by Jerry ElengicalNov 26, 2022
Over the past three decades, the contemporary landscape of Chinese architecture has consistently spectacled and paraded structures of ingenuity, glass-covered, towering monstrosities, spaces casually vernacular with soaring vistas, some residing ripe within grey concrete jungles, few swathed in the belly of nature and its security and poignance, and the others, finding space in between. Across built typologies persistently mushrooming in Chinese cities, towns and villages, there is uninterrupted construction and incessant building, with an almost gluttonous indulgence in artificial, carbon-emitting processes and materials, more than natural. Where should architecture begin to reign and nature pause? Or should the two be mutually inclusive, dare say, made mandatory?
Built seamlessly into a natural, verdant and powerful belly of a hilly urban landscape, and hailing its natural elements as inspiration, the frosty white, twin-domed Woyun Platform designed by Chinese studio Archermit is conceived as a "platform from which to recline amongst clouds". The public building consists of spaces catering to cultural and recreational endeavours, from congregational and exhibition areas, encompassing educational activities in humanities, biodiversity and science, all with uninterrupted views to its surrounding natural topography. Creatively concealed and seemingly floating within a mountainous valley, the Woyun Platform has been designed in the spirit of facilitating a means for visitors to fulfil their desire to return to nature, to our natural roots.
"A landscape above the clouds is a poetic aspiration. The term 'landscape' in Chinese culture refers to not merely scenery, but the nature from which all living things derive, and represents the spiritual home of ancient scholars," relays Youcai Pan, Principal Architect, Archermit.
Lying 50 kilometers to the north of Chengdu in Pengzhou, China, the majestic Longmenshan Mountains and Min River cut a swathe across the rich fields of Sichuan province, creating in their stead, two distinctly different realms of the Chengdu Plain and the Western Plateau. The design concept followed by the Chinese architects borrows from the impressive, cinematic landscape and atmosphere of the plateau, replete with mountainous peaks bathed in mist, an ideal site overlooking the Min River that flows languidly nearby.
"In order to integrate the building into the surrounding landscape, we believe that it is not simply a matter of framing views of the surrounding environment, but rather a task where we can give something of value to the local population, those who live off the mountains and water: to create a spirit of place that is in keeping with the local landscape, a building with emotional and physical ties to the people who live there," he adds.
A vibrant rendezvous with clouds
"Famed anthropologist Fei Xiaotong once suggested that "man has a root, and the individual is but a branch growing from it. The root is the society that supplies him with the materials for growth, education, and culture: from a small family and village to a large city and eventually a country."
"During the initial design visits, we were concerned with integrating the building’s program with the four villages which lie within 1.5 kilometres of the site: Dawan, Taizi, Yudong, and Dongping. It was our intention that the building would provide the locals with a place to gather, chat and relax, and through their participation convey an example of truly public architecture – a place of dialogue between villages, city and countryside, revitalising the district and creating a platform for new activities and exchanges," Pan explains.
Intimacy, interaction and human connections with nature
With the 2,210 sqm cultural architecture located at the entrance to the Pengzhou area of Giant Panda National Park, Archermit studio drew on three aspects from the pandas' habitat to define their architectural concept - the bamboo forest, the ubiquitous clouds, and the mountain boulders created by glacial drift – to fashion this unique, stark white platform seamlessly residing and wafting amid the misty clouds. The shape, and form, as well as the duo-toned black and white fur of pandas, become the template for the furniture, décor and interior design as well.
The ground floor of the cultural centre caters to the bamboo forest concept, its spaces serving as a multi-functional public space, providing an open, fully accessible “living room” to several nearby villages while the clouds and misty atmosphere are referenced on the level suspended above, accommodating a cultural exhibition space. The design and facets of the upper level orient themselves on the site's drifting boulders, comprising leisure spaces from which visitors can look out across the striking landscape.
Slender white columns of the 'bamboo forest' below become the foundation to hold up the 'clouds' above, forming a pleasant, expansive and sheltered area where guests are able to congregate at ease within the contemporary architecture. At night, the domed undersurface becomes "poetically lit" by an array of LED "stars", as an integrated video projection vividly portrays scenes of life in nearby villages directly below to complete the intended scene. The two floating boulders above the clouds, the uppermost level, combines with the scenery mirrored on the extensive roof’s reflecting pool to create a unique, painterly effect that takes in, and evokes the surrounding landscape.
"The activities of villagers bring a local flavour to this special place, where rural life and contemporary art merge to create a shared communal feeling among the mountains and clouds, where passion for life and a vibrant community culture and can be found," says Pan.
The white columns rising from Woyun Platform’s ground to the underside of the tessellated dome creates an open, inclusive space, concealing the more regularly spaced structural column network within. "It can be seen as a metaphor for a large tree at the entrance of a village in a bygone era, under which people gather to tell stories as they slowly sway their fans," elaborates Zhe Yang, design director and partner, Archermit.
