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Continuity and harmony with nature outline the distinct architecture of the Tiangang Art Center by Chinese architectural studio SYN Architects, unravelling as a "one stroke", clean geometric edifice, welcoming one with sculptural panache. With a programme combining an art gallery and a hotel, the low-lying structure stays imbued with a sense of lightness despite its hefty concrete volume, emerging as a juxtaposing extension of the landscape. The building is conceived as a metaphor for the oriental philosophy of nature, where heaven, earth, mountains, water, and people exist in amity. The design team also believes that "architecture is a means to shape the landscape, and landscape is a continuation of architecture," where this building hosting exhibitions can be perceived at its core, as a work of “land art”.
The Chinese architecture is articulated best as a minimal, spiralling “vortex”, seeking inspiration from an existing semi-circular concrete frame structure on-site, sitting among the mountains and rivers to face Tiangang Village. “The disorderly initial condition of the site and fractured structure evoked a village in a predicament of forced stagnation,” shares SYN Architects, who proceeded to demolish a part of the original building and add an extension to continue it. A slender orthogonal volume curves and spirals up along the inner arc of a semicircle, gradually bringing the shape to completion, forming "a variegated relationship between seeing and being seen; a continuous, unbounded, circular architecture of balanced proportions," they elaborate.
A new structure was added to the original building base which was extended, allowing the main façade to gradually twist and tilt outwards and upwards, transforming from walls to eaves. The original building’s network of columns was not enough for the load requirements of the new building, hence, additional columns and a new structural system were introduced. The pillars are organised to fulfil an aesthetic purpose as well, scattered within the gallery and spaces arbitrarily, as a “naturally growing jungle”, and ultimately essaying the role of the only decoration for the structure.
Lying at the foot of Taihang Mountain, with Yishui Lake flowing nearby, the Tiangang Art Center is situated within the rural site of Yi County of Baoding City, Hebei Province in China, some 100 km from Beijing . It has seen tremendous transformation in the last two years, according to the Chinese architects - 142 square km of land in the area has been allocated as a sort of playground for architectural experimentation, which can be witnessed in SYN Architects’ latest endeavour.
"Many new creative projects have been initiated, grown, and taken root in the countryside, forming the basis for an innovative eco-village which integrates current trends in art and culture with the simplicity of traditional country life. It is not far from the city and encourages an active and engaged way of living. Tiangang Village, a circular-shaped art museum, is the leading example for the changes which are taking place in the area," shares Zou Yingxi, lead architect of the firm.
Architecture is a means to shape the landscape, and landscape is a continuation of architecture. – SYN Architects
Simple in form, aesthetic and material, the main body is clothed in white granular paint, in an attempt to maintain a purity of colour. Coupled with its geometric form existing in an absence of linear directionality, the Tiangang Art Center becomes a massive magnet that “catches” sunlight. Its minimal, solid coloured presence and aesthetic establishes a strong, visceral connection with its natural context, contrasting yet conversing with the verdant stretching landscape, rice fields and the countryside.
The arc's side that faces the village and the main road is the primary interface between the building and the site, so public spaces such as the reception and catering have been set parallel to the road, while a large circular exhibition hall is placed in the middle, main part of the volume. The half arc of the original building facing the river’s shore and distant mountain house the 14 guest rooms, opening up gently to the private and peaceful scenery.
Beginning at the art centre’s ground level, one follows the massive curve, experiencing ever-changing vantage points progressing with every few feet, unfurling and shifting – passing underneath the large cantilevered canopy at the entrance of the building, then bypassing the white columns, then finally reaching the starting point of the “vortex”, described as the “first surprise” of the space. As the ramp ascends, the building maintains a spatial ambiguity between the inside and outside, restricting certain perspectives of the surrounding landscape and focusing attention on multiple shifting views of the exhibits.
The second surprise is revealed upon reaching the ramp’s top, where an open-air viewing platform has been placed at the highest point of the building, boasting of scenic vistas of the surrounding Tiangang Village, both traditional and new. “In the process of walking to the highest level of the Art Center, the observers there, in turn, become the focus of attention for people outside the building, which becomes the final surprise,” notes SYN Architects, based in Beijing.
