53. Hutong Haciendas

Since first learning of the existence of Cibola, Ralph Deigh was fascinated by what he had come to understand of its unique fusion culture. In some respects, each of the component cultures and language groups that made up the community had retained elements of its origins while contributing to the general fusion that defined the community as a whole. Unity in diversity was an altogether apt phrase for what he saw. In other respects, Ralph found fascinating the ways in which the different cultures had blended and melted together into truly unique combinations. It has not always been easy and the history of Cibola gave ample tribute to a great deal of “feudin’, fussin’ and fightin’” including a range of local disagreements about what to do in the wake of what some were calling “Digger Proffitt’s flood.”

In Eden’s architecture, one of the most fascinating physical examples of cultural fusion was something Ralph called “hutong haciendas,” which was his own term for the blending of the traditional neighborhoods of multi-generational walled compounds still found in old Beijing and various elements of Spanish colonial haciendas.

Dangerous chemicals were still found everywhere at the hidden Cibola valley site, still standing in pools and small ponds everywhere when Ralph convinced Adam to let him visit one of the seven villages that made up the Cibola community. Technically Adam’s permission wasn’t necessary since the court had already issued a preliminary determination that the Cibola property was owned by the Mueller Mining Company, but he knew that this decision — which really meant that the Cibola site was operationally now owned by the Mueller Foundation and under the full control of the Eden Project — was not yet clearly understood by survivors from Cibola, particularly those who had fled Dare County and were seeking to melt into greater American society. Adam, Evie, and other leaders of the Cibola community were receiving almost daily letters, calls, and electronic messages from former residents of Cibola expressing their concern that their community had been seized by outsiders. Fortunately, the issue had even erupted openly on social media — “gone viral” in a new term Ralph learned. It was, however, a major topic of conversation among a half dozen private and secret social media groups there. Although the number of followers was presently very small, no one could predict when the issue might go viral.

The Qufu neighborhood, which like the other colonia of Cibola was no longer habitable even though it had escaped the full brunt of the flash flooding when the dam holding back the retention pond broke. Unlike the other colonias its buildings were still largely intact and it was easy to make out the hutong, or neighborhood of walled compounds, that had been there. Consisting of approximately fifteen siheyuans, or courtyard houses, each surrounded by high adobe-like walls and connected by several narrow, intersecting lanes. Ralph had the feeling walking in these lanes in his protective white jump suit and head gear that he had been transported somehow to South China. Except that, as he learned from Song Lee, former resident and the group guide and companion for the tour, the neighborhood had been occupied by families named Sanchez, Mandeville, Gutmann, and yes, Sennett as well as some familiar Chinese names.

The number of deaths by drowning and chemical poisoning in Qufu when the holding pond collapsed had been smaller than in several of the other colonia of Cibola. Accompanied by Adam and Cane Sennett and the Peace Chief of Qufu, Ralph, Lil. . . and Freddie all suitably outfitted in protective jump suits had spent a very busy 10 hours walking in and out of the now empty siheyuans of the Qufu hutong, observing, making notes, sketching, asking questions, and absorbing all they could of the design and functioning of this unique community. Ralph would have preferred to camp over night at the site and spend at least another day and preferably two or three there, but as public health officer of Dare County, Dr. Evie Bennett had vetoed that idea immediately. “It’s just not safe to be there for long periods of time yet,” she said. “In fact, I would prefer if you could limit your visit to six hours or less. And it is essential that everyone wear protective gear” she insisted. The day passed quickly, and before he knew it, Adam and Cane were telling Ralph and the others it was time for everyone to leave.

On the trip back down the mountain and back to Landover, where they were meeting Amy and Madeline for dinner, the investigators continued to pepper those who had once lived there with questions, but one thing was already clear in Ralph’s mind. These unique traditional dwellings had been well adapted to the Appalachian mountainous environment. Later, he learned also just how much the Cibolans loved them and from what he had seen he could understand why. These structures gave physical form to the traditional family values of the Appalachian region just as they had to Chinese families for centuries. In Appalachia, it was sometimes said, family wasn’t everything; it was more important than that.

