The project is located in Liulichang West St. in Hepingmen, Beijing. Liulichang is well known as a series of 2-storey traditional Chinese style housings with reinforced concrete structure and basements that sell various craftworks, artistry and antiques. They were built under the planning of the government about thirty years ago.
The purpose of the design is to create a space full of the elements of Orient, Zen, Nature and Simplicity, as well as maximize the interior space under the limit of the existing grid. Folding screen has long been a part of traditional Chinese decoration, which delivers the beauty of serenity and harmony by separating and embellishing a room as a member of traditional Chinese furniture. A screen display wall would be used as a basic element to integrate the current construction space.
The first floor is designed to be an up-and-down transparent exhibition hall enclosed with fixed folding screens, which would certainly deliver an intense impression at the first sight. The folding screen display wall on the second floor enhances the elastic utilization of the space. As to the basement, a ceiling made of soft films creates a bright enclosure just like a court to eliminate the space oppression.
Folding screen is such a precious traditional fine art that’s expressing modern art of space utilization as well as its public value by attracting more people into such an enjoyable space.
↑ (left) now 改建后的立面 (right) before 改建前的立面
Project name: Rongbaozhai Western Art Gallery
Project site: Liulichang, Beijing
Project type: Display
Building area: 400m2
Design duration: 2012.12—2013.02
Construction period: 2013.03—2013.05
Design team: Han Wenqiang, Cong Xiao, Kong Lin
Photographer: Wang Ning
Conversation between gooood and ARCHSTUDIO
After visiting your website, I found that your studio have completed about ten works in just four years since it was founded. Most of them are very excellent, which is rare in China. So how could you undertake so many projects at the same time while ensuring the construction quality?
In my view, the design shall be close to reality as much as possible, namely based on the real limits, solving real problems and consolidating real contradictions, thereby creating an ideal real environment. In terms of the process from design concept and final implementation, it is a result of continuous logic thinking, each step requiring repeated comparison and deliberation to figure out the best one. Our studio adopts the design mechanism – group discussion and project responsibility. We put heads together through group discussion to clarify the problems at the conceptual stage. Meanwhile, a designer is assigned to take care of the full coordination process from the design stage to construction site and thus control the completion quality based on the construction schedule. Such a coordination and distribution of responsibilities prove suitable for a tight agenda to a certain extent.
Could you please share with us some simple yet effective process or construction methods that are suitable for China’s conditions?
I do not think that simple construction generates good result. Generally speaking, we pursue simple result but make construction more complex. Workers are good at common practice, but the unconventional practice is determined by both designer and workers. For example, to make the skirting line and picture rail in the exhibition hall, by rule, wall space is made first and then finished products are put into it. But we want simple and delicate lines, so we need to embed such lines into the wall and limit their thickness and materials, thus the basic level of wall space has to be changed by custom and process.
What’s your greatest harvest from so many interesting construction projects?
Actually, I’ve got some ideas about this. The meaning of practice is to contact reality and communicate with other people through design. What a designer should do is to understand what people need, adapt to people’s lifestyle and improve the quality of living environment. As the pace of life becomes faster and faster and cities constantly expand, there is a long distance between people and human being and nature. So, we do our best to make the design close to people, slow down the life pace and create a more relaxing environment. In this way, space environment becomes a medium promoting the communication between people, human being and nature, as well as people and society, thus creating a positive atmosphere for us.
What’s the biggest challenges of interior design and public constructions?
At present, most of our clients are individuals or companies. There is no obvious difference in construction and interior design. Comparatively speaking, building design mainly lays more emphasis on setting controlling rules while interior design creates differentiation. It is important for designers to communicate with our clients and understand them. Sometimes, the challenge lies in the fact that designers must know fairly well about the bottom line.
Could you please explain more about “building design mainly lays more emphasis on setting controlling rules while interior design creates differentiation”?
Relatively speaking, this is caused by the difference in the dimensions. Generally, volume, regionalization and circulation are used to control the mutual relations among the groups for bigger structure. The generality of the space must be kept, considering that the investor may not be the user. While interior design is more flexible and specific, or in other words, there are many different interior designs for the same building. But it pays more attention to the behavioral pattern and experience of specific person. But now, the differentiation becomes blurred. Large interior spaces and tiny buildings are commonly seen.
What’s the biggest challenge you came upon in “Folding Screen”?
We encountered many challenges in the process of implementation. With the support and trust of Rongbaozhai, our design work proceeded smoothly from conceptual stage to construction drawing stage. But due to the absence of decoration drawings of original building, limits of time and construction process (the construction unit can only be determined after the completion of construction drawing, examination and approval of the budget and conducting the bidding), the architectural decoration and finishing had still not been removed after the completion of construction drawing, thus naturally causing difference in the design effect and site conditions. For this reason, the designer must have the flexibility, meaning to “redesign” based on site conditions and construction technology, to keep the integrity from the concept to result. Take the staircase as an example, judging by its appearance, it was heavy concrete structure but in fact it was wooden. Thus, we replaced it with light steel ladder. According to the staircase design, the footstep and stairway beam were separated and connected with metal bar to make it look slim and light. But such an unconventional design requires necessary materials not able to be customized, so it was necessary to constantly consult with the construction workers about the steel plate, beam and connecting rod. Also, we made the 1:1 sample to test the stability. Another case was that we thought that the second floor had a flattop but in fact it was made of rough slope roof structure. We chose to expose part of the slope roof structure to the interior space, thus preserving the comparison and contrast between the original building and new design while increasing the height of the interior part.
I found that white and the combination of wood and white are commonly applied in your works? Why do you prefer them? And can you share with us some experience in material utilization?
Maybe, it is related to the exhibition hall design, because white color background can always highlight the exhibits. I think that, white color is favorable to creating the abstract and neutral surreal sense and underlining spatial wholeness, while log represents concrete, warm and social sense, making people in a physical space. Their correspondence can create the tension between interior and exterior space. The reasonable application of materials can solve the spatial problems and create atmosphere. We also try to make use of different materials.
I know from INTRODUCTION that Wenqiang Han is the founder of ARCHSTUDIO, as well as a teacher of Central Academy of Fine Arts. No more working experiences are found. When do you begin to strictly control the whole process from design to construction? And what drives you to do this?
It is a gradual process to make a program and then implement such a program, so experience plays a big role. I first put a program into practice under the leadership of my tutor when I was in university. Later on, I began to work on practical projects after starting a design company with my colleagues. At that time, I always spent a lot of time on making drawings but the construction results were always disappointing, but I accumulated experience after many failures. Until 2009, I was invited by my friend to design a building in a quadrangle area in Beijing, and I only spent two weeks in designing the program that was affirmed and approved very soon. Even though I would go to the site for previous projects, but most of the time, I still sat in front of the computer. But this time, I went to the site once a weak for one year when I made the construction drawing. As a designer, it was the first time that I experienced the whole process from base, structure, and enclosure, interior to landscaping. Then I understood that many ideas must be adjusted based on the construction, cost and duration and other factors to find the best resolution. The most important index of the design was the quality. People differ in the program concepts. But the completeness concerns the living quality of the users. So we always pursue such a goal in the future projects, in the hope of changing some rules related to current technology based on the building, with an aim to create high-quality space environment.
曾就职于BIAD 4A5工作室/ HSA建筑部