Suitcase House's serene facade belies its playful and endlessly mutable interior.

Suitcase House's serene facade belies its playful and endlessly mutable interior.

Credit: EDGE Design Institute Ltd.

Any architect who thinks a room with a Murphy bed represents the apex of flexibility should meet Gary Chang of EDGE Design Institute. The Hong Kong–based architect and his design team have taken the classic fold-up bed's conceit and applied it to an entire residence on the outskirts of Beijing. Known as Suitcase House, the 2,691-square-foot project features rooms that pop open or close into the floor, depending on the occupant's desires.

“There are thousands of possibilities,” says Chang.

“When you need something, it appears, and when you don't it disappears.”

The key to this sleight of hand: a series of pneumatically assisted, hinged panels in the floor of the main living area. When the panels are closed, the minimalist space is one long, open span running the length of the building. But each panel opens to reveal a self-contained room. The home's kitchen, bath, bedroom, and storage are concealed this way, as well as a meditation chamber, music room, library, and lounge. A pull-down stair leads to the rooftop deck, and stairways to the basement lie beneath their own floor panels. Sets of sliding and folding doors allow the space to be further divided into rooms of various sizes, and operable windows and blinds provide yet more control over the atmosphere.

Suitcase House's adaptability reflects concepts Chang absorbed during his childhood in 1960s and ‘70s Hong Kong. “I was not from a rich family,” he says. “We never had our own rooms; we combined different purposes in the same room. So while the house is not typical of Chinese houses spatially, it is in its way of life, of adapting space for different uses.” Also in keeping with Chinese standards is the home's steel frame on a concrete base. “We don't frame in wood here because of the possibility of fire and earthquakes,” he adds. Wood does make an appearance, though, as both exterior cladding and interior veneer, all in the same rich teak harvested from western China. “We didn't want to differentiate between the outside and the inside of the house,” says Chang, co-author of a book on the project, Gary Chang: Suitcase House (MCCM Creations, 2004).

The book <em xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">Gary Chang: Suitcase House</em> comprises 168 pages of photos, drawings, essays, and e-mails between Chang's staff and the project's developer.

The book Gary Chang: Suitcase House comprises 168 pages of photos, drawings, essays, and e-mails between Chang's staff and the project's developer.

Credit: EDGE Design Institute Ltd.

While the home's design constitutes a grand experiment, so does the exclusive enclave in which it sits, Commune by the Great Wall. Commune's developers originally intended it as a community of upscale, for-sale houses. But they decided instead to turn the property into a resort where visitors can reserve individual residences for vacations or corporate retreats. In addition to Suitcase House, Commune boasts 10 more high-concept homes by top Asian architects such as Shigeru Ban and Kengo Kuma, both of Japan. Each building nestles into a pristine wooded property within walking distance of the Great Wall of China.

Life in a setting of such spectacular natural and man-made beauty, with rooms that come and go as one pleases, seems an impossible fantasy. If Chang could, though, he'd take Suitcase House even further. He imagines remote-controllable floor panels and lightweight, mobile furniture. And he'd like to try designing a more compact version of the house, as well as a longer iteration that could accommodate an Olympic-size swimming pool. For now, he'll have to be content with the fascinated reactions his creation provokes. “When people arrive they are laughing,” he says. “They are extremely curious. They want to open everything. It is not a normal house—everything you expect is not there.”

The house's charm lies in its appeal to both extroverts—its flexible plan encourages entertaining and socializing—and introverts, who can create their own private hideaway by lifting a panel.

The house's charm lies in its appeal to both extroverts—its flexible plan encourages entertaining and socializing—and introverts, who can create their own private hideaway by lifting a panel.

Credit: EDGE Design Institute Ltd.

project:
Suitcase House, Beijing, China
architect:
EDGE Design Institute Ltd., Hong Kong
contractors:
China Construction 1st Division, 4th Co., Beijing; The 3rd Housing Architecture Construction Co., Beijing
developer:
SOHO China Ltd., Beijing
project size:
2,691 square feet
construction cost:
Withheld
photographer:
EDGE Design Institute Ltd.