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Monday, April 16, 2012

China Academy of Art at Xiangshan

We took a long weekend trip to Hangzhou, China in early April. It was my first time in the city, the hometown of my maternal grandmother. The city is certainly beautiful and one can understand why it has often been referred as heaven on earth.

On one of the afternoons we went to visit the China Art Academy in the Xiangshan district, mainly to see the buildings designed by the new Pritzker Prize winner, Wang Su and his partner Lu Wenyu. The campus is about a 45-minute drive from the West Lake. Prior to the trip and the Pritzker Prize announcement, I didn't know much about Wang and Lu's architecture and ideas.

Since my young kids were not terribly interested in looking at architecture, I wasn't able to spend too much time at the campus and only walked around a few of the buildings in the Phase 2 of the master plan. Below are some pictures of the buildings that I took. Just about all of the buildings are rectangular in plan. Some of the buildings such as Buildings 11 and 18 are organized to have open courtyards in between the volumes.

While the buildings are very simple in their floor plans, the elevations and sections are often more angular and varied. Furthermore, the elevations of the buildings are often given a seemingly random pattern of windows and openings.

The openings on the long sides of Building 13 consist of irregularly shaped openings reminiscent of Chinese garden architecture. The short side of the building is designed with horizontal sun shading constructed of roof tiles often seen in vernacular buildings.

Besides Chinese architecture, to my eyes, Wang and Lu also seem to be influenced by the works of Louis Kahn with the combination of exposed concrete and wood panels.

The building I like the best is No. 14: a pair of rectangular volumes linked on one end that protrude on to a reservoir. The shape of the roofs recalls the local traditional architecture. The exterior walls  on the different sides are given different expressions. The south facing side consists to a glass facade with vertical sun shading, which reminds me of the the windows at La Tourette by Le Corbusier and Iannis Xenakis.

The facades facing the courtyard inside are in wood.

Below is a view from the inside towards the courtyard through the irregularly shaped portal.

Most impressive are the exterior walls that are made of recycled materials such as bricks and roof tiles from dismantled buildings. The result is not only an interesting visual effect, but a powerful material presence, especially up close.

While I didn't get a chance to spend much time at the campus, I like Wang and Lu's works. Their buildings at the Academy seem to be very economical and practical, especially in the floor plans, yet at the same time the buildings are raw, sculpted, and dynamic. The designs also have a nice sense of scale and very good use of materials. Next time when I am in Hangzhou I will be sure to find time to visit more of their buildings.

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