Project Concept

Project proposed

Preservation and Restoration of the Traditional Dwelling in the Ethnic Minorities Areas in Yunnan Province


Project Sites

  1. Tongle Village, Yezhi Town, Weixi Lisu Autonomous County, Diqin Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture

  2. Zhanglang Village, Bada Town, Menghai County, Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture

  3. Chengzi Village, Yongning Town, Luxi County, Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture

  4. Da Man Ru Village, Fuyan Town, Menglian Dai Laku and Wai Autonomous County, Simao City

  5. Kaigu Village, Nixi Town, Shangri-la County, Diqin Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture


Ethnic Groups Involved in the Project

  1. Lisu Ethnic Group

  2. Bulang Ethnic Group

  3. Yi Ethnic Group

  4. Wa Ethnic Group

  5. Tibetan Ethnic Group


Types of Traditional Dwelling

  1. Mu Leng” House of Lisu Ethnic Group (Wooden House)

  2. Bulang Ethnic Group (Bamboo House)

  3. Tu Zhang” House of Yi Ethnic Group (Adobe House)

  4. Maocao” House of Wa Ethnic Group (Bamboo Thatch House)

  5. Tibetan Diaofang (Stone Chambers)


Project Implementation Organization:

Center for Biodiversity and Indigenous Knowledge, Italian architects, and other institutions to be identified.


Project Background

Over a long history of co-existing and conflicts, the 26 ethnic groups in Yunnan created a rich and varied culture of traditional dwelling. Influenced by factors such as the varied natural conditions, the complexity of the shared livelihoods amongst different groups, the particularity of historical developments, and the diversity of the cultural characteristics of these ethnic groups, distinct differences emerged, but not limited to the differing types of architectures by different ethnic groups. But roughly speaking, there are five distinctive types of traditional dwelling adapted by the ethnic groups in Yunnan, namely the Wooden House, the Bamboo House, the Adobe House, the BambooThatch House and the Tibetan Diaofang (or Stone Chambers). These five types of traditional architectures are located in areas with different geographical conditions, altitudes and climates. These divergences are a consequence of the historical movement and distribution of the ancestral ethnic groups of Di Qiang, Baiyue and Baipu, from which many of today’s ethnic groups are derived.

Since “the project of state modernization” embarked over some 20 years ago in China, the traditional dwelling houses of the ethnic groups in Yunnan like many other aspects of traditional cultures, were considered by mainstream Chinese urbanized cultures to be “backward,” crude, and shoddy. Therefore, lacking proper attention from the government and research institutes, the traditional dwelling houses of the ethnic groups has long been on an erosive course. In fact, the local government has been implementing a so called “beautifying the village” by eliminating bamboo and grass-thatched house because it is so humble and simple, and it poses an opposite painful image to the modernization drive by the local government. Recently, there was a debate amongst local officials in the Lancang area with regard to heighten the effort of “eliminate the last grass-thatched houses. Under these circumstances, we consider it with high sense of urgency to propose a project for protection and restoration.


We briefly introduce the five types of ethnic dwelling as below:

    1. The “Mu Leng” House of the Lisu Ethnic Group (Wooden House)


The Lisu people live in three types of wooden houses:

  1. three rooms in a straight line

  2. three rooms in a vertical line

  3. courtyard

The house has a wooden structure, with the four sides formed of long pieces of timber, and the top a cover of wooden planks with stones on it. It is a house with two stories. The ground floor is for keeping domestic livestock and the upper floor is the living quarters. In the middle of the main room is a fireplace for cooking, heating and light.


    1. Bamboo House of the Bulang Ethnic Group

The Bulangs live in two-storied houses with bamboo-wooden structures, supported by wooden or stone stakes and surrounded by wooden planks or bamboo fences, with thatched or tiled roofs. In the center of the house is a big fireplace.


    1. Tu Zhang” House of the Yi Ethnic Group (Adobe House)


The “Tu Zhang” House of the Yi Ethnic Group is of mud-and-wood construction. It has a square shape, with one principal room in the center and two wing rooms surrounding a courtyard. The house has two stories, with wooden trussing surrounded by adobe walls. The house also has a flat adobe roof.


    1. Maocao” House of the Wa Ethnic Group (Bamboo Thatch House)


The “Maocao” House of the Wa Ethnic Group has a timber-bamboo-and-thatch structure that uses wooden planks for the floor and bamboo for the floor of the balcony, the fences, and the batten for the thatched roof. The house is built on stilts, and the space below is used for breeding domestic livestock. The upper floor is the living quarters and has a fireplace in the room. An iron triangle is set on the fireplace to hold household utensils.


    1. Tibetan Diaofang (Stone Chambers)


The Tibetan Diaofang has a trapezoidal shape, with a narrower upper side and a broader lower side. It has a flat adobe roof, and the walls are built up of flat, irregular pieces of stones piled on each other. The house usually has three or four floors; the top floor is used for storing grain and clothes, the middle floors are for people and the ground floor is the place for keeping the livestock. A fireplace is set in the main room on the middle floor.


Project Objectives:

Our main objectives are to restore and protect the traditional dwelling of the five ethnic groups and the relevant cultural heritage, so as to demonstrate more than a showcase for protection and improvement of the traditional dwelling.

We will carry out the following activities in the five villages mentioned above:


    1. Restore and protect the traditional dwelling houses in each of the five kinds of selected ethnic village;

    2. Make improvements on selected house; and

    3. Make old house restoration plan with the whole village.


Project Implementation

        1. Architecture of the Dwelling House

  1. Overall research and investigation on the traditional dwelling house;

  2. Investigation and drawing of the architectural structure and the spatial arrangement of the house by the architects;

  3. Investigating and writing reports on the culture’s structure and the symbolic meanings of the traditional dwelling house by the anthropologists;

  4. Protecting the existing traditional dwelling houses;

  5. Proposing plans and schemes for the improvement on the traditional dwelling house by the architects and anthropologists;

  6. Submitting the plan to the village, and making modifications based on the opinions and suggestions of the village people;

  7. Village people building the dwelling house based on an improved plan on a volunteer and experimental basis.


        1. Public Space – Selecting and restoring of a traditional house in the Village


i) Overall research and investigation on the traditional public buildings in the village;

      1. Investigating and drawing the architectural structure and the overall spatial arrangement of the public buildings by the architects;

      2. Investigating and writing reports on the culture’s structure and the symbolic meanings of the traditional public buildings by the anthropologists;

      3. Proposing plans and schemes for the improvement on the traditional public buildings by the architects and anthropologists;

      4. Submitting the plan to the village, and making modifications based on the opinions and suggestions of the village people;

      5. Reviving and building the traditional public buildings in the village.


3. Village Planning

  1. Overall investigation of the basic information about the village, and drawing the map for the village;

  2. Investigating and drawing the physical structure and the overall space arrangement of the village by the architects;

  3. Investigating and writing reports on the culture’s structure and the symbolic meanings of the village culture by the anthropologists;

  4. Submitting the plan to the village, and making modifications based on the opinions and suggestions of the village people;

  5. Implementing the plan in the village.



Some images of the five kinds of ethnic traditional dwellings





Mu Leng” House of Lisu Ethnic Group (Wooden House)


Maocao” House of Wa Ethnic Group (Bamboo Thatch House)




Bulang Ethnic Group (Bamboo House)

Tu Zhang” House of Yi Ethnic Group (Adobe House)

Tibetan Diaofang (Stone Chambers)



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