At bottom, the siheyuans of Cibola were family compounds housing at least three, and sometimes four or five generations of an extended family. While many of those found in south China were built on flat lands, the Cibolans had adapted the form to the rough mountain terrain. That was their virtue. Their drawback was that most of them were quite old and did not have indoor plumbing, and water had to be carried from wells in the courtyards or from nearby streams. Most also had only rudimentary wiring for electricity, which was produced on site by loud, smelly generators, with only limited facilities for refrigeration, and no central heating or air conditioning. None of that was insurmountable, however.

In the days following their eye-opening field trip to Qufu, Ralph, Lil. . ., and the growing platoon of architectural technicians they were hiring with Madeline’s encouragement and funding began to explore a variety of different designs for what Lil. . . explained was to be “a thoroughly modern hutong hacienda.’

‘Architectural technicians’ wasn’t really the right term for all of the people now working on designs for Eden, according to Ralph, and apprentices seemed overly general. Regardless, theirs was the first program of the still-nascent Eden Mechanical Institute and the several dozen workers — young and older alike — were enthusiastically learning the ins and outs of architectural design software in the 21st century. Ralph had been amused to learn that for vocational education purposes an “older worker” was anyone over the age of 40. At that rate, he himself was positively antique!

Together, Lil . . . and the growing army of apprentices had been toiling to turn reams of Ralph’s sketches, notebooks and doll house designs into architectural drawings, contributing their own ideas and suggestions as they worked. To this were now added a growing sheaf of his modern renditions of siheyuans. One of the “older worker” apprentices, Chris Polumbo, who wouldn’t actually be 40 for a couple of months yet, had been working with Vincent Martin, another apprentice and journeyman carpenter. They shared a developing fascination with traditional Chinese timber construction. Martin had formerly worked for a central West Virginia company that built modular log homes out of specially treated local timber. Together, and with the full cooperation of Lil . . ., Chris and Vincent began showing Ralph their own sketches of a “log cabin” version of a siheyuan. “I know its crazy, but we got some of our ideas from cowboy movie versions of cavalry forts!” Vincent told Ralph. “But instead of an outer stockade of vertical timbers sunk into the ground, we went with horizontal stacked timber for the outer walls of the see-hey-yen.” Vincent pronounced each syllable of the traditional Chinese term slowly and carefully, with his distinctive southern West Virginia accent, almost as if his mouth was still having trouble forming the word. Even so, Ralph gave him credit for making the verbal effort; one more small victory for the indigenous multiculturalism that Cibola, and now Eden, represented right here in the middle of the Appalachian mountains. There was no doubt of the imaginative designs that Chris and Vincent were hatching. This was work definitely to be encouraged. When he shared some of their ideas and sketches with Adam and Madeline, they agreed, and a meeting was arranged for the six, including Lil. . . to talk the whole thing through.

“We got the idea of emphasizing the horizontal from pictures of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses,” Chris told the group. “Until Vince showed me pictures of some of the houses he had worked on, I never knew you could build ‘log cabins’ that big. But then, I thought, why not? Apparently, some of the traditional timber temples in Japan and China are huge! Have you ever seen a picture of Higashi Honganji Temple in Kyoto? It’s huge! And log cabins have been so important to the Appalachian past. They ought to be part of its future too.”

A log cabin is a structure built of stacked log walls, with various forms of interlaced corners and mud or other forms of fill in the “chinks” or gaps between the logs. They were typically built on more-or-less flat lots, although this ad hoc design group agreed there was no particular reason to limit themselves to such designs, or for that matter to rectangular shapes. Log structures had seemingly never held much interest for American architects, but under the tutelage of the Cibolan experience and the design group, Ralph were increasingly fascinated by the form. He learned that log cabins were first described by the Roman architect Vitruvius, who first observed them in parts of Turkey. Log structures were probably built in parts of Scandinavia and Eastern Europe as early as 3,500 years ago. Nobody seemed to know for sure how they ended up in North America; whether they came over with the European explorers, and whether indigenous forms of log cabins existed before that among the native Amerindians in the Iroquois long houses, for example. He just knew that for northern — and mountainous — climates thick logs provide better insulation than timber framing covered by grasses, leaves or hides.

