Art and Design Review
2013. Vol.1, No.1, 6-9
Published Online August 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Research into Liyuan Buildings, the Spatial Composition of
Liyuan Blocks and Liyuan Residents’ Lifestyles
in Qingdao, China
Limin Shao1, Hiroyuki Kanekiyo2
1Department of Archi t ecture & Landscape, Shando n g University of Art & Design, Jinan, China
2Graduate School of Engin e ering, Kyushu Uni v e rsity, Fukuoka, J a pan
Received June 15th, 2013; revised July 22nd, 2013; accepted August 12th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Limin Shao, Hiroyuki Kanekiyo. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative
Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original wo rk is properly cited.
Qingdao lies in the south of Shandong Peninsula, on the coast of the Yellow Sea. As a coastal and hilly
city, Qingdao has topographic features consisting of twisted coastlines dotted with capes and bays. The
beginning of the 20th century witnessed the construction of western-style streets and buildings in Qingdao
when it was occupied by Germany. Liyuan is the name of the residential buildings for Chinese labors
during the German occupation. Liyuan retain the spatial composition of Chinese quadrangles (Siheyuan),
and at the same time feature western technology. Therefore they have both Chinese and western flavors.
In addition, they are the earliest urban residential complexes in China. The space system of Liyuan blocks
has played an important role in the lifestyle and social network of the local residents. Liyuans have been
home to Qingdao people from generation to generation, which makes it a spiritual symbol. Owing to its
history and characteristics, Liyuan architecture has been designated as one of the historical and cultural
protected areas in Qingdao, and has contributed to the formation of a distinctive geographical landscape.
Since the 1980s, urban renewal and redevelopment in Qingdao have greatly impacted upon the protection
of Liyuans, which has aroused concern from various communities. This research on Liyuans shows the
geographic location of all the Liyuan blocks, classifies them in terms of courtyard composition and archi-
tectural features, and analyzes the relationship between their spatial composition and the residents’ life-
Keywords: Qingdao City; Liyuans; Liyuan Block; Neighborhood; Social Networks
Hundreds of years ago, the Liyuan-Qingdao people’s dwell-
ing was facing urban redevelopment such as functional renewal
and demolition, which brought great impact on Qingdao’s land-
scape features. As the Liyuan has been listed as one of Qing-
dao’s historical and cultural conservation areas, the study of its
formation, distribution, current situation and the daily life of the
residents has become a common topic for people from all walks
of life. Based on long-term investigation and research, this stu-
dy shows the current distribution of the Liyuan, thus providing
reference for further research.
Study Purpose and Method
This study has made use of topographical maps and aerial
photos as well as referring to many research methods such as
literature research, field research and inquiry. With the funda-
mental knowledge of the exterior and interior structure of its
architecture, the study has come to understand the relationship
between spatial structure and people’s living behavior and also
the conditions and process for the formation of social networks
around the Liyuan blocks.
Formation and Development of the Liyuan
The Liyuan were built by Germans for the residence of Chi-
nese people during its colonial domination of Qingdao from
1898 to 1914. Their style resembles an elevated quadrangle
courtyard or building yard which has combined the space
structure of traditional Chinese courtyards with western archi-
tectural technology. Centering around the courtyard, the build-
ing yard is surrounded by two sides, three sides or four sides.
At the very beginning, they were made of bricks and wood with
two or three floors, followed later by four or five floored con-
crete structures. The first floor was used for storage or factories,
while the upper floors were residential. This is the earliest con-
gregated housing available for renting in modern cities.
Most of the Liyuan were built between 1920 and 1930. Ac-
cording to statistics provided by Qingdao’s Social Affairs Bu-
reau, in 1933 there were approximately 506 yards, 10,669
households and 16,701 rooms.
Record of the Ea rli es t Liyuan for Chinese Laborers
“‘The Illustarte Zeitungpublished with photos on 9th, Feb.
1899 that residential housing for 500 Chinese labors employed
by private companies had been built for the guarantee of abun-
dant labor requirement (Klaus, 2000).
You can also see the orderly tartan blocks nearby the har-
bor which is located in the northern part of city planning at
that time and along current Jimo road. They built houses for
500 Chinese labors at the harbor” (Klaus, 2000).
Site Selection of the Liyuan and Their Relation to the
Surrounding Environment
According to the General Program of Management of East
and West Towns on Bao Island in Qingdao, it marked out the
European Residential Area, namely Qingdao District, which
occupied the best area. The Residential Area for Chinese people
was divided into Big Bao Island, Taidong and Taixi (Xinhua
news Agency , 1999).
From their formation, the Liyuans were intended for manual
laborers, therefore their design standards, be it in street width or
building density, were far from being comparable with the Ger-
man villas.
Formation of Residential Hierarchy
From its earliest building intent, site selection analysis and
targeted users of Chinese workmen, it’s obvious that they chose
places near Chinese laborers and assignments as the criteria for
the site selection.
