With its elegant water features, winding paths and soaring bamboo gallery, the new Guilin Wanda Cultural Tourism Exhibition Center in Guangxi Province provides visitors with a multi-layered experience
The scenery of Guilin has been called the finest under heaven. Here, the karst topography typical of the region has created a landscape in which mountains appear to rise abruptly from the ground, jostling against each other for a piece of the sky. Below, the Lijiang river winds at their feet, its twisting waters clean and bright. The craggy mountains are riddled with caverns, among them the vast Reed Flute Cave, complete with multicoloured lighting and guided tours to show off its stalagmites and stalactites.
Mountains, stone, river and caves; all elements come together to collectively form the 'Four Wonders of Guilin'. The landscape has inspired artists, writers, poets and musicians for centuries — and similarly inspires architects of the 21st century. This is amply demonstrated at the new Guilin Wanda Cultural Tourism Exhibition Center, designed by Peng Wei, Guangjun Zhao, Zhenming Wang, Bo Zhang and Wei Wang from the Teng Yuan Design Institute (TYDI)‘s WAT Studio.
The results of drawing inspiration from the district's topography are largely representational rather than literal. "We tried to exclude 'patterning' from this aesthetical landscape to some extent, and instead express it using a kind of abstract line structure," explains TYDI chief executive Zhao. "The architecture in the plan is that of a very simple cube without any change to its shape or style, which in turn creates a 'landscape cube' thanks to the curtainwall structure. We envisaged the project could be derived from the scenery through to form, via a pure glass box, evoking people's inner feelings about
nature and the landscape."
The connotative relationship between architecture and nature, and that between architecture and culture, are generally key focal points for any architect. In this project, Zhao says the aim was to establish a simple, easily understood link between all those disparate elements: "In just the same way you create sketches in art and literature, this project is a 'construction sketch' to some extent," he says.
This is not to say that the sketch for the centre lacks technical difficulty or displays no depth of thought; Zhao points out the design team has painstakingly given "mature consideration to all aspects of the question".
In fact, the origin of the design has its roots in the traditional Chinese concept of shan shui, which refers to a style of painting scenery or natural landscapes using brush and ink — the name translates to 'mountain-water-picture'. "Dating back to the Wei and Jin dynasties, landscape paintings entered a period of great prosperity in the Tang and Song dynasties, integrating the universe, nature, humanity and art in an abstract and enjoyable manner, thus sparking unfailing interest," Zhao says.
This is an excerpt from the “Mountain high, river deep" article from the Jul/Aug 2017 double issue of Perspective magazine.
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