NanJing SiFang Parkland

— by Anni Dai —

 SiFang Parkland, also known as Contemporary International Practical Exhibition of Architecture, is located aside Fo-shou Lake, in Pukou District of Nanjing. Here, twenty-four constructions – pieces of architecture – each in a different style are scattered in the forests across the landscape. Only 18 km from downtown it is a convenient place to visit and explore. Architectural Record notes that “It was conceived in 2003 by Lu Jun, president of Sifang Cultural Group, to showcase projects by 24 architects—11 from China and 13 from abroad.”

These 24 architects include Steven Holl, Kazuyo Sejima, David Adjaye, Arata Isozaki, Etorre Sottsass, Gabor Bachman, Odile Decq, amongst others. Based on the concept of ‘Balance-Rebuilding’, each architect has expressed their interpretation of ‘Balance’ through their design. They have sought to find a balance between architecture and environment; human and nature; technology and humanity. Here the writer chooses three examples: the art museum, conference center and the San-He Residence to discuss some general issues arising.

SiFang Art Museum

SiFang Art Museum, designed by Steven Holl, comprises what the architect calls “parallel perspective spaces”(whatever that means) and black-toned concrete ridged and intentionally stained by the bamboo formwork. The upper level is a translucent structure that is suspended above on a set cantilever-retraining columns. The straight aisle on the ground level gradually turns into twisted route on the upper volume, and ends at a space where people can have a view of Nanjing.

The museum sits at the entrance to the Parkland as a landmark, providing a significant height from which to see considerable distances.

The translucent material on the upper level allows gentle light to filter in to the linear art gallery, and the open view at the end gives a symbolic re-engagement with the surroundings – a refresher after enjoying and studying the art. It is a pity that people can only have a uni-directional view of Nanjing at the end of their travels with the architect limiting the opportunity for wider perspectives.

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Exterior View of SiFang Art Museum by Steven Holl

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Exterior View of SiFang Art Museum by Steven Holl

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Exterior View of SiFang Art Museum by Steven Holl

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Black-toned Concrete and Ridged Texture by Bamboo formwork

SiFang Conference Center

SiFang Conference Center, designed by Arata Isozaki, is located in the valley and was designed to comply with the landscape, retaining some and opening up other views. The architecture is somewhat dominated by a low-curved wall arcing into the slope.

An atrium is settled between two main architectures, configured with large pool to improve its landscape effect. The upper volume of the building is connected with aisles, which enhance its relation with surround architectures, and provide possibilities for walking and exhibition displays on the roof.

It is a considerate design which takes the local humid climate into account. Instead of adding a coating on the punched steel cladding to prevent it from rusting, it uses the character of rust to protect the inner steel itself, (so the architect says). So the unpleasant streaks on the concrete are intentional.

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Exterior View of SiFang Conference Center by Arata Isozaki

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Exterior View of SiFang Conference Centre with Art Museum in the distance

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Exterior View of SiFang Conference Center by Arata Isozaki

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Exterior View of SiFang Conference Center by Arata Isozaki

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Aisle of SiFang Conference Center by Arata Isozaki

San-He Residence

San-He Residence, designed by Wangshu, is an introverted space – with three sides enclosed and side open and its form provides a continuity between architecture and space, (the architect says). The shape of the roof naturally solves the rainwater drainage problem with a pool in the middle and curved roof shape somewhat echoing traditional Chinese buildings. The overhang eaves illustrate the designer’ original understanding of Chinese living style, that people could sit under the eaves even in raining days, and enjoy a close relationships with nature.

Differing from the delicacy in Japanese houses, Chinese housing are more robust in their integration of nature and The San-He Residence is no different with a tree penetrating though the roof.

However, in spite of all the treatment with layout and details, the shape of San-He Residence shares large similarity with Wang Shu’s other design projects like Wu San Fang-Art Gallery, and buildings in Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art. Although it is normal that an architect always tend to design in his own style, it is still a problem of repetition and maybe indicates a lack of imagination here.

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Exterior View of San-He Residence by Wang Shu

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Exterior View of San-He Residence by Wang Shu

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View of San-He Residence by Wang Shu

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Detail of San-He Residence by Wang Shu

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Detail of San-He Residence by Wang Shu

SiFang Parkland could be a prominent project and serve to promote Chinese contemporary architecture (or integrate Western architecture). As we go to press, it seems that it has not attracted too many tourists as yet. This might be a good thing in order to maintain its quiet and artistic atmosphere, but not so good for its future commercial development. It is still under construction so who knows whether it will be commercial viable in the near future. Worth a visit though to see whether you agree.

Photographs: Dai Anni

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