In 1912 the partition ban was abolished and Chinese people
began to live in the urban area of Qingdao with improved living
conditions. Then the Liyuans gradually developed into the most
common residential style. Though their hierarchy was changed
to some extent, yet they still lived in lower-middle-class areas
compared with other residences (Figure 1).
Space Characteristics of Existing Liyuan and Its
Road System of Liyuan Blocks and Its Combination
with Buildings and Courtyards
1) Road System
In accordance with the width of blocks road, the blocks road
fall into neighborhood road and inside-neighborhood alleys. We
found during our survey that courtyards in the blocks are not
directly connected to its road, but through the interconnected
Inside-neighborhood alleys. The streets with a Liyuans are
found in the following neighborhood areas in 2011: E11: Nin-
gyang Road, F27: Jining sub-road. All of them have formed the
street space.
Based on the distribution of Liyuan existing before May,
2011, this study has classified as follows for the benefits of
research and analysis:
District A: to the north: Qingcheng Road, to the south: Huai-
tai Road, to the northwest: Qingcheng Road, to the east: Leling
Road, 5 neighborhoods in all.
District B: to the north: Liaoning Road, to the south: Jilin
sub-road, to the northwest: Liaoning Road, to the east: Shou-
guang Road
District C: to the north: Enxian Road, to the south: No. 1
Shichang Road and Xiajin Road, to the west: Laizhou Road, to
the southeast: Deping Road, 20 neighborhoods in all.
District D: to the northeast: Dalian Road, to the southeast:
Jiaozhou Road, to the northwest: Wudi Road, 5 neighborhoods
in all.
District E: to the northwest: Jinan Road, to the south: Hubei
Road, to the west: Taian Road and Jinan Road, to the east:
Zhongshan Road, 17 neighborhoods in all.
District F: to the north: Cangkou Road, to the southeast:
Qufu Road and Anhui Road, to the west: Zhongshan Road, to
the northeast: Jining Road and Pingyuan Road, 32 neighbor-
hoods in all.
District G: to the west: Sichuan Road, to the southeast:
Chengwu Road, to the southwest: Cishan Road, to the east:
Guancheng Road, 7 neighborhoods in all (Figure 2).
2) Courtyard Combination
a) Separate Courtyard: (F16) Guang Xingli, as the separate
courtyard in the whole neighborhood, is regarded from re-
corded history as the Liyuans with the most households and the
largest yard space, especially when there are fewer separate
Liyuan present today.
b) Multiple Courtyards: There is separate courtyard and mul-
tiple courtyards based on the architectural enclosed relation-
ship. All of them include entrances which lead to block road
and form the frequently seen yards.
c) Interconnected Courtyard: a) Along the street (A1), Qing-
cheng Road, (D5) No. 3 Wudi Road, b) interconnected from
right and left: (E5) No. 5 Shanxi Road (Figure 3).
Figure 1.
Map of Chinese and European residential area.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 7
Figure 2.
Distribution of the ex is t i ng i nn e r yards in Qingdao.
Figure 3.
Road system of Liyuan blocks and its combination with buildings and
Spatial Form and Categories of the Liyuan
Situated mostly on hilly lands and areas of fluctuating terrain,
the Liyuan adopted partial sinking in vertical set and have been
ar ra n g e d i nt o d ifferent units by bordering along th e c on t ou r l i ne ,
thus developing into variable combinations and architectural
forms according to topographic altitude.
1) Street Corner
The city planning during the period of German domination
paid great attention to the diagonal of streets; therefore, features
of architectures on the corner of the neighborhoods have been
carefully handled and highlighted. It has always been regarded
as the symbol of the block’s image and presented at the high
building, entrance door in a facade manner.
Besides, Liyuan at the corner always hold special spatial ef-
fect and visual focus.
2) Ornament of inside and outside Façade
Features of the Liyuan are: a) storied house; b) enclosed
courtyard; c) combination of Chinese and western elements in
The Liyuan is viewed as a combination of western architec-
tural style and Chinese quadrangle courtyard. Buildings facing
the streets have adopted a western style which is manifest in
walls, roofs and patterns and decoration on the entrance doors.
However, the interior decoration, which is totally different from
the exterior decoration, has used Chinese colored drawing,
wooden plaid and screen walls.
3) Coexistence of Old and New Liyuans
The field survey conducted from 2009 to 2011 indicated that
some of the preserved Liyuans were built after the foundation
of People’s Republic of China or the Reform and Opening-up.
Though they’re brick-concrete houses, their combination form
conform fully to the Liyuan style and constitute the coexistence
of old and new yards.
