There’s something natural and comforting about curves in buildings. In my perfect world, all buildings would be round, like the ancient Pictish brochs we have here in Shetland, or igloos, or Mongolian gers. It’s a good shape to live in, clearly.
The endless, sweeping circle of this earthen Hakka house was designed to safely envelop an entire community. Inside the whorl of mud and brick there are several floors of private spaces, all circling the shared courtyard below and linked by wooden balconies.
This photo was taken from an upper level, looking down on the clay tiles of the inner courtyard, which is open to the air. It was in a remote part of Fujian Province, in a hilly landscape of bamboo and forest that was dotted with the looped ruins of these cavernous wheels.
Left to decay for many years since they were first built, some hundreds of years ago, local people are now drifting back from the cities to live there again. We stayed overnight in one that had sort of been turned into a guest house. Although, looking back, it may well just have been someone’s house. It wasn’t round, but phoenix-shaped, with wings. Two families lived there; they shared the fires and the storerooms and sat chatting and playing mah jong late into the night.
We climbed the rickety stairs lit by a series of red lanterns to a small room with sloping wooden floors, that filtered the soft light and voices. It was a bit like going to bed when there was a party going on downstairs. We drifted off to the sounds of quiet laughter and rose to the watery rituals of washing and brushing teeth.
A young teacher was scrubbing vegetables at the communal tap in the courtyard. She had just moved home, after living in the city for 10 years. Some of her other friends were returning too, she said, so the elder generation wouldn’t be left alone. They could also see new opportunities for tourism, she admitted, welcoming visitors to their circular kind of life.