Rejecting the typical notion of a cultural pavilion as an object in a plaza, the China Pavilion is instead conceived as a field of spaces. Envisioned as a cloud hovering over a “land of hope”, the Pavilion is experienced as a series of public programs located beneath a floating roof, the unique design of which creates an iconic image for the project and a unique presence within the Expo grounds.
The final result of the China Pavilion didn’t use the translucent skin design as shown in the original schematic renderings? What was the main reason to change it? How was the current skin design chosen in the end?
LY: You asked a very interesting question. Recently quite a few people asked me about the skin of the pavilion. What they are saying behind is ‘you compromised’. As a matter of fact, we didn’t. The rendering that everyone finds on internet was for the competition at the end of 2013. Since then we haven’t published any updated renderings or model photos because of the confidentiality of the project. We also didn’t expect the rendering would have such an impact that people would actually think the final skin design of the pavilion was going to be locked to the translucent silver metal mesh.
The EXPO committee had a strict request for all the participants – 65% of the projection area of each pavilion should use either recyclable material or green roof; during the competition phase, our client already consulted with us that if the traditional golden porcelain tiles could be used on the roof. Our design group at that time promptly suggested woven bamboo as the alternative to make a more sustainable roof. There are a few advantages: 1. The recognition of bamboo in the Chinese culture; 2. Low cost, especially when shipped from China to Italy for the assembly. 3. The shadows which are casted by the bamboo shading panels into the main space keep altering subtly the experience. It’s an abstract symbol of the essence of the Chinese disposition.
One of the former intern architects of our studio also asked me in email if we had compromised. I replied to his email. He was satisfied and said, ‘I knew you wouldn’t, given how strict we are for our projects’. I was glad to see the word ‘strict’. How strict we are towards our projects comes from how we are towards ourselves. We wouldn’t compromise, but we would move forward while understanding the appeals from every group. After the practice of the past a few years, I’ve realized that it is not a problem for architects to make changes but how we do it requires methods. A good design method will condense all the appeals and bring the design to a much sophisticated level. On the other hand, a pure architectural design discourse will narrow the paths therefore is not as meaningful.
QW: It seems ‘compromise’ means the final woven bamboo isn’t as good as the silver metal mesh – actually if you imagine, had we used the silver panels, the pavilion would have been shining under the strong the intense sun light in Milan now, or it would have been pale white. For me it wouldn’t necessarily have been a better result; people might also associate it with something else. It’s all personally taste if some people think the metal mesh skin would look more modern or pretty. At least I think the woven bamboo is more natural and introvert, with the texture of more richness under different weather conditions. Also it definitely has a better reconciliation with the timber structure.
Looked from the graphic, the China Pavilion of this EXPO uses pictographic design methods and elements such as the city skyline and the curved mountain profiles. Compared with that in other countries, pictographic design seems more influential in contemporary Chinese architecture. What’s your perception of pictographic design and its impact to contemporary Chinese architecture?
LY: We are least interested in what the building ‘looks like’. Good architecture is like good art. People with different backgrounds may have different interpretation to it. If the comments from everyone are the same, it means the art doesn’t have enough depth to take the various insights. For example, we would like to observe that the general public sees a bamboo roof in the pavilion; government officials see the traditional roof; architects see glulam timber structure; parametric designers see the geometric relations between the curves at the south and the folded lines at the north, etc. That’s very good and harmonious. Our thoughts as an architect are in there.
And we also have what we clearly would not want to observe, the real symbolic design. When it’s about the superficial resemblance of the symbols and ornaments, architects should firmly hold their ground because it’s a question of values. During the design process there was all kinds of pressure that people can’t imagine now, but we didn’t set back, as least in the architecture part. Some ornaments at the interface with the architecture also were basically diminished by the architects. More importantly, we observed that the client of trust and support of architects. What everyone sees now, it’s actually a result of the extensive cooperation of the client, all design departments of Tsinghua University and the contractors in all aspects. If we want to write about the effort behind it, we could get a really big book.
▼中国馆南立面山水轮廓 （摄影：Sergio Grazia）
What was the most impressive thing for you at the construction site?
