IILab. fashions cloud-like bamboo canopies and lantern-shaped pavilions in China

Developed around the Impression Sanjie Liu shows in Yangshuo County, ‘Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions’ harnesses bamboo to craft an otherworldly journey through nature.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Jan 08, 2022

Since its inception in 2004, Impression Sanjie Liu - a night light show staged along the banks of the Li River, has become a local tourist attraction in Yangshuo County near the city of Guilin in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of Southern China. Named after Liu Sanjie, a folk singer of legendary repute in the area’s history, the breathtaking display consists of seven scenes with hundreds of performers using the backdrop of the Li River as the largest natural auditorium in the world. Regarded as one of the most dramatic landscapes on view throughout the vast nation of China, the area is enclosed by soaring tower karsts of rock, with an abundance of lush vegetation spread between them. In order to augment the visitor experience for this scintillating spectacle, Shanghai-based studio IILab. was enlisted to formulate an intervention that would complement the picturesque natural setting while offering a more formal point of interaction and gathering for viewers.

  • The intervention is located in a picturesque natural setting along the Li River in Yangshuo County near the city of Guilin | Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu | IILab. | STIRworld
    The intervention is located in a picturesque natural setting along the Li River in Yangshuo County near the city of Guilin Image: Courtesy of Arch-Exist Photography
  • The project was developed to supplement the night performances that take place on the riverbank | Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu | IILab. | STIRworld
    The project was developed to supplement the night performances that take place on the riverbank Image: Courtesy of Arch-Exist Photography

Due to their reverence for the incredible natural beauty on view at the site, the architects sought to develop a statement that would leave the natural ecosystem unharmed while shaping a pre-existing condition of the location to their advantage. As a consequence of the dense growth of bamboo within the area, there were naturally-occurring clustered and tangled structures which lent themselves well to the needs of the project. “To coincide with what is already there, the new architecture looked at borrowing the materiality of the bamboo, reconfiguring it to form new a space. In doing so, this new space means not to contest. Instead it aims to augment, albeit very gently, the surrounding bamboo groves and hills,” shares IILab. in an official statement.

IILab. resolved to harness the abundance of bamboo in the surrounding context to create architectural systems that blended into the setting | Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu | IILab. | STIRworld
IILab. resolved to harness the abundance of bamboo in the surrounding context to create architectural systems that blended into the setting Image: Courtesy of Arch-Exist Photography

Having identified the two main points where guests are entertained as part of the display - namely the entrance and pagoda, along with the main stage on the riverbank, the designers resolved to place their intervention between them, creating a new zone of interaction that would provide for a more holistically engaging experience. In this intermediate space, the team at IILab. formulated two new architectural systems using the unique qualities of bamboo construction. Scattered across the space where visitors normally circulate, a series of lantern-shaped woven bamboo pavilions form the first segment of the intervention, followed by a sweeping woven bamboo canopy, which grants shade from the sun and rain. "Here, the architecture relies on bamboo not only for its composition, but also as a constant reference to elements that constitute the context," note the designers.

The designers formulated two sets of structures to provide new points of interaction for visitors | Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu | IILab. | STIRworld
The designers formulated two sets of structures to provide new points of interaction for visitors Image: Courtesy of Arch-Exist Photography

Miniaturised versions of the woven lanterns are initially encountered at the entrance, gradually enlarging in scale on moving further towards the main stage. After a certain point, the pavilion-like structures become large enough to enter, consisting of lengths of bamboo lashed together, encased within a thin layer of bamboo strips threaded over by craftsmen to create a lattice-like envelope. Seemingly random patterns in the layer are a product of the craftsmen’s own sense of aesthetics and functionality, which permit the woven covering to hold together without the use of any glue or nails. The bamboo lengths in the underlying structure appear darkened in some portions - a sign of how the material is treated with fire to form the curved profile of the lanterns. In essence, this exercise in pavilion design is a reflection of the exemplary intricacy of individual craftsmanship, by the hands of local residents.

  • Woven bamboo lanterns formed the first arm of the intervention | Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu | IILab. | STIRworld
    Woven bamboo lanterns formed the first arm of the intervention Image: Courtesy of Arch-Exist Photography
  • The structures grow large enough to enter on moving further through the site | Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu | IILab. | STIRworld
    The structures grow large enough to enter on moving further through the site Image: Courtesy of Arch-Exist Photography

Radiating a delicate yellow aura, the lanterns appear almost solid during daytime, due to the sheer volume of threads and the complexity of the perforated envelope. On the other hand, the structures diffuse residual light after the sun has set, behaving like porous shells. Furthermore, their arched profiles evoke the massing of tower karsts in the background - a further hint at how the bamboo design intervention is truly a product of its surroundings.

