Beijing-based design studio People’s Architecture Office has proved yet again its knack for innovation and socially conscious design with its recent project, the Shangwei Village Plugin House. Made with a modular building system of prefabricated panels, these customizable homes can slot into existing structures to make formerly uninhabitable spaces both livable and attractive for far less than the cost of a typical renovation. The experimental dwellings were installed in the Chinese village of Shangwei near Shenzhen and can be assembled with unskilled labor using just one tool in less than a day.

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The local government, the Shangwei Village Cooperative, along with local nonprofit Leping Foundation and Future Plus, tapped People’s Architecture Office to renovate a series of centuries-old structures into houses for supporting a budding community of local artists and craftspeople. Having been left vacant for decades, the structures had become uninhabitable ruins with caved-in roofs. Since renovation could adversely affect adjacent buildings, the architects decided to rehabilitate the spaces by inserting new construction — with added structural reinforcement — inside the existing structures, a typology that the firm calls the ‘Plugin House.’

white house on a hill

white house on elevated lot

“Industrial manufacturing allows the use of high quality materials that drastically increase energy efficiency and economies of scale ensure the Plugin House remains inexpensive,” the architects explained. “Although the Plugin Panels are mass produced, each Plugin House is customized to fit its particular site.” The Huang Family Plugin House, for instance, slots into a tiny 160-square-foot space. The space-saving construction features a mezzanine bedroom with a corner window cantilevered over a collapsed wall as well as a new skylight where the original roof once was. The Fang Family Plugin House, on the other hand, is slightly larger at 215 square feet.

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white home above site of ancient ruins

white home above ancient ruins

The architects added, “For both locations, the Plugin House System raises living standards by adding efficient mini-split units for heating and cooling, modern kitchens and off-the-grid composting toilet systems.”

+ People’s Architecture Office

Images by ZHAN Changheng and People’s Architecture Office