Whether or not they had been here already, among the Iroquois peoples or others, log cabins were imported to North America by some of the colonies of Europeans. For example, they were being built as early as 1638 in the New Sweden/New York colony, but Ralph often wondered if, given the abundance of timber in the region, Iroquois long houses in the Great Lakes region might also have been log structures from earlier dates.

Site selection was traditionally very important in building a log cabin, both for light and drainage, but there was seldom systematic thought given to placement on the site or proximity to other structures. “In China, siheyuan reflect important aspects of Confucian ethics and cosmology. They are usually positioned in alignment with the compass, on a north-south, east-west axis and reflect a definite hierarchy.” Chris noted sounding very much as if he’d just read that the night before, “The northern-most structure was ordinarily the most important, or principal residence for the oldest couple with a main doorway that opened to the south. Walkways and paths ran from there to the side houses — lesser residences for other family members facing east and west — would be decorated and covered, providing shelter from sun, rain and snow. The ‘opposite house’ at the far south side of the courtyard faces north.”

“The mamma-son and the papa-son would usually live in the north house,” Vincent added, inadvertently slipping into a Korean vernacular he had learned from his grandfather, rather than the Chinese idiom he intended.

“In larger siheyuan,” Chris continued, “a ‘backside’ building might be located behind the main building, and it might even have two stories.” An ideal place, it seemed, to put communal bathroom facilities complete with bath, shower, commode and bidet and perhaps the steam shower (or pseudo-sauna) that was so popular among millennials.” Of course, none of the siheyuans they had observed at Cibola had bathtubs, showers, commodes, bidets or even running water, “but if we were to do something like this in Eden, that might be the best place to put it.” He paused briefly, “Or, maybe we need to put most of that stuff in each unit and just put more communal features like saunas and hot tubs in the backside building. And, maybe a large, walk-in cooler or freezer.”

The backside building would also be an ideal place for storage rooms; a place to keep hand and power tools, rakes, shovels, gun cabinets and all the rest. There was, of course, no need for a garage in the classical Chinese Hutong, and there wouldn’t be in Eden either, since automobiles were banned in town and restricted to the perimeter parking garages associated with the outer ring transportation hubs. Ralph had designed the garages so that each of them also had large storage lockers, small locked tool rooms, really, where those who liked to tinker with their cars and pick-up trucks, or do their own maintenance, could keep what they needed. There were also several special bays designed into each garage for such do-it-yourselfers.

“A hutong is a neighborhood of siheyuans, that first developed in the 13th century.” Chris added, warming to his subject. “They are neighborhoods, really. Pre-revolutionary Beijing was chock-full of them, but in recent decades literally hundreds of hutongs have been torn down and thousands of siheyuans have been bulldozed.”

“There is another similar kind of cluster housing found mostly in southern China. I forget what it’s called, but they are round sort-of-apartment buildings with plain outer walls almost like castles. They developed in the middle ages, apparently, to protect villagers from bandits and roving gangs. But people still live in them.”

“Hakka.” Vincent chimed in. “But I don’t know if that’s just the name of the round end building or the entire complex. In one of the books we got, there was a schematic of a hakka, I guess you’d say, in a Chinese town called Doubon or Dooban or something like that. Have you ever been to Chaco Canyon in New Mexico? There’s an archeological site there called Pueblo Bonito. The existing walls suggest that it was once a four or five story adobe structure very much like the daub and wattle construction of Doubon. That’s the idea we’re after for Eden.”

