Dong’s House

Dongs House, Pingjian Lu_2004

Dong’s House, Pingjiang Lu, Suzhou. 2004


TM Studio, founded by Tong Ming, is located within the general Tongji University campus, which is different from many other design studios. Surrounded by university buildings and young students it is intended to provide an atmosphere that is both tranquil and dynamic,which some people have suggested is the intentional tension within Tong Ming’s built works. In the last 10 years, Tong Ming has constructed many projects both in Shanghai and Suzhou, such as Dong’s House and Suquan Yuan. These works are attracting critical attention and generating considerable discussion in and around Shanghai.

In 1998, when he was in his early 30s, Tong Ming was commissioned for his first project: a teaching building in WenZheng Academy in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, which was completed in 2003. He says of himself that he was a “precocious architect” at the time, because it was early in his career (for a Chinese architect) to lead a project. Tong Ming says that he was incredibly fortunate to start his career relatively young, noting that many Chinese architects could only convert around 20 per cent of their designs into actual, built projects (due to the market, but also caused by uncertainties in the design process, for example, where many Chinese clients are prone to change the brief unexpectedly).

Suquan Yuan_Suzhou 2007

Suquan Yuan, Suzhou 2007

Brick details

Brick detail










Talking about his projects, Tong Ming – associate professor of Urban Planning in Tongji University – consistently expresses the importance of the “site” in his work, something which he  describes as a rich resource for architectural design. For instance, the inspiration for the 260m2 coffee shop/restaurant at Suquan Yuan (completed in 2007), was the three sycamore trees in the original yard. Tong Ming wanted to replicate, or retain in some way, the flickering shadows created by these trees and to bring that natural effect into his building. It has been achieved by constructing a dark-brick box perforated with Islamic-style tracery which provides dynamic patterns across the floor.

An earlier building by Tong Ming – Dong’s House restaurant in the Pingjiang District of Suzhou – involved the architect in six months of site analysis during the initial design process. It is a reconstruction project therefore the original underground pipes and toilets had to be carefully considered. The site was divided into two parts: a traditional courtyard house to the south which was to be protected and the dilapidated northern factory units that were to be demolished. Even though the client wanted a 2-storey building, the restricted size of the site would mean that a stair would take up too much of the site. The solution was to integrate the staircase into the building function; so the circulation spaces step up as do the individual restaurant rooms.

Dong_s House_interior

Dongs House. Restaurant interior

In Tong Ming’s mind, even an extremely simple site is not blank. As an architect, he says, it is an essential step to understand the invisible historical and cultural elements before starting to design. Architectural design, he says, is not a pure and logical process, on the contrary, architects should be “sensitive”. In Dong’s House, the outer walls of the old houses were carefully kept to maintain the continuity in original appearance while steel frames replaced the original interior wooden structure.  The building, unfortunately, like many in China, has not stood the test of time: it has been detrimentally affected by poor initial material protection, inadequate maintenance and the wear and tear wrought by careless occupancy.

rusty cornerMost architects are always trying to find a certain style for their works. Sometimes, they do it just because they want to find a way to explain their designs to the public. However, architects should carefully think about what is meant by style. Style doesn’t come from the ether but is the result of careful thoughts, analysis and imagination. As these intellectual and material explorations become accepted by the public, a personal style is formed. Generally, the public simply see the appearance of style and few of them have ever tried to explore the essence of architectural style. In Tong Ming’s opinion, architectural style has a quite close relationship with time. It always reflects a designer’s contemporaneous thoughts and explorations of the period. In some ways, this is a building stylistically of its time; and the passing of time is written into its charming – but unfortunate – erosion.

stepped interior