In rural Jinyun, China, nine stone quarries are carved into a stage for cultural renewal

Host to Aedes Architecture Forum’s latest exhibition, locally titled Jinyun Quarries – The Quarry as Stage, the derelict caverns have been functionally carved out by architect Xu Tiantian.

by Anmol AhujaPublished on : Mar 24, 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.

A birds’ eye view of the Jinyun Xiandu Valley and the quarries | Jinyun Quarries – The Quarry as Stage | DnA_Design and Architecture | STIRworld
A birds’ eye view of the Jinyun Xiandu Valley and the quarries Image: Wang Ziling, Courtesy of DnA_Design and Architecture

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 quarries were abandoned and had fallen into disrepair following decades of mining and economic exploitation | Jinyun Quarries – The Quarry as Stage | DnA_Design and Architecture | STIRworld
    The quarries were abandoned and had fallen into disrepair following decades of mining and economic exploitation Image: Wang Ziling, Courtesy of DnA_Design and Architecture
  • The finished quarries take visitors through an immersive experience documenting the natural history and ecology of the spaces | Jinyun Quarries – The Quarry as Stage | DnA_Design and Architecture | STIRworld
    The finished quarries take visitors through an immersive experience documenting the natural history and ecology of the spaces Image: Wang Ziling, Courtesy of DnA_Design and Architecture
  • The ‘galleries’ are connected by a footpath routed over stairways owing to the differences in elevation | Jinyun Quarries – The Quarry as Stage | DnA_Design and Architecture | STIRworld
    The ‘galleries’ are connected by a footpath routed over stairways owing to the differences in elevation Image: Wang Ziling, Courtesy of DnA_Design and Architecture

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.

A view of the finished Quarry #8 | Jinyun Quarries – The Quarry as Stage | DnA_Design and Architecture | STIRworld
A view of the finished Quarry #8 Image: Wang Ziling, Courtesy of DnA_Design and Architecture

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.

  • A view of the finished Quarry #9 | Jinyun Quarries – The Quarry as Stage | DnA_Design and Architecture | STIRworld
    A view of the finished Quarry #9 Image: Wang Ziling, Courtesy of DnA_Design and Architecture
  • The space also features a quarry park with water surfaces offering stunning reflective views | Jinyun Quarries – The Quarry as Stage | DnA_Design and Architecture | STIRworld
    The space also features a quarry park with water surfaces offering stunning reflective views Image: Wang Ziling, Courtesy of DnA_Design and Architecture

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.

  • The carved out spaces from the quarries have been stated to be “cathedral-like” by the design team at DnA, alluding to the unique scale of the cavernous rocks | Jinyun Quarries – The Quarry as Stage | DnA_Design and Architecture | STIRworld
    The carved out spaces from the quarries have been stated to be “cathedral-like” by the design team at DnA, alluding to the unique scale of the cavernous rocks Image: Wang Ziling, Courtesy of DnA_Design and Architecture
  • The process of revitalising the quarries involved intense handiwork, owing to the unique incisions in the rockface proposed by the architects | Jinyun Quarries – The Quarry as Stage | DnA_Design and Architecture | STIRworld
    The process of revitalising the quarries involved intense handiwork, owing to the unique incisions in the rockface proposed by the architects Image: Wang Ziling, Courtesy of DnA_Design and Architecture

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.

  • The quarries also offer good acoustics, making the spaces suitable for traditional Wu Opera performances and AV presentations | Jinyun Quarries – The Quarry as Stage | DnA_Design and Architecture | STIRworld
    The quarries also offer good acoustics, making the spaces suitable for traditional Wu Opera performances and AV presentations Image: Wang Ziling, Courtesy of DnA_Design and Architecture
  • The cultural performances open up an unforeseen avenue for cultural enhancement in the region | Jinyun Quarries – The Quarry as Stage | DnA_Design and Architecture | STIRworld
    The cultural performances open up an unforeseen avenue for cultural enhancement in the region Image: Wang Ziling, Courtesy of DnA_Design and Architecture

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