China’s countryside terrain can be seen as an uncut “unpolished jade” – its beauty is in many ways undiscovered, and its potential value is immense. Led by architect Zou Yingxi, the Jimo OCT Rural Revitalization Culture Center project embraces the fertile soil of the rural landscape and carefully polishes the metaphorical stone within, transforming it into something new and precious.
Zou Yingxi has positioned SYN Architects as a kind of “mediator” between urban and rural integration – rather than seeking fixed responses to the development of the countryside, he prefers to create open-ended solutions which can invigorate both builders’ and users’ expectations for the future. This approach also encompasses a thorough understanding of culture and history, as well as an attentiveness to the nature of each project’s environment.
In 2020, the Jimo OCT Rural Revitalization Culture Centre and SYN Architects began the process of translating the spirit of “unpolished jade” into a fully realized space.
01. Planning, Construction, and Operation: Collectively Creating New Vistas
In the view of SYN Architects, the ideal conception of urban-rural integration cannot be realized through the design of a single space. They consider each project to be a microcosm of a bigger picture, and always take into account the overall system of planning, construction, and operation to deeply investigate existing social relations, spatial logic, industrial factors, cultural history, and the natural environment. For the Jimo OCT building, an approach based on general trends of cultural tourism and the area’s International Art Festival was developed. It introduces new spaces and settings with the potential to complement other economic activity in the Jimo Urban-Rural Integration Demonstration Zone.
The site started out as an agricultural field, 70 kilometers away from the city centre, not far from Qingdao Railway Station and the airport. It thus presented an advantageous location, mediating between urban convenience and countryside leisure.
“In my experience, many ‘rural designs’ do not consider economics, operating logistics, and everyday management. Rather than solving problems in the countryside environment, they create projects which leave the assets of their sites largely dormant. The majority of projects which aim to revive vernacular architectural styles in fact respond bluntly to local cultures, while ignoring any potential for future advancements in life and aesthetics.”
——Zou Yingxi, Founder of SYN Architects
With a more complete approach in mind, SYN Architects began the planning stages of the project by integrating facilities for mountain sports, bicycle stations, health resort and local businesses, among others. Spatial and aesthetic considerations were the starting point, used to create a series of stimulating architectural settings which complement each other and socially activate the site, bringing the site’s “unpolished jade” to life.
In the architectural design of the Jimo OCT Rural Revitalization Culture Centre, SYN architects set out to alleviate the burden of history and culture, looking for a new form of dialogue between the contemporary era and the past: the metaphor of “raw jade” was adopted to represent the value of history, and “carving” to discover and reshape the site, in order to maximize the inherent value of what exists there.
02. The Form: “Rough Jade, Half-Carved”
As a leading landmark building in the area, the Jimo OCT Rural Revitalization Culture Centre is seen as a prime example for how future development could take form, while acting as a first point of development to activate the local economy. Surrounded by a series of red-roofed buildings typical to Qingdao, the new building contains spaces for local businesses to display and sell their goods, while also embracing contemporary culture with coffee shops, light food restaurants, and other small businesses.
The project selectively responds to important architectural cues in the surroundings – red bricks, U-shaped glass curtain walls, and high-permeability glass imitate the color and texture of stone and jade, while echoing the local architectural vernacular of red tiles and white walls. The same materials are used for the roof and the wall to achieve a consistency in the upper and lower cladding, making the resulting “jade” purer.
“Cutting” the jade has been done in a way that respects the site and landscape, framing certain selected views and scenes. The concave volume creates a series of variegated spaces, and merges with the terrace at the roof opening to form a rich interaction between indoor and outdoor, landscape and architecture. The “cut” sloping roof is not simply a response to the architectural forms surrounding the site: the gutters at the joints of the roof facilitate the collection of rainwater, integrating culture, aesthetics, and function.
In addition to the building design, SYN architects also took daily operating logistics into consideration, planning the space to comfortably hold live art-related events and workshops, merging culture with the countryside environment. This was achieved through the implementation of an architectural “cutting” method, carving into the building’s form in order to create observation decks and water features which visually and spatially connect to various settings such as fields of wildflowers, distant landscapes, and untouched forests. This creates multiple perspectives and photographic opportunities for visitors keen on posting on social media, with this abundance of rural scenes visible from a new artistic landmark – thus establishing a multi-faceted interaction between people and nature, and creating a base from which the changing landscape can be seen afresh.
The thoughtful logic of the mediated landscape becomes the object of appreciation of the building, and drives the design which encompasses vivid views of a variety of both cultivated and wild scenery. The building becomes an object for observation, out towards the environment, and in toward art and architecture. Its sculpted shapes reach out to the landscape, each side presenting a different, variegated appearance. Bridging between seeing and being seen, art, architecture, and nature are brought together, integrating function, aesthetics, reflecting, and feeling.
At first glance, the employment of angular lines rather than gentle curves seems to run contrary to the roundness of conceptual jade. But SYN architects hopes to create a kind of “intermediate state”, where the building is seen as “unfinished jade”, and the “file” for carving and polishing it in the end is given to the builders and visitors.
03. The Space: Constant Growth
The language of “cutting” on the exterior is also employed for the interior spaces. The interactive relationship between indoor and outdoor functions is an important basis for space planning, with visual interaction and the connection of various scenes blurring boundaries and creating a seamless continuity of experience.
The two functions of exhibition space and accompanying service space are integrated in order to meet the needs of the Centre as a place for holding various art exhibitions, cultural activities, and commercial events. The design of the building is an important place to display the achievements of rural revitalization, but also a stage for the celebration of the history of rural culture and contemporary life.
The main space’s winding long table becomes the medium for “cutting” the interior. It connects the merchandise counter, the water bar and the rest area bench, providing spatial definition while satisfying functional necessities. The design of the long table also extends into the exhibition area, guiding circulation, aligning the art on display, and providing a defining visual element in the space. When stepping back and seeing the entire interior space, it seems to act as a link composed of pure white and wood that joins the city and the countryside.
As they enter this folded space, visitors step into a series of carefully modulates scenes created by the architect, with each step generating varying emotions and changing dimensions of space, culture and thought.
04. Carving Jade, Perfecting the Countryside
In Qingdao Jimo, an ancient city with a history and culture of over 1,400 years, the beautiful surrounding countryside is rarely visited, like a forgotten piece of “uncut jade”. Zou Yingxi examines and carves this site, allowing the light of raw jade to gradually emerge, and gently lays down a constantly developing spatial and sensory journey for new visitors. He hopes that this journey will not only reveal the enlightened vision of the OCT Qingdao Jimo Rural Revitalization Project to “Pursue Perfection” in all walks of life, but also add innovative elements to the emerging scene of urban-rural integration with the emergence of an International-quality Rural Centre integrating the highest levels of functionality, artistry and thought.
Project Name: Jimo OCT Rural Revitalization Culture Centre
Lead Architect: Zou Yingxi
Architectural Design Team: Chen Shifang, Lei Zhonghua
Interior design team: Xia Fuqiang, Qian Guoxing, Cao Zhenzhen, Liu Tingting, Li Qianqian, Feng Yan, Guo Mengjia, Li Hui
Construction area: 2200㎡
Design time: May-July 2020
Completion date: 2021
Project location: Shandong/Qingdao Jimo
Owner: Qingdao Overseas Chinese Town Investment Co., Ltd
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