“This type of experience, where an instantaneous realisation is made following an accumulated process of passage through many levels is analogous to the ‘epiphany; spoken of in Buddhism. (We) attempted to take the vague and disorganised form of the initial project here, and transformed Tiangang Village into a meaningful, structured, and effective place of “knowledge and action”. This “reorganisation of perception” also encompasses reshaping the soil of discovery and insight,” they add.
Yingxi is of the opinion that gallery or museum architecture must be adaptable to the requirements of each exhibition, to accommodate and display the myriad nature of art, and let its essence shine. The winding road, the exhibition hall, the roof terrace, the corridors, as well as the external areas of the Tiangang Art Center have been built as a testament to this, spatially connected through the form of a “swirl vortex”, providing a variety of spaces of various, fluctuating dimensions. "Each one evokes a unique relationship between wall and the roof, transforming as one moves from one to the other, and allows the building’s roof to be used imaginatively and efficiently," he says. The structure thus serves as a built canvas to test the intellectual, creative talents of those exhibiting, who can add a spatial sensibility to their pieces.
As art exhibitions generally require some separation from the outside world, a U-shaped obscured glass was utilised for a portion of the outer walls that lets natural light stream inside, in tandem with blocking the line of sight and rendering the scenery outside hazy. As night sets in, the building is artificially illuminated, making these walls emit a warm, uniform glow, lending the building an appearance akin to a kind of “surreal vortex suspended in the sky”.
The guest rooms enjoy an increased value vis a vis their relationship to the artwork, while the exhibition halls benefit from the reception and added service of the restaurant and hotel design facilities. "The art pieces within an art gallery have more importance and meaning than the gallery’s interior decoration,” says Yingxi, aiming to express the essence of the Tiangang Art Center’s space by evoking the original atmosphere of the bucolic countryside in which it exists.
The concrete floor at the main entrance is lifted and slightly curled, to form the sign-in desk, along with exposing grass to signify its rural setting. The ceiling is kept exposed within the dining space, with the exception of suspended timber stanchions of varied lengths. The ceiling panels seem to have been lifted slightly to expose the background colour and reveal the building. A curved skylight running throughout the main spaces of the concrete architecture provides even illumination, generating a rich interplay of light and shadow effects throughout the day, and lending the building a sundial effect, showcasing the passage of time within and with the building’s skin.
Timber and concrete form the main materiality of the interior design, unifying the visual language of its various spaces, functional and otherwise, to create a perpetual dialogue with its countryside and mountains visible through the windows. “This allows the building to maintain a coherent beauty through simplicity of form and material, while still offering depth and richness in visual and tactile experience,” says the design team. Apart from the use of natural materials, light also becomes a material that creates the space, evocative of an idyllic, pastoral atmosphere.
"With the element of time having been introduced into the space, the Art Center has become a kind of theatre of life, a shared spiritual source of inspiration and communication for artists, tourists, and indigenous people. Following its establishment, the Art Center and the surrounding buildings have left a "bizarre but beautiful" impression in the eyes of the local villagers, and have attracted a steady stream of curious artists, tourists and investors, so that Zhixing Village has established a new identity as a place of lively activity. The natural landscape here is exceptional, and with the added appeal of new architecture and a fresh model of operation, it can surely become a resort destination within easy reach of Beijing,” believes Yingxi.
Name: Tiangang Art Center
Location: Tiangang Village, Yi County, Baoding City, Hebei Province, China
Area: 2,736.81 sqm (Site Area), 2,586.95 sqm (Building Area), 2,586.95 sqm (Indoor Area)
Year of completion: 2021
Client, Investor: IVYONE GROUP
Architect: SYN Architects
Lead Architect: Zou Yingxi
Project Architects: Gao Bo, Jin Nan, Jiang Zhihua, Chen Shifang, Tian Yahong, Wang Ziqiang
Interior Design: Xia Fuqiang, He Min, Cao Zhenzhen, Qian Guoxing, Liu Tingting, Li Qianxi, Feng Yan, Guo Mengjia, Li Hui
Landscape Architecture: Xu Lu, Li Beibei, Zhang Junchao, Liu Shuang, Liang Jingqi, Shi Qingqing
Soft Decoration Design: Shu Kun, Gu Yuecheng
Construction: HCCI Urban Architectural Planning and Design Co., Ltd.
Structural Consultant: Beijing Zhonghe Jiancheng Architectural Engineering Design Co., Ltd.-Team Lu Lijie
Lighting Consultant: Eastco Lighting Design (Shanghai) Co., Ltd.
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