Location: Dao Ming Town, Chongzhou, Sichuan Province, China
Construction: Chongzhou City Chongzhong Exhibition Industry Investment Co., Ltd
Floor Area: 1800m2
Design Stage: 2016.08 – 2017.04
Construction Stage: 2016.12 – 2017.04
Principal Architect: Phiip F. Yuan
Architecture: Alex Han, Xiangping Kong, Bing Yang, Tianrui Zhu
Interior: Qinhao Wen, Xiaoming Chen, Jingyan Tang
Structure: Jing Wang, Lei Li, Chen Liang, Qiang Zhou
Electromechanical: Yong Liu, Ying Yu, Qiang Zhou
Photography: Bian Lin
In Bamboo is a rural construction project we did in Daoming Town, Sichuan Province at the beginning of 2017. Daoming Town is well known for its enduring tradition of bamboo-weaving. In Daoming, the practice of weaving is more than a rural industry, it is an integral part of the way families in the town spend time together and how neighbors visit with each another. The traditional Daoming Bamboo-Weaving craft is a living cultural heritage with much in store to offer contemporary ways of living and making.
The project we completed is a multi-functional rural community cultural center with provisions for exhibitions, hosting conferences, community gathering, as well as dining and recreation. It integrates the site with the surrounding villages and with the natural ecology. The project also explores the interaction of the city with new rural construction. It practices the integration of new construction technology with local craft. The project integrates traditional construction techniques with prefabricated industrialization.
The gestural interweaving roof is a construction of many prefabricated parts delivered to the site ready for quick assembly. The Mobius-shaped roof is supported by a 70% light prefabricated steel frame and finished with traditional ceramic tiles. The high efficiency afforded by pre-fabricating components made the 52-day construction period of this complex geometry possible.
The relationships of inside & outside, bamboo & tile and new & old are all able to be experienced in the “infinite（∞）shape” of the roof. The new definition offered for traditional paradigms and the rethinking of rural & urban issues provide a lens for thinking about the meaning of architecture in the present time.
The first time we came to the Chongzhou area, our client introduced us to the surroundings with a poem by the Song Dynasty poet Lu You. After hearing this poem, we discovered one way to truly understand the depth of this poem was to be in Chongzhou and see this site. Seeing the landscape before us after hearing the poem enabled our concept for the project to begin to take shape.
Through the lens of Lou You’s poem we started to see the site in richer ways as it related to the village life and the countryside surrounding it. The site crosses a narrow stream. And then again, the site crosses a different stream before beginning its march up the mountain. A forest plain stretches out; bamboo grows thickly. From the towering trees one can tell the long history of the first farmer’s home. “Building can only try to start a dialogue with earth, while plants belong to the earth. We were trying our best to maintain everything, and keep the most stay still,” -principle architect Philip F. Yuan.
Making the atmosphere into a form
One brush stroke, one period of creating, these are values held by the Chinese traditions of landscape painting and of garden construction. In both disciplines the desired expression is best captured when recorded at one stretch, in one breath. With this in mind, we approached our site with all its vivid naturalness, all the while being mindful to treat it with a contemporary perspective and attitude. Looking between the architecture and the site, relationships can be made that supersede linguistics and materialism, relationships that find their way into a zone of pure geometric shape finding and materialization.
The site is located on two adjacent mismatched land parcels. In each of these parcels we drew one large circle; these two circles came together determining the large contour for our building while still preserving the surrounding bamboo forest and trees. Within this new boundary we sought to maximize the continuity, horizontality and ductility of the space. The floating roof provides the widest possible view of the pristine natural vista outside. At its best, the visitor is left with a sense of merging with nature itself.
The dwellings nearby have much to say about the character of this location, they speak the language of local material and enduring climate responses. The doubly-curved geometry of our roof design is difficult to achieve using a continuous material. A way forward was found using gray roof tiles discovered in the local architecture of Daoming. On the roof of our building the tile is like a pixel, computed to describe the subtle geometric complexity of this continuous roof. In this way the tiles became the intermediary linking vernacular building language with abstract geometry.
The site is large. Responding to the spatial mood of the Lu You poem, we sensed the importance in finding an appropriate path for the dialogue between the viewer and the building in this project. It should be summarized in one stroke but that stroke should not deplete the ink, it should meander yet not lose its sense of place. The visitor should pass through layers of transparency and different ways of interaction while moving within this building.
