The Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre is a sculptural mass of frosted cubes

Designed by a collaboration between Zone of Utopia and Mathieu Forest Architecte, the tourist centre in Xinxiang is arranged like ice cubes, finding tranquility in contradictions.

by Anmol AhujaPublished on : Dec 21, 2021

Simplicity and complexity, fragility and solidity, eternity and sheer instance: all contrasting, diverging properties, and yet, meaningfully employed by the architects in the definition of the eponymously named Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre. Intended as an architectural icon in the newly formed tourism district for winter sports in Xinxiang, China, the centre serves to be an urban indicator, a focal point for the whole district that unites, by the strong virtue of standing out from its mostly multi storey residential context. How it achieves this is where another pair of contradictions fit. A marauding composition of nine cubes housing myriad functions, the structure is volumetrically united within the collection of unmelting ice blocks stacked over each other.

  • The centre is designed to be a landmark in the newly formed district for winter sports in XInxiang | Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre | Mathieu Forest Architecte, Zone of Utopia | STIRworld
    The centre is designed to be a landmark in the newly formed district for winter sports in XInxiang Image: Courtesy of ArchExist
  • The building assumes nearly sculptural proportions through its composition | Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre | Mathieu Forest Architecte, Zone of Utopia | STIRworld
    The building assumes nearly sculptural proportions through its composition Image: Courtesy of ArchExist
  • The cubes are arranged dramatically, rotated and cantilevered, to facilitate additional visual lightness in the structure | Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre | Mathieu Forest Architecte, Zone of Utopia | STIRworld
    The cubes are arranged dramatically, rotated and cantilevered, to facilitate additional visual lightness in the structure Image: Courtesy of ArchExist

The composition, furthermore, stands activated and catalysed, almost as in a state of constant dynamism, by the cubes being axially offset from each other; not only is their stacking eccentric, the superimposed cubes are also rotated on individual axes, adding a spatial ‘excitement’ to the vertically meandering functions housed within. Additionally, there is much at play behind the seemingly random juxtaposition. The toying with what are essentially simple geometric properties is what lends the building a singularly sculptural appearance, oscillating between the precision of art, and the playfulness of what a child would do when handed these blocks. However, a literal additional layer of building, an ancillary skin, if you may, qualifies the structure for an ice sculpture.

  • The centre serves as a focal point for the entire district when lit up in warm tones at night | Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre | Mathieu Forest Architecte, Zone of Utopia | STIRworld
    The centre serves as a focal point for the entire district when lit up in warm tones at night Image: Courtesy of ArchExist
  • The entrance to the building too emerges from a juxtaposition of the cubes | Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre | Mathieu Forest Architecte, Zone of Utopia | STIRworld
    The entrance to the building too emerges from a juxtaposition of the cubes Image: Courtesy of ArchExist

The building employs a double facade principle, visible in some of Jean Nouvel’s most famous works and employed readily in facade design by the French architect, even if in a differentiated materiality. Interestingly, and incidentally, both the principal designers of the collaborating architectural studios, Mathieu Forest and Qiang Zou, have worked with Nouvel and his atelier for many years, before joining hands to work on this building. The principle, seen in the context of the Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre, comprises an assembly of two sheaths of glass, held in place one behind the other. While the internal layer subsumes complete transparency, the external layer, responsible for much of the frosting effect, is translucent, bearing a texture of multiple entangled ice crystals. Apart from the obvious lending of a cubist ice castle aesthetic, the dual skin evokes a dichotomy between visibility and concealment, between light and shade, provoking “a mystery and the desire to approach”, according to the architects. “The ice crystals capture the light and give it back. The building thus seems to emit the light it receives, like a mass of inhabited ice,” the designers state, in response to the contrast they seem to pivot the building’s more spiritual side on.