  • A cloud-like woven bamboo canopy serves as the second element of the intervention | Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu | IILab. | STIRworld
    A cloud-like woven bamboo canopy serves as the second element of the intervention Image: Courtesy of Arch-Exist Photography
  • The structure allows dappled light to permeate into the clearing below | Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu | IILab. | STIRworld
    The structure allows dappled light to permeate into the clearing below Image: Courtesy of Arch-Exist Photography

Ahead, the grand bamboo canopy presents itself, its sheer enormity reminiscent of an object of fantasy. Extending for 140m, the structure is encased in a similar woven bamboo sheath, and seems to almost float above the landscape as a cloud-like second layer, held up only by a few columns of intertwined bamboo that rise up towards circular cutouts in the canopy. In actuality, these structures conceal metal columns and footings that have been designed and painted green to blend into the setting. The undulating geometry of the bamboo architectural forms echo in the landscape below, while allowing dappled light to stream into the clearing it shields during the day. This effect gives the ceiling a gentle glow, radiating a sense of otherworldliness - in keeping with the dramatic natural beauty on view throughout the area.

  • It seemingly floats above the ground, held aloft only by a few columns concealed within tangled bamboo structures | Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu | IILab. | STIRworld
    It seemingly floats above the ground, held aloft only by a few columns concealed within tangled bamboo structures Image: Courtesy of Arch-Exist Photography
  • The intricately threaded texture of the woven bamboo layer is a product of exquisite local craftsmanship | Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu | IILab. | STIRworld
    The intricately threaded texture of the woven bamboo layer is a product of exquisite local craftsmanship Image: Courtesy of Arch-Exist Photography
  • The canopy’s sheer enormity and ethereal qualities are a product of the versatility of bamboo | Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu | IILab. | STIRworld
    The canopy’s sheer enormity and ethereal qualities are a product of the versatility of bamboo Image: Courtesy of Arch-Exist Photography

At night, the light introduced to the clearing beneath the canopy creates intense shadows on its ceiling that dance and sway much like the performers on the riverbank. Interestingly, as per the architects, a number of other elements of the cultural architecture project acknowledge this connection to the performance of Impression Sanjie Liu, such as the hand woven bamboo held together by the tension of each thread, the sinuous profiles of the canopy, or the pathways between lanterns which forge a 'narrative of interaction'. The architects relay, “Together these subtle hints encourage a particular frame of mind, readying the guest for the main feature.”

  • Diagram of Bamboo Lantern Layout | Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu | IILab. | STIRworld
    Diagram of Bamboo Lantern Layout Image: Courtesy of IILab.
  • Bamboo Lantern Construction Layers | Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu | IILab. | STIRworld
    Bamboo Lantern Construction Layers Image: Courtesy of IILab.
  • Structural Diagram and view of the lantern under construction | Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu | IILab. | STIRworld
    Structural Diagram and view of the lantern under construction Image: Courtesy of IILab.

Selected as the winner of the ‘Small building of the year’ category at the Dezeen Awards 2021, Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu, harnesses the adaptive qualities of a trendy material in the realm of sustainable architecture to create spaces that offer a taste of local folklore and spirit. The public installation's naturalistic qualities allow it to become one with its context rather than impinging on it, while fashioning an ethereal experience befitting its monumental setting.

  • Section of Bamboo Canopy Modules | Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu | IILab. | STIRworld
    Section of Bamboo Canopy Modules Image: Courtesy of IILab.
  • Column Detail | Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu | IILab. | STIRworld
    Column Detail Image: Courtesy of IILab.
  • Model | Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu | IILab. | STIRworld
    Model Image: Courtesy of IILab.

Project Details

Name: Bamboo Bamboo, Canopy and Pavilions, Impression Sanjie Liu
Location: Yangshuo, Guilin, China
Site Area: 90,000 sqm
Construction Area: 1,900 sqm
Year of completion: 2020
Client: Impression Sanjie Liu
Architect: llLab.
Design Team: Hanxiao Liu, Henry D'Ath, Lexian Hu, Alyssa Tang, Chaoran Fan, Luis Ricardo, David Correa
General Contractor: Gcps Interior Decoration Finishing Ltd.
Project Management Team: Lihua Mi, Dalin Chai, Hao Zhang, Guoyang Wan
Structural Design: Lalu Partners Structure Consulting
Bamboo Lantern, Bamboo Weaving Technique, Structural Research Management: Shanghai Tan Tan Props LTD.
Research Team: Qimin Cui, Geng Meng
Bamboo Lantern, Bamboo Weaving and Structure Installation: Shanghai JD Bamboo Architectural Design & Engineering Ltd.
Ground Paving Execution: Haiming Liu, Jing Liu, Changfa Cai, Hequan Yu, Huofeng Liang, Hekun Yu, Daizhong Yu, Xiuping Tao, Baoxing Li, Ruoque An

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