SYN Architects' Tiangang Art Center is a geometric vortex in China’s rural landscape

Combining an art gallery and hotel, the Tiangang Art Center by SYN Architects has a massive spiralling ramp that enables shifting positions to view art and the surrounding scenery.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Feb 04, 2022

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”.

Tiangang Art Center designed by SYN Architects | Tiangang Art Center by SYN Architects | STIRworld
Tiangang Art Center designed by SYN Architects Image: Zheng Yan

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.

Aerial view of Tiangang Art Center | Tiangang Art Center by SYN Architects | STIRworld
Aerial view of Tiangang Art Center Image: Zheng Yan

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.

The Tiangang Art Center enjoys a countryside setting with a flowing river and mountain peeks at a distance | Tiangang Art Center by SYN Architects | STIRworld
The Tiangang Art Center enjoys a countryside setting with a flowing river and mountain peeks at a distance Image: Zheng Yan

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. 

The Art Center is imbued with a lightness that contrasts its heavy concrete materiality | Tiangang Art Center by SYN Architects | STIRworld
The Art Center is imbued with a lightness that contrasts its heavy concrete materiality Image: Zheng Yan

"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.

The building illuminated at night | Tiangang Art Center by SYN Architects | STIRworld
The building illuminated at night Image: Zheng Yan
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 massive circling exterior ramp leads to an open-air theatre on the roof | Tiangang Art Center by SYN Architects | STIRworld
The massive circling exterior ramp leads to an open-air theatre on the roof Image: Zheng Yan

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.

An open outdoor corridor of the all-white gallery | Tiangang Art Center by SYN Architects | STIRworld
An open outdoor corridor of the all-white gallery Image: Zheng Yan

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 swirling ramp engulfs visitors and shuts the external world out upon entry | Tiangang Art Center by SYN Architects | STIRworld
The swirling ramp engulfs visitors and shuts the external world out upon entry Image: Zheng Yan

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.  

The ramp extends out on one of its ends, with clear view of the countryside site | Tiangang Art Center by SYN Architects | STIRworld
The ramp extends out on one of its ends, with clear view of the countryside site Image: Zheng Yan

“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.

The Tiangang Art Center hosts an art gallery, cafe, restaurant and a hotel | Tiangang Art Center by SYN Architects | STIRworld
The Tiangang Art Center hosts an art gallery, cafe, restaurant and a hotel Image: Zheng Yan

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.

Timber differentiates the hotel area from the art gallery | Tiangang Art Center by SYN Architects | STIRworld
Timber differentiates the hotel area from the art gallery Image: Zheng Yan

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”. 

A hotel within an art gallery, an art gallery within a hotel

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 guest rooms have floor to ceiling windows that bring the countryside in | Tiangang Art Center by SYN Architects | STIRworld
The guest rooms have floor to ceiling windows that bring the countryside in Image: Zheng Yan

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.

The insides of the Tiangang Art Center become a sundial owing to a massive skylight running overhead its main areas | Tiangang Art Center by SYN Architects | STIRworld
The insides of the Tiangang Art Center become a sundial owing to a massive skylight running overhead its main areas Image: Zheng Yan

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.

The white unadorned columns create visual pockets and break the vastness of the space | Tiangang Art Center by SYN Architects | STIRworld
The white unadorned columns create visual pockets and break the vastness of the space Image: Zheng Yan

"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.

  • Spatial planning of the art centre | Tiangang Art Center by SYN Architects | STIRworld
    Spatial planning of the art centre Image: Courtesy of SYN Architects
  • First floor (Top) and second floor plan (Bottom) | Tiangang Art Center by SYN Architects | STIRworld
    First floor (Top) and second floor plan (Bottom) Image: Courtesy of SYN Architects

Project Details

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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