by Weili ZhangSep 20, 2021
Vermilion Zhou Design Group’s renovation of a traditional Victorian-style building in Beijing, China, into the snow-white Song Art Museum begets a tale of complete transformation. The owner considered the original structure obsolete in its design and architecture, and so desired a form devoid of excessive, or even subtle ornamentation, giving rise to its bare skin and insides that focused on being accessible and functional. Intended as a public “container of art”, Song Art Museum is an exhibition platform with art as a mainstay and the container as its supplement. “We’d like to believe that the new form can be replicated in the future, as architecture needs to be flexible at its core, ever ready for possibilities,” shares the firm led by Chinese architects, Ray Chou and Vera Chu.
The original Victorian clubhouse was fitted with gaudy red brick facades and a horse-riding lawn, now transmuted into flat grassed, manicured gardens with few bushes that sit in rich contrast to the all-white museum. Excessive signages and colouring were stripped off, the decoration subtracted to the mere outline of the building with protruding A-frame roofs. While the exterior sits like a white stroke in the green landscape, the interiors see colour in the form of warm wood flooring, glass screens and brass railings, and not to mention, the resident artworks.
Leaving out blank spaces is considered one of the most relevant artistic concepts in Chinese paintings, while clean geometric forms represent a more contemporary, western building ideal – the Song Art Museum thus swiftly combines features of both, oriental and western art and design thought. “Our first step was to remove all the necklaces, earrings, clothing, and decorations to show the structure in its purest, basal form,” says Chou.
Besides planting close to 200 pine trees on site, Vermilion Zhou reorganised the dialogue between the building and existing lush greens to shape the entire base like a long Chinese scroll unfurled on the ground. The adaptive reuse employs the whitest of white to sheath the form, intended to present the structure as a clean slate, a blank canvas not only to host the artworks but as a metaphor of life being impassive, intelligent and meditative to the happenings of the world.
On the rectangular plot, the final museum architecture is informed as two main white volumes linked by a glass corridor, and white flat stages forming pathways on the grass – the main mass rests low flanked by a covered ‘winter garden’ on its right, and a showroom structure with a central courtyard to the left, and a VIP pavilion resting at the far end. The art gallery is presented as the main building, the restoration giving way to clean archways on its sides, a nod to the style of the oriental location.
Spread over a basement, first and second floor, the minimal, stripped-down spaces of the gallery are brightly lit via expansive glass windows and skylights. The three levels help set a “vertical openness” for the tidy, reflective and pensive interior design, extending the renewed museum’s simple dimensions and raising its existence as a presentation of art.
“Song Art Museum distils itself, transforming everything into geometry and purity, and takes “non-action” from the outside to within. What we offer is a kind of "clean" existence. When “contemporary art” enters various forms, they can display their vocabulary and vitality without scruples. The courtyard is surrounded by pine trees, providing the external vitality of the Song Art Museum. The scenery becomes the breath of both the inside and outside, and the oriental freehand brushwork also becomes the natural rhythm of mutual reflection between traditional and modern architecture,” concludes Vermilion Design.
Name: Song Art Museum
Location: Grass Road, Tianzhu Town, Shunyi District, Bejing, China
Architect: Vermilion Zhou Design Group
Creative Director, Lead Designer: Kuang Ming (Ray) Chou
Architecture Design: Hai Shi, Jing Huang
Interior Design: Garvin Hung, Jamie Pai
Lighting Design: Vera Chu
FF&E Design: Mavis Huang, Boyuan Ling