QW: Generally speaking what left its most marks is probably the whole process of realizing the timber roof and woven bamboo skin. It is almost a miracle. The complex geometry under such a tight schedule requires high capacity from the constructors. For example, they would need to process hundreds even more than a thousand detail elements that are slightly different from another, coordinate the fabrication, categorizing, transportation, assembly at various locations across Italy and China then organize the site activities all in such a short time. There was enormous amount of work involved in the past a few months. It was the same during the installation of the roof waterproofing and bamboo panels. The entire roof is highly custom-made, without many standard off-the-shelf elements. It means extra amount of work. The roof installers worked continuously without weekends for two months. Sometimes they had to use security cables to stay on the almost vertical parts of the roof for 12-14 hours. A few outstanding engineers and workers actually enjoyed working on challenging projects and were motivated. We appreciated and respected people like this and felt more encouraged to interact with them, offering our best help to achieve the best result. That’s how the miracle could happen.
Another important aspect for us is the working methods and standard of our Italian contractor Bodino engineering. They have their own wood shop and metal shop where they can experiment relatively complicated details and fabricate samples, just like we make study models every day in our studio. And it’s very helpful. Even during the last a few days of the construction, this senior engineer from Bodino came to Milan from Turin every day, always carrying a sample panel made in their metal shop to verify that the panel would match the dimensions of what was already constructed. We would also exchange our thoughts with him about how to make the panel more elegant and easier to install. We sketched at the back of the drawing set. Prof. Lu even climbed next to the balcony where the panel would be to mark the sample. After that the engineer made another sample on the following day. It was all because he thought it was important to reach a certain standard. The result was much better.
By the way, the on-site improvisation is always special for me, but it’s not only because it reminds me master architects like Frank Lloyd Wright or Carlo Scarpa. You will realize, some solutions could emerge, exactly because of the accumulation of the months spent on the construction site – the architectural elements exist differently in your eyes, more physical and more three dimensional. So your solutions possibly are more unexpected with somewhat different inspirations. This kind of mind-setting was limited in the architectural education I received, so I can only experience it through working on actual projects and working with excellent engineers and builders. And the China Pavilion relates to us even more as we were part of these improvisations on site. So we feel its quality and ‘weight’ is extraordinary. And it will also project to our future design; maybe sometimes we might be even automatically seeking opportunities to improvise.
What was the difference between designing a temporary building and a permanent one? What’s your observation of the pursuit of ‘new’ in contemporary architecture?
LY: Buildings have lives just like human, some long, some short. A pavilion for an event like the EXPO has only a life of six months with the apexes being the opening days and probably the ‘pavilion days’ in June. That the pavilion has a short life doesn’t mean it’s not spectacular. We could accept the China pavilion terminates in certain way – as the architect, we will not feel great, but to terminate it at the right moment is actually one way to protect it. There have been some words now that a number of cities are willing to relocate the China Pavilion to China. We will be carefully glad to see its second life.
Modern buildings made with glass and steel are all beautiful when they are new and not so when they are aged; many old churches, old houses have more and more quality as they age. A big part of the reason is that natural material such as stone and wood can ‘track the time’. Although the China Pavilion utilized the latest glulam building technology, we wanted to represent the traditional cultural spirit with it. Besides using a great amount of natural materials like wood and bamboo to record time, at the same time we also paid attention to how these materials react with natural elements such as light during the process of constructing them.
Is there a dialogue between the shape of the roof and the internal programs? If there is, how is it? If not, what’s your altitude regarding the relationship between the form and function?
LYC: I’m not quite interested in pure forms, but more in what the visitors feel inside the space. It’s a basic thing that architecture is to be seen, but on a higher level, to be experienced. And the functions are dissolved in the space. If you look at the study model in the middle of 2013, you’ll see maybe more interaction between the interior and the roof system, in the sense of architecture. But exhibition buildings really depend on the needs of the interior display items. The pavilion contains the illuminated LED ‘wheat field’ of 400 square meters, designed by Prof. Shi Danqing of Tsinghua University. A large, column-free space is necessary for the visitors to see the LED field from all angles which led to a different dialogue between the roof and the main exhibition space.
