A crystalline volume projects dramatically out into a historic stone plaza in Nanjing, China, creating a juxtaposition of tradition and modernity hidden away from passersby. Minggu Design’s glass addition has been worked into “Lai Yard,” a hidden gem of a building that’s been nestled in an alley near the ancient city wall for hundreds of years. In its courtyard, complex arrangements of pitted brick and stone open up to reveal a brilliant blue sky. It’s a serene retreat and a refuge from the bustle and noise of the modern world.

When Minggu began their renovation project, Lai Yard was in poor condition. Reviving the historic building to its former glory while preserving its original features and time-worn character required a great deal of care and attention to detail. The courtyard itself, in which Minggu placed their transparent meditation room and two other pseudo-classic structures, is hemmed in on all sides by the original residence.

The meditation room is a transitional space between the privacy of the home’s dimly-lit interior and its sunny outdoor courtyard. Minggu used some of the building’s original columns to frame the room’s entryway and positioned the structure to face an abundance of garden greenery, including a sparse line of bamboo stalks. In doing so, they hoped to create a spacious area that was filled with an abundance of natural light. By contrast, Lai Yard’s other rooms have been left in relative darkness to preserve their sense of privacy and practicality.

The word “lai” means “to come” in Chinese, or, more specifically, the transition from there to here. Minggu named the project “Lai Yard” to convey the shift from traditional to contemporary architecture and from the rougher, weathered conditions of the old courtyard to the clean, clear shine of its additions. In this way, the architects have successfully superimposed order onto disorganization, just as meditation can do for a busy mind or a schoolroom can do for unruly children.

While it might not have been initially planned as such, the design team was certainly pleased by all the contrasts they encountered in the home. They explain: “The interior structure is inspired by primary and secondary ranks that correspond to deep and bright colors. The two narrow rooms that are located on the left and right of the enclosed space are indented to ensure a sharp contrast to the master room in the middle. The layout of this project is decent, but also full with surprising details. Contrary elements, such as the old and the new, the interior and the exterior, the light and the dark, the conventional and the contemporary, are found to meet here, and merge into a harmony existence.”

The carefully positioned glass room allows sunlight to travel through the home’s living spaces as the day progresses, transforming them several times over as the angle and intensity of light continue to change. “Just like a couple who is in a love and hatred relationship, ‘light’ and ‘dark’ also involve nexus between worship and loathing, encourage and damage,” says Minggu. “In the darkness’ perspective, the light appears brighter and more attractive.”