by Jerry ElengicalDec 03, 2022
WIT Design and Research restored an old, untended building in Ningbo, Zhejiang, China; the old building was the birthplace and former house of Dong Fureng, the Chinese economist, entrepreneur, and academician. The conception of this restoration project, commissioned by the Dong Fureng Foundation, led by Dongsheng Chen, a student of the prolific economist, and a member of the Taikang Group, commemorates Fureng’s achievements that won him both fame and honour. Fureng’s dedication to academic communities during his five-decade-long career and his contributions to economic reform and opening up of China’s market through analysing practical economic issues in China; proposing a series of original views that were adopted by Chinese national economic and legislative decision-makers and enforcing positive influence on China's economic development and reformation are celebrated through this architectural redevelopment project.
In a gesture of paying homage to his master, Chen came up with the idea of turning the old building into a narrative memorial space. The memorial museum manages to present the academic achievements of the eminent economist, along with serving as a venue for academic forums and conferences. The multiple award-winning project could be described as sophisticated, elegant, and grounded.
Since the building is listed, it was very deliberately renovated, protecting its historical significance. Combining eastern and western stylistic elements, it reinstates the spirit of Fureng with the help of multimedia installations. While the museum retains the appearance of the original building with its traditional architecture, attributes of the residential architecture have been adapted into the narrative, providing visitors with a strong experience of the old building, while also providing rich and visually impactful exhibits. The building program was also transformed to allow a single route that fits the requirements of a museum visit. While experiencing the exhibition content, visitors can also take in the special atmosphere of the residence.
"Instead of being new and different for its own sake, we have striven to accomplish an authentic aesthetic that does not rely on complicated forms to compel," says Zhenhua Luo, the director of WIT Design & Research. With weathered blue tiles and speckled white walls, the building sits quietly along Ningbo’s historic cement road, as a timeless stamp among a surrounding streetscape of high-rise buildings.
Upon entering, an image symbolising the reinstated soul graces the glass screen. Words shaped as sea waves, on the screen, relate to the site’s historical background, as well as reflect upon the trend of economic thought, as the tides of the turbulent 20th century began to surge. Moving beyond, the small courtyard is framed by white walls, while a sculpture of Fureng sitting, quietly immersed in a book waits to be discovered behind a bamboo thicket.
Moving through the lobby, one walks past a display that uses hidden diffused lighting and a laser-projection show. Quiet and meditative, it invites exploration through an active interplay of light and thought. This distinct use of lighting design evokes a vicarious emotional resonance in visitors, while awakening individual memories. Leading towards the south corridor, one gets acquainted with Fureng’s story through surviving artefacts, displayed in simple camphor wood frames. The design team also integrated 64 light-emitting glass boxes containing objects, photos or manuscripts that Fureng’s doctoral students have curated, creating an aesthetic of dialogue with his work as a teacher.
Moving further, an arched gallery leads visitors to the communication area on the first floor. Drawing from the forms of western architecture, while echoing the traditional forms of Chinese architecture, it signifies Fureng’s western educational background, followed by his 20th century economic and academic achievements, stirring the legacy of the East and West.
The entire floor has been elevated by a light but sturdy, historically accurate, nail-free timber structure, making the building structure moisture-proof and hiding the piping to ensure the original floor is not damaged. All electrical pipelines are fixed in place with metal hoops instead of nails and the air conditioning hoods are designed to look like surrounding old furniture.
The first floor is themed as an academic forum, centred around the installation in the forum space, titled The Grace of Dripping Water. Permeating the space with meaning are thoughts and words of Fureng and his students, tying the space together, and hanging under the beam as an emblem. It is flanked by a renovated study where the design team recreates the original atmosphere of Fureng’s former office, integrating pieces of original furniture and paraphernalia.
Memorials need to engage visitors rather than simply venerate their subjects. Memorial design is driven by the quest to 'turn the viewer into a participant and—the ultimate ambition of memorialising—effect change within that person'. A memorial’s continued relevance and potential civic impact is dependent on its ability to engage visitors in a process that is both cognitively stimulating and affectively touching.
Visitor experience of this memorial museum through the aesthetic mediums of multimedia exhibits and spatial experience of the old building, (re)create past situations—reinstating and thus commemorating the spirit of Fureng. Just as an ideal museum, it serves as a public space, offering varied experiences for education, enjoyment, reflection and knowledge sharing.
Name: The Dong Fureng House Museum
Location: Ningbo, Zhejiang, China
Area: 435 sqm
Foundation project management team: Yanfei Tang, Yuan He
Taikang management team: Bin Tang, Shuang Sun, Shanshan Sun, Xiaofu Gao
Client: Taikang Insurance Group & Dong Fureng Foundation
Design practice: WIT Design & Research
Lighting design: PROL Leading Designer: Zhenhua Luo
Design team: Gongpu Zhao, Yanli Zhang, Rui Tao, Qianxuan Niu, Xiuwen Xiao, Liang Zhao, Yongcheng Xia, Wenyi Chen
Project Planning: Le Brand Strategy Agency