QW: It’s probably more interesting if we unpack the two terms to have the discussion. For example, as Prof. Lu just said, ‘form’ never means the pure shapes. Certain forms are preferred by the architects because there are messages in them. The messages have always been there in the culture or ideology of us and they match the identity and the expectations of the design project. The form of the pavilion has to do with it. And ‘function’ is not just ‘usage’ but ‘programs’, the ways people use the building; then there’s a lot to explore. Architects wouldn’t challenge the stable usages of the building but can choose the form to stimulate one of the aspects of how the buildings are used; it can be visual experience, of light, scale; it can be movements, walking, trespassing; there are much more of others. An interaction like this is positive. The rest of the question is to which extent and how, depending on the architect. Different types of buildings have different dynamic balance as well. How to deal with the balance can make the design extremely inventive that’s why I think it will always be one of the most attractive things about architectural design.
The shape of the architecture and the interior space it forms has clear directionality. But the organization of the internal circulation seems to have its own directions. Do you agree? What do you think of the tension between the two different directionalities?
QW: The starting point was that the architect wanted to leave maximum flexibility for exhibition items and the LED field. This intent is clearly there in the final constructed pavilion. The roof is a free style artifact floating above the continuous field of the landscape and the LED installation which is at the height of 1 meter above ground. All the public activity space is ‘carved’ out of the field. While people are meandering within the volume, they encounter the roof at different heights. For various reasons, the China Pavilion could only push to this point; to further integrate the roof and the circulation, much more skills and sensitivity would be needed to transform the tension into something more intentional. This will be more interesting point in our future design process. And we are actually optimistic even excited about it.
In the diagrams you described the transition between the city profile and the nature profile, do you think the same design method will appear in the subsequent design projects? In other words, regarding design, are you an architect who would like to have a different idea for each project or who would prefer the project ideas interrelate and accumulate?
LY: The ways architects of our generation work are definitely different from that of Gehry or Holl. For example I would rather not to sketch but to have a team discussion with architects from different backgrounds, then periodically invite consultants to give critics. A few of us core members guide the direction. We quite many physical study models to let the architecture ‘talk’ with its site then let it ‘grow’. Function, budget, structure and materials are all catalysts of the generation of the form; the architect is the conductor moving the design process forward in the most honest way and solves the problems with the best technical skills. Let the project and the building speak – this is it. Without a pre-definition, as long as the process is rich, the result comes rather naturally.
During the final completion of the project, was there any regret for you that it didn’t reach your expectations? Any stories of it?
LY: The biggest regret is time. For one project to reach a good level of completion, there are three fundamental things: design, schedule and budget. The characteristic thing of the project is that it only had seven months between the appointment of the general contractor and the final completion. It’s a hard job to be an architect; when there isn’t enough budget or time, the design is always what’s being compromised. But here, we can say this, there’s almost no compromise in the architectural design. We held up everything.
When it was getting close to the deadline, the workers of architecture, structure, roof, interior, mechanical and exhibition were all working at the same time. There were 120 workers (most of them were Italian) working in the building of 4,000 square meters. My colleague Qinwen and I were running across the site to control the details that actually had greater impact on the overall quality. We had language advantage and somehow the trust from the Italians. In many cases they understood us and would correct the errors for us. But during the last a few days, none of the errors could be corrected. At that time what we had to do was to foresee the possible mistake and point it out before the workers made it. It was effective.
QW: There were definitely some regrets. Basically architects are used to doing something over and over to find the best way while most contractors tend to simplify things because of the pressure of schedule and cost, so often there would be a disagreement about how to make one single detail. The best thing is that the architect has a solution; if you don’t have it because it’s not your expertise, it’s important to clearly communicate what you want and what you don’t. The tension between the architect and the contractor is always one of the characters of this profession. Gladly in most cases our ‘opponents’ and us respected even helped each other to find the solutions both could accept.
LY: One month before the opening of the pavilion, we were obsessed in all the detail problems and still unsatisfied. On the opening day, we were suddenly released when we saw that many visitors inside the China pavilion because we were attracted by how people would use the building.
▼ 中国馆建成效果（摄影：Sergio Grazia）
MORE INFORMATION FROM THE ARCHITECT:
The theme for the China Pavilion is “The Land of Hope”. The project embodies this through its undulating roof form, derived by merging the profile of a city skyline on the building’s north side with the profile of a landscape on the south side, expressing the idea that “hope” can be realized when city and nature exist in harmony. Conceived as a timber structure that references the “raised-beam” system found in traditional Chinese architecture, the Pavilion roof also uses modern technology to create long spans appropriate to the building’s public nature. The roof is covered in shingled panels that reference traditional pottery roof construction, but are reinterpreted as large bamboo leaves that enhance the roof profile while shading the public spaces below. Designed as layered screens, these panels add texture and depth to the Pavilion’s roof and create evocative light and transparency effects below.
