Adaptive Reuse of the Yan’An Cave Dwellings                                                                                         Design Thesis of Bachelor’s Degree, Tsinghua University, China

Date: Jan-Jun, 2014 | Advisor: Prof. Du Yi


The Yan'An cave dwellings are one of the oldest dwelling method in north-east China. It make use of the landscape transformation in order to create comfortable environment for local residents. However, this ancient dwelling methods are facing the challenge of urbanization and economic booming, and is gradually losing its charm towards the young generation. The thesis explored the possible adaptive reuse of the cave dwelling typology, and taking a real site in Yan'An, it further address the issue of relationship between landscape, architecture and interior space, and how to adapt the organization of the courtyard to establish new neighborhood relationship.


In order to better understanding this ancient dwelling typology, I started my research by visiting one of the eldest cave dwelling village in Mizhi county, Shanxi Province. It is 7.2 square kilometers and has a population of 1090 residents. It is once owned by the largest landlord, family Ma, in mid 19th century, and later became nation-wide recognized as the temporary headquarter of Mao and his followers, and it is also the reason that it is remained untouched during the urbanization in China.  

Yangjiagou Cave Dweling village

Taking one of the courtyard in Yangjiagou as typical example, the caves are layout in a rectangular plan, and therefore, the yard becomes the center within the residential groups. Activities relate to farming, cleaning and even being social with each other are happening in the space, and it is a closer relationship between individual and neighborhood.

 Courtyard as Storage 

Courtyard as Storage 

 Courtyard activities

Courtyard activities

Courtyard as farming place


However, after leaving Wangjiagou and arrived at Yan'an, one of the largest cities in Shanxi Province, the cave dwellings are more like a decayed area to local people. 

Neighborhood Analysis 

As shown in the following image, the urbanization is happening in a unbelievable speed, and lots of the caves are abandoned because they cannot meet the standard of a modern life style. Also, living in the traditional cave dwelling is representing poverty and lower social status. 

The family I am visiting and decided to take it as the site was occupying one of the caves. 

Site Location

Existed condition of the site and user analysis for future adaptation

Concept Diagrams

Master Plan

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

 Final Outcome

Final Outcome

Final Outcome

Final Outcome