visited the site, its foliage turned into a revelation. ‘We climbed to the roof terrace and [discovered that] green trees filled in the void space created by the continuous traditional grey roof,’ explained architect Miao Zhang. ‘The balance between artificial and natural allowed us to realise that the key strategy of this regeneration project isn’t simply to replace old with new, but to use a soft intervention in order to create the appropriate relationship between old and new.’

That soft intervention came, appropriately, in the shape of a tree.

They started by creating a continuous three-metre green interface that ran from the outer wall to the inner courtyard, creating two canopies near the apartment building’s entrance. The team added leisure seats and spaces for public gatherings, but made sure that the semi-empty partition on the interface would protect the privacy of the ground-floor residents in the youth apartment units. ‘We hoped that the space under the scholar tree could be a place of leisure for the dwellers, and that the continuous green brunched interfaces could also bring vitality even in the long though winter,’ said Feiyu Wang.

Urban regeneration is always an ongoing process, and this could be a transitional stage

The ultimate goal, they explained, is self-regeneration: in crowded Beijing, this small annexation can serve as a stepping stone towards more thorough urban projects, empowering younger generations to take spatial ownership of a city that seems to grow faster than they do. ‘Urban regeneration is always an ongoing process, and this could be a transitional stage,’ explained MAT architect Youpeng Liu. ‘But we also hope the temporary change brings more possibilities to diverse age groups.’