Beneath the roof, the building’s ground plane is defined by a landscape of wheat (the “land of hope”) that references China’s agrarian past. This natural landscape transitions seamlessly into an LED multimedia installation in the center that forms the centerpiece of the building’s exhibition program.
The Pavilion’s full exhibition and cultural offerings are experienced as a sequence of spaces, beginning with an exterior waiting area in the landscape, leading to a themed exhibition space with interactive installations and cultural offerings from different Chinese provinces. After this, visitors are guided up a gently sloped public stair to a panoramic viewing platform above the multimedia installation, after which they are guided into a multimedia space featuring a short film focusing on family reunions during China’s annual Spring Festival. This sequence concludes with visitors stepping outside the building onto a platform above the bamboo roof that enjoys expansive views of the Expo grounds.
▼廊桥效果 & 竹板外观
▼ Site Plan
▼Plan at Level 1
▼ Plan at Level 2
▼ Plan at Level 3
▼ Exploded Axonometric 爆炸轴侧
▼ Roof System Diagram 屋面系统
▼ Panel Geometry Rationalization 屋面几何面板优化
▼ Panel Geometry on Roof 屋面面板图纸
▼Panel Types Diagram 屋面面板图纸
▼Building Section and Panel Axon 外表皮构造与建筑剖面
▼ Roof Structural Details 屋面结构节点
▼ Supporter and Waterproofing Axon 结构与防水节点
建筑设计：清华大学美术学院 + Studio Link-Arc（纽约）
项目建筑师: 蔡沁文，Kenneth Namkung
建筑设计团队：Alban Denic, 黄敬璁, 范抒宁, Hyunjoo Lee, Dongyul Kim, Mario Bastianelli, Ivi Diamantopoulou,Zach Grzybowski, Elvira Hoxha, Aymar Mariño-Maza, Yoko Fujita,邓一泓，胡辰
结构工程师: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger + F&M Ingegneria
幕墙顾问: Elite Facade Consultants + ATLV
机电顾问: 北京清尚+ F&M Ingegneria
Project Name: China Pavilion for Expo Milano 2015
Award: First Prize
Client: China Council for the Promotion of International Trade
Organizer: Expo Milano 2015
Architect: Tsinghua University + Studio Link-Arc
Chief Architect: Yichen Lu (Tsinghua University + Studio Link-Arc)
Project Manager: Kenneth Namkung, Qinwen Cai (Studio Link-Arc)
Project Team: Alban Denic, Shuning Fan, Mario Bastianelli, Ching-Tsung Huang, Hyunjoo Lee, Dongyul Kim, Ivi Diamantopoulou, Wei Huang, Zachary Grzybowski, Elvira Hoxha, Aymar Mariño-Maza, Zoe Zhou (Studio Link-Arc)
Architect and Engineer of Record: F&M Ingegneria
Structural Engineer: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger + F&M Ingegneria
Enclosure Engineer: Elite Facade Consultants + ATLV
MEP Engineer: F&M Ingegneria + Beijing Qingshang Environmental Art & Architectural Design
General Contractor: China Arts Construction and Decoration Company + Unique Europe + Bodino Engineering
Model Photo: Zheheng Hong
Architectural Photography: Sergio Grazia
EXHIBITION, LANDSCAPE, & INTERIOR DESIGN
Project Director: Dan Su, (Academy of Arts and Design, Tsinghua University)
Design Director: Yue Zhang, Yi Du (Academy of Arts and Design, Tsinghua University)
Exhibition Design: Yanyang Zhou, Danqing Shi (Academy of Arts and Design, Tsinghua University)
Landscape Design: Xiaosheng Cui (Academy of Arts and Design, Tsinghua University)
Interior Design: Jiansong Wang (Academy of Arts and Design, Tsinghua University)
Lighting Design: Yi Du, Xiaoxi Liu (Academy of Arts and Design, Tsinghua University)
Visual Identity Design: Xin Gu (Academy of Arts and Design, Tsinghua University)