by Jerry ElengicalNov 26, 2022
Soft light wells, luminous skylights and a conglomeration of ovoid volumes outline the curiously shaped buildings of the Nantong Urban Agricultural Park Phase 1 tourist service buildings, including the Rural Living Room Exhibition Center, the “Gather Grain into Granary” Comprehensive Service Center, as well as the renovation of an existing public restroom and two bridges. Completed by a young studio which specialises in experimental architectural practice in rural China called Z-One Architects, the multi-disciplinary project mushrooming within the northern suburb of Nantong city in Jiangsu, China, was impressively conceived in just four months late last year by the emerging practise, right from the concept stage to the final construction and finish.
The three forms, with a total construction area of 4552.8 sqm, bring alive the Nantong Urban Agricultural Park, by embodying a dichotomous temperament of being fluid yet strict, free-flowing yet tightly bound. The buildings are connected by bright white and grey paths, that is surrounded by greenery while finding a curious interpretation in natural forms and textures.
“Considering the project is located in the entrance area, which is an important place for visitors to perceive the whole industrial park, it needs to transition between urban and rural experience, without missing the reflection and reconstruction of contemporary architectural vocabulary,” the Chinese architects relay, who established the practice two years ago.
Possessing a sculptural simplicity, the project is a jewel of organic gracefulness and stands at the threshold of the urban and rural, the modern and vernacular, manifesting as a motley of elements and materiality that interpret natural forms and textures.
The “Gather Grain into Granary" Comprehensive Service Center essays the centrepiece of the Chinese architectural masterplan, emerging as an assemblage of five warehouse-shaped spaces with a steel and timber combined structure and skin, and gathers a field library, spaces for exhibition, studying and dining, along with a multi-function hall to host a myriad of activities.
The highlight here are the massive internal light wells that are incorporated in every core space by the intersection of the structure, outlining the distinct, organic form of the roof and guiding the zoning of spaces inside. Sunlight is perceived and channelled uniquely into various areas according to the angles and orientations of the inverted, conical wells, creating intriguing experiential moments and guiding visitors.
The undulating, sculptural service centre, the biggest building in the park, stretches leisurely with its flower tiered form of rounded edges when viewed from above, a few bulbous petals larger than others. Glass ceilings with steel frames connect the soft wells and create powerful, picturesque and transparent roof pockets for visitors standing inside the soft landmark, the expansive interior design awash in timber’s warmth.
“We applied 'dimension reduction' to most of the free-form surfaces during the design process, which greatly reduced the amount of special-shaped steel and wood for the structure and also the difficulty in engineering. At the same time, the problem of laying tiles in large quantities on the irregular curved roof was creatively solved,” explains the Z-One team responsible for the design.
A white, tent-like, sinuous form registers itself as the 'Exhibition Hall of Rural Life' and lies north of the massive service centre. Its membrane-like texture and form of two oblong volumes, one bigger than the other, are evocative of white oyster shells and is defined by soft, sloping lines, and oval-shaped glass skylights crowning the centres of both. Various areas of function are defined by imperceptibly tweaking the height of the interior spaces here, which seem vast because of the all-white aesthetic, glass walls and the skylight which allows the sun to illuminate it naturally.
A long and curving horizontal aperture faces the charming river scenery outside, making sure that the hall is both distinct, and integrated with the verdant landscape. The whole structure is surrounded by shallow water and can be accessed by a series of large man-made white pebbles that act as steps. This detail not only reflects the architectural theme of the whole park but also the unique spatial and morphological elements.
The restoration of the public washroom that lies adjacent to the white exhibition hall takes into account the overall spatial form of the entrance, with an aim to minimise its physicality as much as possible. The smallest form sits closer to the ground and has a muted nature, as opposed to the sharp, perceptible and larger accompanying structures, with a leaf-like, grey tiled roof covering light timber walls. “The perception of the building is that the roof is heavy and the walls are light,” says Z-One Architects. “The grey space formed by the public washbasin in the front interacts with the reflective material in the back, making it seem as though the heavy material roof is floating,” they add.
The Nantong Urban Agricultural Park Phase 1 tourist service buildings comes alive on the landscape and display themselves as a fine embodiment of the emerging style of contemporary architecture, distinct to the urban Chinese builtscape, where the vernacular and modern are woven as one, its built identity revelling in an industrial yet earthy setting.
Name: Nantong Urban Agricultural Park Phase 1 tourist service buildings
Programme: Rural Living Room Exhibition Center, "Gather Grain into Granary" Comprehensive Service Center, the renovation of an existing public restroom and two Bridges.
Location: Southside of Modern Agricultural Industrial Park, Tongliu Road, Chongchuan District, Nantong City, Jiangsu, China
Gross Built Area: 4,552.8 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Client: Nantong City Modern Agriculture Development Co., Ltd.
Architect: Z-One Architects
Design: Z-One Tech
Lead Designer and Design team: Shaoying Lei, Hao Jiang, Huajian Gu, Hao Chen, Tianrui Zhu, Yuhao Fu, Shiyuan Tang, Ziwei Zhu, Yingbo Li, Sihan Guo (intern)
Partners: Planning & Landscape Design: New Pastoralism Research Institute (Beijing Tianyuandongfang Operation Management Co., Ltd)