“I’ve also seen something similar called a tulou or ‘earthen building’, which is a traditional communal residence found in Fujian Province South China, usually in a circular layout surrounding a central shrine.” Vincent was also warming to the subject now. At times, the walls of tulous were made of cut granite or fired brick rather than the pounded mud we call adobe and the English call cob. I once read Giants in the Earth by Ole Rolvaag; he described Norwegian immigrants in Minnesota and the midwest living in pit houses with sod walls on the prairies where there were no trees for logs. Tulous reminded me of that.”

“It’s really amazing how much the floor plan I saw of the hakka in Doubon looks like the skeleton outline you can still see at Pueblo Bonito. But also things like the Taos Pueblo and accounts I’ve read of Actually, there’s a whole bunch of similar structures scattered across the canyon floor for several miles around Pueblo Bonito. And I guess they must be from about the same time period that the hakkas first developed in China,” he added. “Thirteenth century give or take. Coincidence? Who knows?”

“Or cares?” Chris muttered to himself. He knew Vincent was very interested in tedious and irrelevant details and coincidences like that, but sometimes he found it very frustrating having to listen to him. But before he could say more, Vincent had launched into his own speculations on the similarities and differences between siheyuan, hakkas, the mysterious ruins at Chaco Canyon and more recent pueblo structures at Taos, San Juan and elsewhere in the Southwest. He even brought in Catalhoyuk, one of the earliest cities in what is now Turkey.

“It’s kind of crazy when you think about it, but everybody and his sister in Dare County seems to know what a Mongolian Yurt is but siheyuan, hutong, hakka and tulou are pretty much unknown terms” Ralph noted. “That’s especially strange since yurts, like those iconic tee-pees,” he said drawing apart the two syllables, “are shelter for nomadic people, while siheyuan, hutong, hakka and tulou are names for types of housing still in use in rural communities. There aren’t too many nomads in Dare County, unless you include those people who spend Fall weekends tailgating in Morgantown and Huntington.”

“It’s a testament, I guess, to the ways so many rural people like to look backward and inward.”

The meeting went on for several more hours with more discussion of architectural details by Ralph, Vincent and Chris, gradually evolving into discussion of the cost of building these kind of communal structures at Eden, regardless of what they were called. Finally, the decision was made to design one of the seven villages of Eden as a hutong of siheyuans for extended families with at least one multi-story hakka somewhere in the mix.

The first family to opt for construction of their own siheyuan in Eden was a retired couple in their early 70’s with three adult married children, two daughters and the youngest, a son, eight grandchildren and two unmarried adult cousins who had lived with the retired couple since their parents were killed in an auto accident years before. They had always lived close in the Appalachian style in four detached houses within a few hundred yards of one another. “This will be great!” The grandfather said when the deal was settled. “Now we can stay together. We were afraid the fire which burned us out would mean we’d have to split up.” There was general agreement on the plan. Only the grandmother seemed to notice the strained smile on the face of her lone daughter-in-law as she struggled to put the best construction on the announced plan. I’ll try to make the best of it, the younger woman thought to herself. If worst comes to worst, I’ll just have to get a divorce.

Another family who chose a second siheyuan was headed by an elderly widow in her 80s with four children whose husband had died more than 30 years ago. Her eldest son had four adult children, the oldest a son and three younger daughters, only one of whom was married, and no grandchildren. Her eldest daughter and second son had no children, while her youngest daughter had four children, two girls and two boys, and her youngest son had three boys. “This say yawn or whatever you call it is perfect for us. I never knew much about China, but this is just what we need.”

One of the major adaptations of what were increasingly called the hutong haciendas of Eden was the ways in which they flowed across the mountainsides, often with abundant use of cantilevers, open floor plans, glass walls and other modernist features at least as reminiscent of the Habitat in Montreal or the more recent Interlace in Singapore as the traditional flat surfaced siheyuan. Another innovative feature, inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s geometric designs was movement away from the box — the four sided rectangles — of the traditional siheyuan with the development of hexagonal and octagonal designs. Finally, following out the design innovation pioneered by Chris and Vincent, several of the siheyuans in the hutong hacienda neighborhood were constructed as log homes.

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