The play between transparency and opacity in In Bamboo is similar to a Chinese garden. The bamboo forests, our building, the courtyards, the fields are all sequenced one after another; they can all be seen from one or another. From the road looking in one can faintly see the form of a twisting roof. When the sunlight is strong, the light penetrates deeply into the building, creating the following sequence: the bamboo on the periphery remains shadowed, the vegetable garden is illuminated before it, eves extend from the building and cast a playful shadow giving description to the two courtyards within. This rich scene is filled with layers. Within the space there are actual layers of space and architecture, between these physical layers imagined ones too can emerge.
The distance from the road to the building does not exceed 20 meters. With this constraint the question of how to prolong the process of experience and delay the fulfilment of expectations became important. S-shape geometry is uncommon in Chinese Garden design, but in In Bamboo the S-shaped road leading up to the building and the S-shaped roof create a strong vocabulary found echoed in one another. This geometry vocabulary imparts a mood felt throughout the project. The building’s pinwheel spatial organization, found on the exterior and interior of the building, doubles the length of the distance traveled and lengthens the experience, slowing the movement of the visitors as they pass through the spaces.
The building has many ways of passing through it. The visitor is first met with surprise when entering into the vegetable garden. The garden, on site before the project began, has been preserved in its original state and use. Proceeding forward, different scenes of nature and spaces unfold. Upon entering the building two courtyards are discovered, each defined within the curves of the sweeping roof. The space is open and spacious; it provides an instance of tranquility, a place for listening to the rain when it falls, a place for enjoying the sun when it shines.
Parametric timber construction and craft reborn
The construction timeframe proved more rushed than we had imagined. The architecture, landscaping and interior were all completed in only 52 days. Using digitally prefabricated structural wood construction we were able to reduce waste while increasing the speed of installation. In the development of this project, abundant research from years of experimenting with digital structural wood fabrication technology was put to use.
The essence of parametric design is to solve problems systematically by constructing a logical structure. In the early stage of shape-finding, the topological geometric prototype has little to do with parametric logical features. What we do is deal with the relationship between structure and material properties as they relate from geometry to construction. For instance, it is necessary to input the span parameters of each structural member into a structural rationalization analysis, this process then can generate reasonable construction solutions. Through lessons learned from past years of experimental construction, we are now able to transfer geometry from the model to a timber construction logic and accurately adjust the sizes of all production materials to meet connection requirements.
China’s rural construction industrialization process has not yet begun in earnest. Gentrification and modernization is crushing the awareness and advancement of production systems in the countryside. The most startling example is how difficult it is to find a worker in the countryside under the age of 40. In the countryside, the traditional architecture industry has no means of attracting the younger generation. At this moment, prefabrication for use in rural areas could redefine and upgrade the production process of traditional rural construction.
In Bamboo stands as an example of how this process might be realized. In total the project required one month of timber prefabrication in the workshop and 52 days of on-site installation. Citing this project as an example, robotic fabrication and other new technologies introduced into rural architecture construction could result in more meaningful and lasting changes for the rural construction industry.
These changes will not be made in the immediate future, nor should they replace the traditional craft construction closely tied to rural life and industry. Instead we should consider where opportunities for innovation and improvement lie that might integrate existing traditional construction methods with new technology and new construction methods.
For In Bamboo, we looked at local architecture industry research and learned the limits of using bamboo for use as the primary structure system in architecture. However, we learned that bamboo as a protective sheathing on the exterior façade of a building performs very well. We worked with a local bamboo artisan who modeled over 20 variations of different weaving patterns using thin strips of bamboo to arrive at the façade pattern we used for In Bamboo. The use of woven bamboo on the façade produces an effect of seeing something familiar but encountering it in a new context.
The distance between the main building and the site entrance is long so we designed a security guard shelter to be placed at the entrance. Here we used a similar approach as used in the main building design, again combining topological form finding and traditional bamboo-weaving. This combination produced an organic combination of digital geometry and traditional craft.
In Bamboo is a small project. In the rising tide of China’s rural construction redevelopment it is but a tiny speck. The distance between Shanghai to Chongzhou is great. Our design is far from a perfect representative of the detail and luxury in the city, but our deep love for local tradition and culture is unable to hide. In Bamboo belongs first to Daoming and the local craftsmen community. After construction finished, there was a sense of pride expressed by the local people, this is our greatest reward.
Although the project is small, we invested great effort requiring the participation of many people. Digital design technology, architecture traditions, and cultural context are the combined forces guiding our work. In the process of innovation, a respect for culture, a respect for people and a respect for nature can be present; this is what we want from the In Bamboo project.