  • The building’s envelope assumes visual prominence by acquiring a “frosted” aesthetic | Mathieu Forest Architecte, Zone of Utopia | STIRworld
    The building’s envelope assumes visual prominence by acquiring a “frosted” aesthetic Image: Courtesy of ArchExist
  • The effect is made possible by employing the double facade principle | Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre | Mathieu Forest Architecte, Zone of Utopia | STIRworld
    The effect is made possible by employing the double facade principle Image: Courtesy of ArchExist
  • The inner layer in the glass is completely transparent, while the outer layer is translucent, with a texture of multiple entangled ice crystals | Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre | Mathieu Forest Architecte, Zone of Utopia | STIRworld
    The inner layer in the glass is completely transparent, while the outer layer is translucent, with a texture of multiple entangled ice crystals Image: Courtesy of ArchExist

The light and how it filters through is also manifested in the visual weight of the building itself. Apart from the stacking and cantilevering rendering almost exclusively in glass and steel, a ‘lightness’ in mass for the structure, no supporting structure is visible either. The glass panels of the facades are suspended by stainless steel cables and minimal steel connections, giving the visual impression of a lace when viewed from up close. How this manifests in the interior spaces is a continually evolving spatial landscape, illuminated by sunlight as allowed by the double facade: bright white and reflective on sunny days, vaporous on cloudy ones, and frosted on moderately sunny days.

  • An expansive water body next to the structure serves the metaphor of the ice blocks assimilating into the water | Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre | Mathieu Forest Architecte, Zone of Utopia | STIRworld
    An expansive water body next to the structure serves the metaphor of the ice blocks assimilating into the water Image: Courtesy of ArchExist
  • Owing to its form and illusion, the architects term the structure emanating akin to a lighthouse | Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre | Mathieu Forest Architecte, Zone of Utopia | STIRworld
    Owing to its form and illusion, the architects term the structure emanating akin to a lighthouse Image: Courtesy of ArchExist

As dramatic as this composition of cubes is, each about 17 meters in height, it is also carefully doctored to cater to a differential viewing experience, depending on which avenue it is viewed from. From the commercial street to the west, the upper cube shifts to the side, cantilevering 34 meters above the ground to mark the end of the perspective. From the south, the composition is more balanced, to face the calmness of the lake. The entrance to the building is marked by the cubes coming closer together to leave a 34 meter vertical gap, placed along the northern side which is the main pedestrian access.

  • Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre: master and floor plans | Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre | Mathieu Forest Architecte, Zone of Utopia | STIRworld
    Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre: master and floor plans Image: Courtesy of Mathieu Forest Architecte and Zone of Utopia
  • Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre: section | Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre | Mathieu Forest Architecte, Zone of Utopia | STIRworld
    Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre: section Image: Courtesy of Mathieu Forest Architecte and Zone of Utopia
  • Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre: double facade detail | Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre | Mathieu Forest Architecte, Zone of Utopia | STIRworld
    Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre: double facade detail Image: Courtesy of Mathieu Forest Architecte and Zone of Utopia

Furthermore, the cube at the top is conceived as a transparent crystal, housing a space for contemplation and a sky lounge, almost as if suspended in the sky. The structure is abutted against an expansive water body, lending a tranquil environment, along with serving the metaphor of the ice blocks assimilating in the water body. Rising above its context akin to a lighthouse when illuminated in warm light at dusk; a supple and brave parallel by the architects, the Ice Cubes Cultural Tourist Centre suitably serves its conception as a landmark and a delicate monument to both form and function.

Project Details

Name: Pingyuan New Area Cultural Touristic City Exhibition centre
Client: Henan Rongshou Xinchuang Culture and Tourism Real Estate Co. Ltd.
Program:: Cultural tourist centre
Superstructure surface area: 19.740 m² GFA
Site surface area: 28.200 m2
Architects: Zone of Utopia, Mathieu Forest Architecte
Designers: Qiang ZOU, Mathieu FOREST
Design team: ZENG Teng, DI Wu, WANG Zhuang, Arnaud MAZZA, MA Jia, XUE Qixun
Structure: Arup Group Limited
Curtain wall / facades: EDUTH
Landscape design: Hassell Shanghai
Landscape design construction: QIDI Shanghai
Lighting: PROL
Interior design: WU:Z DESIGN

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