by Zohra KhanMar 05, 2022
Along the Liu Creek in China's Sichuan Province and against the magnificent Mount Emei, Shanghai-based Neri&Hu has designed a sculpturesque distillery for whiskey brand Pernod Ricard. Drawing the architectural inspiration from the Chinese notion of duality (Shan-Shui which translates to ‘mountain-water), the facility named The Chuan Malt Whiskey Distillery elementally illustrates the notions of strength and permanence together with fluidity and transformation. The 7350 sqm facility marks Pernod Ricard’s first distillery in China.
The architecture reciprocates the serene emptiness of the site which historically housed a monastery and also doubled as a stopover for several pilgrimage and trade routes. Looking over the gorgeous peaks of the UNESCO World Heritage-accredited Mount Emei and engulfed by the landscape which consists of agricultural terraces, steep rock cliffs, and a winding creek, the unexpected ebb and flow of forms shaping the site resonate in Neri&Hu’s intervention. In addition to opening the architecture towards a direct vista to the peak, several geometric walking trails wind through the landscape and distillery interiors, presenting visitors an all-encompassing experience of whiskey making.
"The position of the proposal is to conceive a gesture whose very strength lies in its humbleness and simplicity, by its profound respect for nature. […] Throughout the project, Neri&Hu tries to embody the Chinese concept of the dichotomy of two elements that exist in opposition yet complement each other, and to strike a harmonious balance between architecture and landscape, between industry and visitor experience, between mountain and water,” explains Neri&Hu in an official press release.
The Chuan Malt facility constitutes a set of three longitudinal industrial buildings that house the whiskey production facilities. Located at the north edge of the site and tucked into a gently sloping parcel of land, the structure features gradually descending rooflines and is shaped as 'a modern interpretation of vernacular Chinese architecture'. "Reclaimed clay tiles give a humble texture to the pitched roofs that rest upon a modern concrete post-and-beam structure,” add the architects.
In a nod to the overarching duality, a few visitor buildings are designed as "elemental geometries grounded in the terrain”, positioned in contrast to the neighbouring industrial facilities. Presenting a round experience building and a cubical restaurant and bar, the form conception has been drawn from the meaning of the symbols (circle and square) which the Chinese traditionally revere as references of heaven and earth.
The highlight of the distillery facility is the experience centre which includes five underground tasting rooms designed around a domed courtyard. On the roof of the courtyard, a centrally positioned fountain splendidly rains rings of water inside the space, the sound of the falling water breaks through the permeating stillness. On the ground level, the building reveals three concentric brick rings leading up to the upper part of the dome. A shape that “subtly mirrors the silhouette of Mount Emei”, as per Neri&Hu, “this sculptural landform becomes an iconic presence that can be seen from every part of site.”
On a lower pocket of the site, the square structure enclosing the restaurant and bar cantilevers on two edges while one of its corners hover over the bank of the creek. The spatial arrangement is such that the dining spaces are laid along the building’s perimeter to allow uninterrupted views of the site, the heart of the building features an open-air courtyard framing strategic views of the Emei peak.
The material palette involves the use of a variety of concrete, cement, and stone mixtures, to reinforce “the strong mineral presence of the site”. Accent materials such as wood and copper find use in areas functioning the whiskey craft; these include copper distillation pots and aged oak casks.
The project was led by Neri&Hu partners Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu who are recognised for channelling their obsession with the notion of nostalgia into works that come out of their multidisciplinary studio. Some of Neri&Hu’s most recognised projects include The Waterhouse at South Bund in Shanghai, The Walled – Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat, and Suzhou Chapel.