Nanjing University's Concrete Exhibition Hall dabbles with vaults and arched volumes

An annex to Nanjing University of the Arts, Atelier Diameter’s adjacently double-vaulted structure is an expression of the evolving ethos of modern China’s art education.

by STIRworldPublished on : Apr 28, 2022

Home to famous artists and art theorists, Nanjing University of the Arts has been the keystone in the foundation of modern China's art education. It has served as an elite institution pioneering a balanced curriculum in art that explores both the old and new, and its relevance in contemporary China. To showcase this confluence of western and Chinese art under one roof, along with the influence that they have had on contemporary art in the region today, the revered institution was commissioned to create an exhibition hall. The team at Atelier Diameter delved into the conception of the project, keeping in sight the six-decade old site where the college resides to date. The configuration of space within the gallery had to be nuanced to address the uniquely disjointed yet seemingly single unit of exhibition space, now christened as the ‘Concrete Exhibition Hall’.

The Concrete Exhibition Hall is a two storeyed structure amidst soaring highrises | Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
The Concrete Exhibition Hall is a two storeyed structure amidst soaring highrises Image: Aurelian Chen

“Nanjing University of the Arts is a model for the transformation and upgradation of the old campus in Jiangsu Province. However, addition of this 'Concrete Exhibition Hall' is still a continuation of the original method of school's construction," the firm elaborates on the addition of the small yet significant intervention, propounding the vibrancy of the student’s and faculty’s artistic lives.

  • Zhang Nan’s sketches from the concept stage of the Concrete Exhibition Hall| Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    Zhang Nan’s sketches from the concept stage of the Concrete Exhibition Hall Image: Atelier Diameter
  • The sketches represent the initial approach of establishing human interaction in the spaces | Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    The sketches represent the initial approach of establishing human interaction in the spaces Image: Atelier Diameter
  • The process of planning outdoor seating for the user to interact with the landscape | Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    The process of planning outdoor seating for the user to interact with the landscape Image: Atelier Diameter
  • Initial sketches representing the concept of prioritising light and the existing tree | Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    Initial sketches representing the concept of prioritising light and the existing tree Image: Atelier Diameter

By virtue of the site being nestled in a tiny pocket within the soaring dormitory buildings, the ground floor of the original 46th dormitory was deemed to be positioned well for the exhibition space. The hall has two levels, contrasted against the backdrop of high rises, with the upper level exhibiting ancient oil paintings and the lower showcasing ancient tile research. The site planning is such that the exhibition hall sits snugly with a semi covered linear walkway, merging with the wrought iron bridge and alleyways dotted with people. The scale of the built is apportioned to the open space - the height of its mass just about right for passersby on the bridge to peek into the structure through a vaulted verandah on the second floor, and through large rectangular fenestration inside the exhibition spaces. Completing the composition with trees, meandering public seating along the shade, and a concrete bench adjunct to the public facade, the designers' sketches find an overt translation to reality.

  • A bustling public space created by Atelier Diameter in the heart of the campus| Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    A bustling public space created by Atelier Diameter in the heart of the campus Image: Aurelian Chen
  • The seatings along the circulation axis provide an informal recreational space | Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    The seatings along the circulation axis provide an informal recreational space Image: Aurelian Chen

The hall draws its crowd through an adjoining paved avenue, dotted with cafes and recreational pop-ups for university students. A tightly-knit circle of students gives way to an electric sense of community within the art school, and that is reflected in the dormitory area. This ecosystem is addressed by the designers as a primary intent and consideration in the language of open and closed spaces around the extension. A dialogue between these two themes and both floors is sustained by the reverse arc of the inner vault, creating a unique common space.

