The specific architecture of entrances may be a slightly overlooked component of buildings, yet remains succinctly tied to a structure’s visibility and overall presence within its immediate context. In X’ian, China, globally acclaimed design and research office Neri&Hu has conceived a striking monolith extension in red travertine to the Qujiang Museum of Fine Arts—a museum that aims at saving, conserving, collecting, and exhibiting ancient Chinese murals, as well as to maintain Shaanxi’s intangible cultural heritage. Arresting as an ‘urban monument,’ the museum is situated as a preamble section of Xi’an’s Datang Everbright City, south of the famed Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, gaining a new ‘architectural icon’ at its east entry, as tasked by the client.
“In response to the brief, (our) proposal takes the idea of a monolithic urban monument as the guiding concept to not only satisfy the museum’s newly expanded cultural and commercial functions but to also serve as an anchor and a durable symbol of social history for the surrounding urban fabric. Since the vicinity of the site is occupied by existing galleries, the design intervention minimises the impact of the new building through careful consideration of the architectural massing and detailing,” share Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu, partners-in-charge of the Shanghai-based design and research firm.
The distinct extension of the Qujiang Museum of Fine Arts in China reinvigorates itself as both an architectural icon and a cultural hub, characterised by the employed material and the colour that dresses its façade design—red travertine—as well as the terracotta red circular volume that stands apart from the rest of the urban fabric of traditional Chinese vernacular on three sides, evocative of their celebrated works such as the Aranya Arts Centre.
The Chinese architecture manifests like a glowing clay lantern, and comprises four parts—the partially sunken ‘Base,’ the ‘Sculptural Walk’ circulation enclosure, the elevated podium ‘Platform,’ and lastly, the ‘Monument.’ Partially sunken from the existing plaza's level, the base is conceived as a continuous ground for the public, finished with cast-place concrete. Neri&Hu partially retained the original wide steps at the entry to the first floor of the museum architecture.
These steps then descend to connect to the sunken piazza. The solid concrete base hosts the former museum spaces and a restaurant which were retained, alongside freshly inserted functions such as retail spaces and public restrooms, complementing the activities of the adjacent pedestrian street.
From this ground-level plaza, a series of escalators lead to the underground museum on the B2 level—these escalators remain concealed within a sculptural form, 'featuring spaces of sectional play between compression and expansion,' and crowned with a triple-story, generous light well at the base of the sunken piazza, which injects a welcoming sense of 'drama and intrigue.'
The 'Platform' hovers just above the sunken base, expressed through a post and lintel construction, while a grid of stone columns and glass curtain walls supporting a floating roof contains retail spaces. "This retail level is intentionally expressed as a curtain wall to highlight the separation between the carved language of the base, and the circular sculpted massing of the civic potency above," the Chinese architects relay.
The ‘Monument’ sits atop this new, walkable, and sculptural building that plays with geometry and light, housing a lounge on the second floor and an outdoor amphitheatre above. “The elevation is composed of diamond-shaped red travertine masonry units arranged at intervals to accentuate the transmissivity of light,” they explain. Apart from the primal materiality of red travertine, the cultural building also employs small aggregate concrete, blackened steel, clear glass, and stucco in its construction.
On the northwest end of the existing museum building, a passage leads directly to the second-floor outdoor terrace, articulated as a hollowed-out bowl-shaped amphitheatre. The cultural architecture’s terrace then acts as a grand intervention housing the dining and entertainment programs of the lounge, as a strengthened public space. “This space acts as a forum which is open to the public as a venue for various activities, while also serving as a platform for private performances and catwalks,” shares Neri&Hu.
A distinct yet sensitive addition to the neighbourhood, the Qujiang Museum of Fine Arts Extension feels right at home in its bold being, bringing together in its chemistry of circular and squarish geometries, a sense of lightness and solidity simultaneously.
Name: Qujiang Museum of Fine Arts Extension
Location: No.66 Ci’en Road, Xi’an, Shanxi Province, China
Area: 1,990 sqm (gross area); 1,492 sqm (site area)
Client: Yungao Hotels (Group) Xi’an
Architect: Neri&Hu Design and Research Office
Partners-in-charge: Lyndon Neri, Rossana Hu
Associate-in-charge: Zhao Lei
Design team: Ivy Feng, Wenbo Da, Joy Han, Tian Hua, Bella Wu
Consultants: LDI - China Northwest Architectural Design and Research Institute Co., Ltd.; Lighting - Linea Light (China) CO., LTD.
General Contractor: Power China Chonqing Engineering Co., Ltd.
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