by Jincy IypeNov 11, 2022
Imparting an altogether new meaning and dimension to adaptive reuse, the Jinyun Quarries situated in Zhejiang Province, China, have been chiselled and 'remodelled' by Beijing-based DnA_Design and Architecture to lend a habitability to the cavernous spaces nestled within centuries old rock formations. The semi-arid landscape of the region has been partly defined by years of mining of natural stone, resulting in over three thousand small, abandoned quarries. In a journey described as moving from "economic exploitation to ecological reuse" by Xu Tiantian, lead architect at DnA, nine of the three thousand quarries in the cluster were chosen to serve as a rather unusual stage for cultural and social activities in the region, while opening up economic and ecological opportunities for the native rural population.
While the bizarre volcanic rock formations of the Jinyun quarries and the Xiandu valley were already a tourist attraction, the placement of a cultural heritage in a new context required an intervention that would have a strong sense of public function accompanying it. The scope of this architectural intervention that essentially transforms a natural feature into utility based public infrastructure thus ranged from envisioning highly irregular spaces along all three dimensions into functional ones, to physically carving, shaping the visualised exhibition spaces into the face of the rock.
The resultant spaces, described as "cathedral-like" by DnA, will play host to the aptly titled exhibition, Jinyun Quarries – The Quarry as Stage, presented by the Aedes Architecture Forum, currently headquartered in Berlin, where individual parts of the exhibition were produced and assembled. Comprising spacious, translucent models, photos, plans, and films visualising the complex structure of the spaces carved into the rock, the exhibition made its way to Jinyun from Berlin via Beijing by train, travelling along the historic Trans-SIberian route.
An unmistakable sense of history accompanies the gigantic mines, apart from the millennia it took for the igneous rock formations to settle and shape. This scale is a rather contracted one, that lends an essential plausibility and tangibility to its human users. Nearly 80 per cent of the county's surface is covered by forests, making agricultural sustenance on the rocky substrate difficult owing to the lack of fertile topsoil. The primary occupation for most of the settlers in the region thus was the stonemason, with the mined stone being used to even build houses. In line with rapid sociological and technological advances, the mines were abandoned after decades of abuse, and were used in part for chicken farming or as fish ponds, having fallen into intense disrepair. "The stone quarries today gape like wounds in the natural landscape and urgently require ecological improvements,” states an official release.
The exhibition thus, apart from being an extensive display of the quarries' history and their formations through artefacts, places the venues itself at the centre of the display. Through the nine unique quarries, visitors are guided through rock-faced ‘galleries’, connected by a footpath routed over stairways owing to the differences in elevation. All nine quarries are situated within a radius of one kilometre, making the entire range walkable, while avoiding the “‘over-designing' of rural areas, in the sense of kitschy romanticising or a 'Disneyfication', which has become common in many places in China”, as stated by Tiantian and the design team at DnA.
By virtue of a natural wonder and its inherent scale and innate materiality, the jagged spaces within are lent a certain monumentality, compounded by the dramatic infiltration of natural light into the caves, some of which are over 30 metres high. Not just visually, the quarried spaces are also functionally apt, offering great acoustics and are thus suitable for traditional Wu Opera and other audio visual presentations. The exhibition also comprises massive stone chambers doubling up as teahouses, along with platforms for visitors to observe sunsets through a uniquely chiselled hole in the rock face. At another station, former stonemasons demonstrate the quarrying of stone in live presentations. An information centre for visitors for insights into history, local flora and fauna is still being planned, and will feature a quarry park with water surfaces, offering stunning reflective avenues. This will be followed by a restaurant for catering to guests, and an education centre for processing natural stone, transforming the Jinyun Quarries into a regional destination with unforeseen opportunities for its native inhabitants.