Regardless of whether it is a bright or cloudy day, the Chinese designers crafted a perennial "starry sky" for the town of Longmenshan - the large, deep-set dome at the underside of the upper-level transforms into a whimsical expanse of stars through an integrated lighting design. The overall surface of the dome was divided into roughly 2,600 separate aluminium panels, each uniquely curved through parametric design, and randomly distributed with three different sizes of openings, with each's internal cavity equipped with LED light fittings at specific angles to illuminate the sides of the openings, to form a realistic evocation of star-studded, inky night skies. "Additionally, simulated dynamic shooting stars have been implemented at the main entrance and the sunken plaza, creating together with the main 'starry sky' a striking contrast between the visible and hidden, and a powerfully dreamlike atmosphere at night," shares Archermit’s technical director and partner, Renzhen Chen.
Visitors ascend a long straight staircase under the stars and into the clouds, landing upon an unexpected space on the first floor where an immersive multimedia experience about the landscape continuously unfolds. The sweeping curves of the structure form a cavity in the ceiling which provides light, guiding people through the space, while projections of water imagery create the illusion of a dematerialised floor.
A series of slender columns and overlapping, curvilinear benches face a projection wall that displays in moving images, the natural diversity of the Longmenshan Mountains, from local rock formations, soil, mosses, shrubs, trees, flowers, fruits, and animals. Light and shadow take on the shape and essence of these elements in the adjacent space, where metaphorical water is captured in a series of subtly undulating mirrored panels, akin to the surface of a bubbling stream. "Here, the colours of the local landscape are reflected as visitors stroll through the space, immersed in the light of the river valley and surrounded by the sounds of insects and birds," mentions the design team.
Water and sky marry at the heart of the contextual design, accompanied by a suspended river valley boulder, to recall the breathtaking landscape of mountains and the wild panda habitat beyond. A gentle curtain of water cascades from the roof to visually animate the space, while the sound of the water dropping adds an extra dimension. Stalks of the representative 'bamboo' in the lounge area create a sense of intimacy while furthering the architecture’s concept.
A spiral staircase takes guests up to the third floor with the reflective, inky black pool, with large circular eaves and columns framing a view of the landscape during their journey - the pool in the foreground reflects the distant mountains, as well as the passing skies, "as if bringing a long scroll of traditional Chinese landscape painting to life," they continue.
Archermit designed this roofscape based on the natural cycle of water, where water falls from the clouds to the earth, eventually evaporating and returning to the sky to become clouds again. Woyun Platform's reflecting pool is a metaphorical representation of the river flowing nearby pooling into a mountain lake, which falls down a valley and fills the roof’s surface. This body of water finds its way through choreographed gaps in the building, transforming into a fine stream and spilling to the lower levels to meander through the secret bamboo forest at the bottom, before finally returning back to the roof through a designed water circulation network concealed in the design of the bamboo forest.
The mountainous, twin white structures perched on this misty lake represent the ice and snow crowning the Longmenshan mountain range, as well as the drifting gravel in the Min River. Two white roofs seem afloat, above the shallow pool at the upper level, resembling two boulders protruding from the water, their smoothness reminiscent of "jade polished by the current", while when seen from a distance, they take on the appearance of snow-capped mountains peeking gently above dense white clouds.
"Architecture is congealed art, but also an epic written with wisdom and passion." Built with this moral, and a purpose of reuniting man and nature, where natural beauty meets the man-made, the Woyun Platform also holds potential as a place of discourse - art exhibitions and cultural activities held inside manifest a melange of the rural and modern, its congregational spaces representing the exchange between the cityside and the countryside. "This 'platform amongst the clouds' not only symbolises and replicates the natural environment of the Western Plateau, but also creates a spiritual landscape intimately connected to local villagers, creating a poetic field that heightens the best aspects of this magnificent land - and in doing so opens up a new era of discovery for visitors of all kinds," relays the principal architect, highlighting the tranquil nature of the project.
Name: Woyun Platform
Location: Longmenshan Town, Pengzhou City, Sichuan Province, China
Area: 2,210 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Client: Sichuan Hope Huawu Industrial Development Group Co., LTD, Pengzhou Hope Shunchen Cultural Tourism Development Co., LTD
Architect and Interior Designer: Archermit
Principal Architect: Youcai Pan
Design Director: Zhe Yang (Partner)
Technical Director: Renzhen Chen (Partner)
Structural Engineer: Xu Du
Design Team: Qinmei Hu, Yi He, Yuanjun Gou, Rui Yang, Zixuan Liu, Yaxian Zhao, Yutao Feng, Xiangxin Ge, Zhiying Song, Shuhua Ye, Maosen Zeng (intern)
Construction Drawing Design Team: Chengdu Meisha Architectural Design Co., LTD; Design Team: Jingwu Piao , Xin Chen, Jinju He, Jun Luo, Liping Wang
Lighting Design: bpi; Design Team: Sony Wang, Meng Chen, Qiangning Jiang, Xinyu Li, Haoyu Liu, Hong Peng, Jiangyue He, Yiting Wu, Ting Ye
Furnishing Design Team: ten space design; Design Team: Jiajuan Wu, Miao Shu, Yi Zhu, Sha Luo
Construction Unit: Sichuan Xinding Construction Engineering Co., LTD