4) Interior Ornament
Its exterior façade obviously displays western architectural
style, while the interior elements and decoration manifest Chi-
nese style. Basically, it’s made of bricks and woods. Though
wood is the main material, its wall base, like its western coun-
terparts, uses stones. As with Chinese traditional dwellings,
there is a screen wall at the entrance door. The Liyuan is gener-
ally of veranda style and boasts lots of carved beams and paint-
ed rafters existing today.
5) Beautifying
People in the Liyuan like planting flowers and growing bon-
sais. They always plant fig trees, which seem to be symbolic.
Other plants include metasequoia and loquat. The well-pre-
served decorations on roof, under the eaves, in corridors and
between columns, are able to show the highlights of Liyuan in
the pa st days (Figure 4).
Functional Allocation of Space System of
Based on the spatial features of Liyuan, this study comprises
interior spatial system and exterior spatial system. The interior
elements contain indoors, corridors, stairs, inside yards and
entering-and-exiting buildings. The exterior space includes
streets, surrounding areas, street intersections, the entrance and
exit of Liyuan and hilltop parks.
1) Interior Space:
a) Indoor Space
According to investigation by Guang Xingli, there are slight
differences in space combinations between the west, north, east
and south buildings. The depth of the west building is about 6.2
m and its front width is about 3.8 m, while the depth of the
north, east and south buildings is between 5.4 and 5.5 m and the
front width is 2.6 - 2.8 m.
b) Corridor Space
Considering the space limit, the width of the corridor is de-
signed as 1.2 m, which is not only the route for connecting each
household, but also a place for drying clothes, cooking and
washing. Furthermore, stoves, honeycomb briquette and other
stuff are also arranged here.
c) Inside Yards Space
In the past, yards in Guang Xingli had temples and public wells.
Many old people dried their clothes, read newspapers and
dozed off in those places near their houses. People gathered
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Figure 4.
Liyuan which are well maintained.
here to chat, play cards, drink alcohol, dry clothes, do house-
work, play with children, relax in the coolness and sometimes
simply to kill time. These places became gathering places to
spend their leisure time. It’s recorded that people also watched
movies and performed in operas here and this place was once
used as a small factory.
2) Exterior Space System
It refers to the space outside buildings, namely, the space of
streets, shop arcades, street intersections and hilltop parks.
a) Street Space, Shops and Factories
Many western-style shopping, entertainment and living
buildings were established along southern Zhongshan Road in
the German period. The northern area, which was lived in by
Chinese people, was full of stores and vendors. Silk cloth shops
and traditional famous snack bars run by national capitalists
were scattered here and there, such as “Qian Xiangyi”, “Rui
Fuxiang”, “Chun Helou”.
Zhongshan Road was a prosperous area in the 1920s with in-
tensive Liyuan located around its surrounding streets. Those
streets formed by enclosed Liyuans were also places for pur-
chasing goods for the spring festival (Shao & Kanekiyo, 2008).
b) Shops
Axe Fire wood Court (Pichaiyuan) on the Zhongshan road is
a gathering place for many folk cultures, including wharf cul-
ture, urban culture, business culture, cuisine culture and opera
culture (Shao & Kanekiyo, 2009).
Establishment of Urban Social Networking in
Space System of Liyuan
1) Hierarchical Social Networking
The urban sociology indicates that people in the Liyuan share
common interests and values in life. Valuing family and nei-
ghborhood relationships, they are sincere and friendly to their
friends and neighbours but also exclusive to others. It consti-
tutes a great contrast with modern residents who share no com-
mon ideology and care nothing about each other.
2) Formation of Life Networking
The formation of life networking depends on a specific phy-
sical environment and living conditions. The survey shows that
areas around stores are both shopping places and places of in-
tercourse. Street intersections and entrances and exits of Li-
yuans are always used as activity place and intercourse place.
The favorable space for communication created by their com-
mon life background and yard pattern has helped them to de-
velop their working, living and communication networking.
Since 2008 more than 4 years of field investigations have
been conducted for this survey. This study, with comprehensive
investigations on the distribution and status quo of Liyuan be-
fore March, 2010, has also categorized them according to their
architectural and spatial characteristics and offered complete
materials for further studies in this field.
During years of study we have vividly felt the neighborhood
relationships of harmony, tolerance, mutual help and coopera-
tion, and the concept of mutual support and common action, in
the way it has developed the urban social networking in inner
yard architectural system and hierarchic urban space.
The space structure and existing social living system have
developed favorable results in aspects such as community en-
vironment and social communication. The survey has noticed
that new residence buildings have been set up among old Li-
yuan buildings, which has greatly improved plot ratio and ex-
tended social networking under the basis that modern require-
ments have been satisfied.
Therefore, it can be concluded that we need to preserve these
small-scale social networking structures rather than simply
update, renew and change functional uses during the Liyuan’s
renovation. The hierarchic space structure and complete social
networking development of Liyuan can still offer beneficial
reference to city planners in modern times.
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