Ma Yansong on buildings of freedom that rethink our fellowship with nature
by Jincy IypeMar 24, 2023
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Jincy IypePublished on : Oct 16, 2021
Redolent of the moon peeking from inky clouds, Tai’an’s Ceremony Hall by Syn Architects thread spirituality and architecture with the powerful persona of nature. Located in Tai’an, Shandong in China, the project consists of the Hometown Moon chapel, and the Hometown Cloud observation deck, immersed in the flavour of earth. The building revels in poetic and philosophical sensibilities more than being an edifice, as it combines the central essence of Buddhism (harmony, perpetuity, comprehensiveness, and endlessness), the concept of emptiness from Taoism, and the cultural heritage of Confucianism.
This forms part of a creative campaign of inviting travelers to visit the natural attractions lying beyond the main scenic setting of Mount Tai, giving a new lease to Nine Women’s Peak, a famous mountain range. Shandong Lushang Group commissioned Syn Architects back in 2019 to develop the overall planning and design of the mountainous area, its villages, and the Hometown Moon which becomes the representative structure of the overall project spreading over 55 square kilometres, drawing in visitors looking for fresh, uncharted experiences. Syn Architects return to the birthplace of Confucianism, to substantiate the relationship between dualities of the city and the countryside, modern society and homesickness, and searching for forgotten values and neglected possibilities rooted in being closer to nature.
A slight edifice is visible from afar, rooted in a hilly boulder, and a pale half-moon that sinks into a glassy water body. Zou Yingxi, chief architect, of Syn Architects, and the lead and planner of Hometown Moon, desired to infuse a deep meaning into the glowing sphere, longing for “a moon that never sets”. This rhetoric lends the contextual design the function of being a ceremony hall designed to escape conventionalism. From the mountain, the Hometown Moon and the earth’s natural satellite establish a conversation, as manufactured and natural symbols of each other, nurturing the integrity of the valley. The Hometown Moon playfully disappears from time to time among swathes of trees and branches, imperceptibly becoming bigger until the manufactured moon comes to cinematic fullness.
Syn Architects merge abstract and geometric shapes with simple materials to create a “pure”, meditative space that stimulate the soul, pondering upon an ancient poem from the Song Dynasty about the nature of perspective and emotion - “the clouds and the moon remain the same, but mountains and rivers evolve throughout time.”
The moon’s location was essential to the project’s essence. Yingxi therein surveyed the rocky area, its geographical features and what architectural possibilities could be explored. Its final position lends the hall a viewing terrace that overlooks the Hometown Cloud on the side of the mountain, near the stream’s entrance. “In this way, the Hometown Cloud becomes the viewing spot for the Hometown Moon and a starting point to chase after it,” explains the design team.
“Since the completion of the building, it has started a dialogue with users and nature. I look forward to seeing it being modified over time, further blending with the environment as the trees grow,” Yingxi hopes.
Lending a unique asset to Chinese architecture, The Hometown Moon is accessed by taking a pilgrimage through the vast hilly terrain, a journey of purifying oneself from the relentlessness of urban settlements. With the parking lot as the last reminder of modern civilisation, one takes about five to ten minutes to walk to the hall, accompanied by the staunch calmness of mountains, mesmerising curved pathways, rustling leaves and a babbling river, reaching an entrance that hides behind a scraggly boulder.
“From here on, visitors begin to enjoy communion with nature. Birds singing, insects chirping, rustling leaves, gurgling streams, and hearts beating with joy and anticipation; the sounds of nature make visitors feel at ease,” shares Yingxi. Upon reaching the chapel that integrates itself so intrinsically with nature, visitors are instantly transported to a space that is powerful and still, their senses and emotions stimulated by their surroundings.
Long, winding paths snake their way inside the landscape design as well as the hall, increasing curiosity towards a charming, inverted moon. “Like Buddhist meditation, the experience develops insight by feeling the background of mountains and forests to complete a mental reform and cleansing. Along the plank road, there are playgrounds, cabin camps, bonfire areas, and anti-fog devices. These and other similar spaces enrich the experience and the dimension of the project,” notes the Chinese architect. A cluster of bridges atop the structure allows contemplation, by the moon and the reflecting pond even before entering the building.
