by Almas SadiqueAug 09, 2023
The assumed discord between culture and modernisation is a persisting dilemma that city managers, architects and scholars encounter time and again. How can history and culture that mesh together to compose the soul of a city's being, withstand the ever-increasing torrents of commercialisation and technological strides? Archermit, an architecture and design firm based in Chengdu in China, reconnoitres the overlooked propensity the supposed adversaries have for one another. In their recent urban renewal project at Chengdu City Ecological Park - Agricultural Science Popularisation and Education Base, located in the second phase of Chengdu Qinglong Lake Wetland Park, the firm morphs the deserted building into an agricultural science popularisation and education base for visitors. The architects, in a journey of revitalisation, pursue the evasive equilibrium between the past and the present, consequently sculpting a solution for the future.
Chengdu 'park city' rearranged its city space around the Chengdu beltway - a 'Green belt' that goes through 78 bridges interlacing the entire 121 ecological parks around the city - a bridge between natural resources and the city life. Planned as a wetland park, the site and the abandoned buildings it housed, previously the Qinglonghu Primary school and a breeding farm, implored a change of their identity to invite visitors to the park. The built forms showcased a range of structural plight from some parts being a potential safety hazard to others, needing minute repairs to regain functionality. The landscape reflected a similar abandonment with overgrown weeds and damaged road surfaces. With site analysis at the crux of their project, Archermit seeks an answer where 'maintaining' and 'renovating' juxtapose in the intricate site situation.
For the architects, the intent encapsulated making the decaying red brick house glow with new vigour through their design. Floating Seeds of Qinglong Lake, with space requisites of a science and research experience, features circulation that progressively discerns the architectural image. To ensconce a sense of place where the old and the new are alternating and flowing freely, the site was made accessible to the visitors. The extraction of farm crop growth status as prominent design elements and materials such as polycarbonate panels, ceramic tile and red brick provide the construction a breath of fresh air.
Waste and debris from the old construction, symbols of the site’s history, have been used as the raw material for this project. The collapsed buildings and red brick walls relinquished their verticality to flow through the entirety of the site as horizontal pavement. Similarly, the discarded concrete blocks were broken down and transformed into landscape stepping stones. The enclosing walls of the site were erased, enticing tourists from all directions to take this tour.
Architectural renovation, on the other hand, unfolds as a journey of paying heed to whether the material displays compatibility with the original building, economic viability and suitability. Based on the memory of the site, polycarbonate panels, red brick and terracotta tiles, among other materials, carry out the targeted transformation of the buildings. In another attempt of making the site more inclusive and open, the texture of the material is light and transparent. By embracing polycarbonate panel, a material widely used in rural and agricultural supporting facilities, Archermit aims to achieve high performance at a low cost, simultaneously respecting and coordinating with the rural scenery. Red brick architecture and terracotta tiles, the blood and memory of the original building, were maintained throughout the transition.
The collapsed building was demolished to build a new agricultural machinery exhibition shed on site. Transparent polycarbonate panels and delicate white steel structure create a crystal clear, light and soft open space. The two structures that were retained owing to their good condition assumed the form of the exhibition halls of modern agriculture and farming culture. Partially repaired red brick masonry replaced grey terracotta tiles on the roof and polycarbonate panels that veil the fenestration and a part of the ceiling, establishing a dialogue between the old and the new in a harmonious composition of light haze and heaviness.
A vital juncture of the project wherein the very mission of the design is channelled to sculpt its visual focus is the levitating fragmented mass of steel and polycarbonate panels between the two pre-existing buildings. The passel of transparent cubes of varying sizes in their ascent towards the sky mirrors the image of seeds and Kongming lanterns in tandem. During the day the cubes are like seeds rising from cracks in the red brick and piercing through the air, shining brightly against the sun. At night, warm yellow light through the polycarbonate board boxes induces a surreal, floating feeling like Kongming lanterns suspended in the sky.
What stands out in this urban renewal project is how Archermit meticulously underlines the similarities and differences of 'old', 'broken' and 'dilapidated', terms that are used interchangeably more often than not, and adopts strategies apropos of the same. 'Old' is antiquated, oozing with history, 'broken' signifies the damaged and incomplete, possible to revive with repair, and 'dilapidated' is irretrievably gone. In the face of irreversible urbanisation, Archermit chooses to highlight humanity, presenting architecture as an epic written with wisdom and passion. Floating Seeds of Qinglong Lake is a seed the firm sowed in the process of urban renewal, an expression of the firm's approach and thinking aiming to arouse more urban participants to think about the city they live in. With their architectural manifesto, Archermit urges the world to preserve the invaluable urban culture in the process of urbanisation in their individual way, one step at a time.
Name: Floating Seeds of Qinglong Lake
Location: Chengdu, China
Area: Chengdu City Ecological Park
Year of completion: 2022
Design team: Feng Yutao, Song Zhiying, Yang Rui, Gou Yuanjun, He Yi, Zhao Yaxian, Liu Zixuan, Hu Qinmei Kangying, Hu Jia, panxia, Huqiang, zhailingxi, Wang Chao
Construction drawing design team: Chengdu Meisha Architectural Design Co., LTD
Exhibition design and construction: Shanghai UKER Architectural Design Co., Ltd, Zhongcheng Difeng Construction Engineering Co., LTD