  • The ample flow of light throught the large skylight highlighting the built and unbuilt alike| Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    The ample flow of light throught the large skylight highlights the built and unbuilt alike Image: Aurelian Chen
  • The spiral stairway adorned by the contrast of textured and solid walls| Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    The spiral stairway adorned by the contrast of textured and solid walls Image: Aurelian Chen
  • The ascending spiral stairway with glass brick wall and the shadows of the tree on the concrete wall | Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    The ascending spiral stairway with glass brick wall and the shadows of the tree on the concrete wall Image: Aurelian Chen

Two vaults, topped off with a single roof slab, punctured with a large skylight form the barebones of the built structure. The anatomy of the form is tackled with grace, as the two vaults topping the space are formatively divided, added into, and subtracted from. The curved walls in the structure may also be seen as an extension of vault’s fold. The upper floor is accessed by an ascending spiral stairway with a glass block balustrade - light filtering through the curved cutout and shadows of the adjacent tree reflecting on the concrete wall. As homage to the Camphor tree in the yard, the building takes a desirable setback which in turn frames the stairway with a geometric emphasis.

  • Artificial light, post sundown, emboldens the lines and curves of the architectural form | Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    Artificial light, post sundown, emboldens the lines and curves of the architectural form Image: Aurelian Chen
  • The dusk illuminates the voids along with the ambient placement of warm lighting within | Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    The dusk illuminates the voids along with the ambient placement of warm lighting within Image: Aurelian Chen

The spatial composition is further enhanced by light, oscillating in harmony with the architectural choreography of the built volume. The voids emerge as the luminaries of this design, aptly scooped from a moldable mass, receiving and reflecting changing light through the day. There are as many curves as there are lines; curves washed by artificial linear warm lighting after sunset, and lines guiding one’s attention towards the curves.

  • The form of the arch on the solid structure brings out an interesting play of volumes | Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    The form of the arch on the solid structure brings out an interesting play of volumes Image: Courtesy of Atelier Diameter
  • The void are formed in the process of considering the existing trees over a physical structure| Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    The void are formed in the process of considering the existing trees over a physical structure Image: Courtesy of Atelier Diameter
  • Schematic structural breakdown of The Concrete Exhibition Hall| Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    Schematic structural breakdown of The Concrete Exhibition Hall Image: Courtesy of Atelier Diameter

The structure, as stated before, may be termed the hero in the architectural composition of the exhibition hall, deftly tackled to keep the spaces intertwined while not impinging upon them. The double arches, synchronous in the interiors and exterior of the hall, demonstrate a contemporary western flair. The swathes of fair-faced concrete finish on the arches are allegorical of brushstrokes in oil paintings, drawing inspiration from the exhibit houses within. “Tree first, house second” - the design draws inspiration both within and around. 

  • The spatial understanding of different floors in plan view  | Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    The spatial understanding of different floors in plan view Image: Courtesy of Atelier Diameter
  • East Elevation | Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    East Elevation Image: Courtesy of Atelier Diameter
  • West Elevation| Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    West Elevation Image: Courtesy of Atelier Diameter
  • North Elevation | Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    North Elevation Image: Courtesy of Atelier Diameter
  • Section through the exhibition space | Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    Section through the exhibition space Image: Courtesy of Atelier Diameter
  • Section through the vaults and passageways | Art Gallery Extension - Nanjing University of the Arts | Atelier Diameter| STIRworld
    Section through the vaults and passageways Image: Courtesy of Atelier Diameter

(Text by Ananya Nayak, intern at STIRworld)

Project Details

Name: Art Gallery Extension, Nanjing University of the Arts
Location: Nanjing, China
Area: 565㎡
Architect: Atelier Diameter
Lead architect: Zhang Nan
Design team: Zhang Nan, Yang Junwei, Zhang Xiaoyuan, Sun Xiao, Ou Renwei
Design Institute: ZhongSen Architectural & Engineering Designing Consultants LTD.
Structure Design: Jian Jin, Yulong Qiu, Yong Liu, Feng Wang
Water and Drainage Supply Design: Yujin Huang
Heating and Ventilation Design: Lingye Song
Electrical Design: Kelan Cao
Lighting Consultant: Ning Field Lighting Design Corp., LTD.

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