“The natural scenery is the starting point of the Hometown Moon. Indeed, nature is the catalyst that feeds the imagination of architects. They ensure that the solution is reasonable, achieving goals and fulfilling spatial and functional requirements by maximising the integration with nature,” adds Yingxi. He hopes to position the Hometown Moon as a beautiful setting to host ceremonies and high-end weddings, rooted in spirituality and nature’s power.
The almost bare interior design draws from the mountainous stream that winds at the base of the 1,000 sqm building. If the moon room is occupied, the door on the roof is closed off to avoid disturbance to ongoing ceremonies. If not, visitors can enter the building from the top, to contemplate in front of the shrine like lower half of the moon that hangs in grey stillness and mystery, romantisicing a moon sinking into the sea.
“The depth of the roof pond needs to consider the water evaporation rate. In this regard, a water reservoir 0.5 metres deep and a central interlayer device work together to reduce the hydration frequency. The ceremonial space needs to remain column-free, and the form and shape of the full moon need to limit the thickness of the beams. A ribbed and beamless concrete floor meets the load-bearing requirements of the structure,” explains the design team. The base of the valley was widened before settling the building into it, preserving the original spillway to prevent natural disasters. The foundations are dug according to the calculated diameter of the moon while the moss dressed rocky walls of the mountain are left untouched.
A concrete column array has been designed at the entrance while the lighting design for the interior represents a full moon. A mezzanine level with high handrails takes up space in the ceremony hall, its intention was to provide new perspectives to watch the moon. A spiral staircase connects the main building to the roof of a coffee shop, which also transitions as a waiting area before people walk onto the moon’s roof.
In ancient Chinese poems and folklore, love and the moon are closely interwoven, where the unique moon makes everything else pale in comparison. The architects interpret this nature of love by adhering to materials that relate to the hilly setting. Graceful rock slabs, objects of stone, and smooth gray concrete cover the walls and floors of the structure, as an extension of the mountain. The highly transparent ultra-clear glass on the roof ensures that sunlight permeates with ease into the room.
The curve of the artificial moon creates a natural echo cavity spread across 12 metres of diameter, like a symbol “amplifying the promise between lovers, conveying their vows to the world”. The perpetual rise and fall of day render the moon different shades and reflections, resembling our meandering thoughts and actions. The moon’s gravitas is enough to light up the womb-like chamber cut off from the entire world, negating the need for artificial lighting.
The ceremony hall is where the moon cleaves itself in half. Inside, the reflection over a water-like surface of corrugated steel makes it seem as a cohesive whole once again, like the effect above. This half and half reiterate principles of Yin and Yang, the yang as the upper concave shell and the yin contained at the bottom. “Here, the philosophical concept of duality (existence and non-existence) is uniquely showcased through the tangible language of architecture,” observes Yingxi. “The Hometown Moon is what Le Corbusier used to call an ineffable space, a place where the only thing that matters is the experience of being there,” he continues.
“Each architecture has two destinies: being destroyed or being protected. I look forward to creating an architecture that is reluctant to be destroyed. It will be the highest achievement of my career. For this reason, I will bestow deeper meaning to my work and create more emotional bonds for its users. I hope that the moon can become this kind of architecture. Even if it disappears in time, it will still exist in our spiritual world,” says Yingxi.
Name: The Hometown Moon
Location: Daolang Town, Tai’an City, Shandong Province, China
Area: 1,469 sqm; 1,866 sqm (site); 856 sqm (interior)
Year of completion: 2021
Client: Taian Lushang Jiunvfeng Rural Revitalization Co., Ltd.
Architect: Syn Architects
Chief Architect: Zou Yingxi
Project Architect: Liu Yuan, Jin Nan
Interior Design Team: Xia Fuqiang, Qian Guoxing, Cao Zhenzhen, Liu Tingting, Li Qianxi
Landscape Design Team: Jin Nan, Xu Lu, Liu Shuang, Li Beibei, Liang Jingqi
Contractor: Shandong Tai Shan Puhui Construction Ltd,.
Structural Engineer: Wang Qiang, Yang Jian, Yan Dongqiang
MEP Consultant: Huang Yuanzheng, Mei Yantao, Ji Pengcheng
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