Ma Yansong on buildings of freedom that rethink our fellowship with nature
by Jincy IypeMar 24, 2023
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Anmol AhujaPublished on : Oct 16, 2021
Situated in Yinchuan, China, the Nanbo Bay Reception Centre is a visually stern structure that seeks to take its audience by surprise, purely by virtue of contrast. The exterior approach to the building is characteristic of a certain ‘coldness’, emanating bruteness and an unyielding form, despite the architecture being built on lightweight principles of structural design, and a certain levity lent to it by the building’s bipartite roof. The envelope of the structure is mostly designed as porous, comprising floor-to-ceiling glazing, and generous uses of metal in steel and aluminium. Interestingly, the building’s form and its characteristics described above may also be perceived as an elaborate mirroring of Yinchuan’s cold-desert-like climate and a semi-arid landscape in the vicinity of the building, also highly characteristic of this new wave in Chinese architecture and commercial architecture. However, it is once patrons enter the interior of the building that their eyes may require a bit of adjusting upon being encountered by a multitude of hues, as the relative monochromes pave the way for a barrage of greens and warm yellows. Akin to a sanctum in nature, the building, designed as a multifunctional sales office for C&D real estate, intended to be converted into a community centre for residential development later, houses a “small ecological miniature of an urban rainforest" in its gigantic reception hall. Extending along the longitudinal plane, this area proves to be an ecological hub at the heart of the building, and the literal heart of all activity, converging here.
The approach to this green haven, modeled on Eastern spirituality and sensibilities but nonetheless reminiscent of an enclosed, architectural Garden of Eden, is laden with interventions that lend metaphors to architecture. A lot of the architectural character of these interventions is drawn from the ecology and geography of Nanbo Bay itself, situated adjacent to the China Yinchuan Cultural Park, backed by wetlands, and held into a crescent by the nearby river. Shenzhen-based Sunson Design utilises this proximity to water to generate its “living follows water” concept, and to define the ‘Hall of Time’, and the “Circular Water View Device’. The ‘Hall of Time’, a structure inciting pure, unbridled intrigue from just its name, is located right at the entrance of the building, and evokes mystery and a ritualistic sense, strongly evocative of a chamber of genesis from a sci-fi movie. According to the designers, entering this hall will make people step into an “isolated” natural park, elevating the hall into a near spiritual experience. The divergent wooden dome capping it is intricately designed, filtering sunlight through a couple of radial wooden slats suspended from an orifice at the top. The opening is mirrored beneath by a ‘Water View Device’, designed akin to a pool of ‘reflection’, inspiring calm and zen to all who view. Further outside, the approach corridors to the reception are lined with cylindrical columns clad in steel, accented by golden edges on the opposite facia. A landscape court like feature houses a fluid sculpture at its nucleus, capped by a similar circular opening in its domical enclosure.
Back inside, wood and greenery coalesce to contrastingly create a forest-like commune for recreation, meetings, and to house the reception - primordially the receiving area and a statement for everyone visiting the building. Bamboo trees, banyan trees, plantains, low shrubs, and other freeh indoor green plants cover nearly every plane in sight, from the ground to the ceiling, lending a hint of organic living into the space. The design principles here target longevity and well-being, in line with those of biophilic design as a practice, through landscape design at an immense scale. The green, as stated before, is nicely complemented by an abundance of timber used in natural tones to clad surfaces, meandering walkways through the ‘forests’, and to give shape to most furniture at this level of the building. The atrium is lit by natural light from amicably placed skylights, along with a central glass dome, nicely in sync with the thoughtfully laid out interior lighting temperature and scheme.
The reception then branches out into the relatively more private, purpose driven spaces at the centre. From the ‘rainforest’, one is suitably transferred into the Sand Table display area, housing the display table itself in the harmonic centre of the room. The table itself is designed as a gigantic console as if to pilot a spaceship, a stark and interesting contrast to the natural design elements dominating the previous space. While more “architecture-d” than the reception area, traces of the tailored natural setting seep into this space in the form of stone masonry walls, a moss carpet, and the sand table itself. The designers have equated this experience to rowing a small boat, looking up to a sky full of sunshine, and bowing down to see a field of reeds. For this reason and to accentuate the intended feeling, the room has relatively sparse, more diffused artificial lighting.
To the left of the reception area on the other end, a stepped library, or a “book-bar” awaits academically eager patrons. Floor-to-ceiling fenestrations increase visual and spatial permeability, allowing readers to enjoy some time off, reading. On the other side, the stepped library is enclosed by a bookshelf wall, scaling nearly two full storeys, that has been described as a “humanistic door that traces origins”. The designers borrow the concept of this reinterpreted latticed wall from the Yinchuan City Water Tunnel Ruin. Further into the different spatial typologies housed under this ‘umbrella’ structure, the restaurant and attached common areas are designed to lend a hint of culture and quiet sophistication. Partitions and walls in this area are lined by tall, narrow arches, emanating warmth and a sense of exoticism. The furniture in this area too is suitably cut out in timber, and lined with jute fabric meshes. Bright wallpapers with melon and fruit patterns, bamboo screens and window lattices happen to be this space’s contribution to the continuing, underlying natural theme embodied by the interiors.
Following a series of other functional receptions mirroring the same warmth in aesthetic through sculptural timber interventions and rather nuanced upholstery, the building gives way to the recreational areas, outlined by the “zero-gravity” swimming pool. Held at one end by a thick glass wall as if to render the illusion of swimmers floating about in air, the space blends into the overall tonality of the building despite a distinct aesthetic, owing to its stone sculptures, long wooden benches, and a soft film ceiling, all accentuated by the glass lightwells above. The final intervention occurs in the form of the leaf shaped roofs, again a statement unto the natural outlook of the building despite the perceived outwardly industrial aesthetic. A space of communion is formed at the terrace as the timber lined ‘leaf’ is lifted from the terrace level using an elaborate structural assembly.
Name: Nanbo Bay Reception Center
Location: Yinchuan, China
Construction Organization: C&D real estate
Client: C&D real estate
Indoor Floor Area: 4745 m²
Interior Design: Sunson Design Ltd.
Design Director: Jun Pan
Design Team: Zhijun Luo, Xia Luo, Yuling Zou, Xuemei Chen, Qing He, Wenhao Ye, Xiaoyi Liu
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