Set within the theoretical framework of cultural sustainability, this in-depth case study examines the Shilinyuan (meaning “Lion Grove Courtyard-Garden Housing”) built in the old city of Suzhou, China, in 2000. It is a modern interpretation of southern Chinese vernacular houses, with private and semi-public outdoor spaces, and a communal Central Garden. The estate is in proximity to the famous Lion Grove Garden, and in walking distance to the renowned Humble Administrator’s Garden; both of which are UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites. The Shilinyuan project won the Lu Ban Award, a national award to high-quality construction projects by Chinese Ministry of Housing. Through an onsite survey, in-depth interviews with residents, key planner and architect, and the author’s observations, the study finds that this project is only culturally sustainable to some extent, the private courtyard-gardens are often too small for family activities. The communal Central Garden has somewhat functioned as a social and cultural activity space, and living close to city gardens is a major benefit for residents’ cultural activities. The findings may have implications for courtyard housing redevelopment in China and cohousing development elsewhere. The study finally suggests two new courtyard-garden housing systems that may have wider application.
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