前传 | Prelude
I have always regarded the design techniques of Chinese classical garden stated in textbooks such as “Shift of View with Each Step Moving”,“Revealing The Big from The Small”,“Taking in and Looking out for Views” as “history” and never imagined one day they would relate in whatever way to the “modern architecture” I have been doing. While during my visit to the Humble Administrator‘s Garden in Suzhou in the winter of 2004, a couplet on the gateposts “Standing by a deep pool clears one’s mind while climbing to the top of a mountain extends one‘s view” shed light on an issue I have been tackling. At that time, we were doing the design for Estate Group’s headquarters. Owing to its relatively small site and limited floor area, it had been hard for them to find an interior designer willing to cope with the restrictions. Finally, we decided to approach it with the techniques of classical Chinese garden. I took the top two floors, i.e., 16 & 17/F, as a 15x15x6.6m clearing, and arranged various function spaces around “mountain” (the walls of the two-storey high corridor resembling steep cliffs) and “water” (the atrium under the staircase in the middle forming a pond made of smooth and reflective black marble). “Revealing The Big from The Small”, “Shift of View with Each Step Moving”, “Taking in and Looking out for Views” were all embodied. Even the fish (derived from the famous dialogue between Zhuangzi and Huizi during their tour in Haoliang), which is an indispensable element in a typical Chinese garden just as mountain and water, also appeared in the project in a “virtual reality” way.
The essence of Chinese garden lies in its approach to mountain and water while its very truth is to balance virtuality and reality. Beginning with the Estate Plaza project, we have embarked on an “Experiment of Modern Chinese Garden” which has unhooked from the real mountain and water, and could be named “interior architecture”. For a long time we could only do our experiments within the “wall” because the wall is the façade which everyone seems to have a say. But there is hardly a property owner who is really able to read a graphic plan. Therefore, in order to avoid the dilemma that “designers of façade” have to face, we could only try out all our fantasies within the glass curtain wall. However, 12 years later, we finally get a chance to do a project that doesn’t involve “façade design” – functional space per se will be made the appearance, thus function is form – this is the prelude to the ZiNi Twelve Portal Project.
▼改造前的纤维板厂，the original building
▼改造后的建筑鸟瞰，aerial view after renovation
This state-operated mega sugar factory built in 1950’s is almost the size of a town. Every time I looked at the relics enshrouded in the evening light, I found it hard to just walk away. So I went to the property owner of Estate Plaza and persuaded him to take one of the workshop buildings for gentrification. “We can make it a creative tribe! I have so many friends that want to be based here.” After touring around all the workshops over a million square meters, I decided to give up the cement plant that looks like DreamWorks and the distillery that looks like “The Matrix”, and instead, picked this seemingly featureless cardboard workshop simply because there would be no need for struggling over the issue whether the exterior wall should be remained. Moreover, quite coincidentally, the 3-story tower, with its floor area being 15mx18mx6.9m, is very similar to Estate Plaza.
▼由内部空间生成的立面，the facade was defined by the internal functions
Once upon a time, there was a mountain and in the mountain there was a village…
We regard the 3-story tower as a mountain and encourage our “slash youth” friends to take up their share of land pieces. They are all dreamers and wish their studios would have both courtyard and backyard, they would lie in the bathtub while looking up at the starry sky, they would work and live there and sometimes inviting friends to come, while when they don’t use it, it can be put on Airbnb… but most importantly, they want to have a close relationship with their neighbors. Therefore, we attempt to build a “peach garden” (dream house) for them by doing 7 houses of one or two stories and various sizes on the 2nd and 3rd terraces of the “mountain”. This time there is no need to cover it with glass curtain wall. Except some solid part made of granitic plaster remains untouched, the remainder of the exterior wall are opened and extended by 1 meter to form an “extra-thick” border to accommodate gardens of various forms and bathtubs under the starry sky.
▼加厚的旧围墙成为无界社区的门户， the remainder of the exterior wall are opened and extended by 1 meter to form an “extra-thick” border
▼围墙改造后成为活动空间，the exterior wall was transformed into an activity space
The fire escape staircases on the south and the north are connected to form a “mountain path”, along which 7 houses of various sizes and heights are built.
“The Red” is a red “mountain rock” extruding from the corridor. The eastward glass-covered corridor is actually the thinnest gallery, but has accommodated a study, a garden and a semi-open bathroom. Through the skylight, the rhododendron blossoms on the balcony upstairs could be seen.
▼创建邻里关系的垂直社区，a vertical community that creates connection between its neighbours
“The Gate” derives its prototype from the courtyard of a typical southern residence called “bamboo tube house”. On one side there is the staircase leading to the second floor while on the other, a semi-outdoor bathroom. The front garden is part of the street and its entrance into the house is an antique ironwood gate.
▼握手楼，”shaking hand building”
“The Mist” is named after the translucent pavilion placed in the entrance hall, which can be opened and turned into an extension of the sitting room, or used as a separate tearoom, or a bedroom when its door is closed in the evening. The sitting room, though not very spacious, allows one person to read, two persons to play chess, three people to drink and a group to chat at the same time, in the forms of both gathering and scattering around.
▼取景茶室，tea room with a view
▼模糊内外，the blurred boundary between indoor and outdoor space
“The Slope” – a small garden at the entrance connects a maisonette (used as studio and crush room) and an independent suite that can be used as guestroom and put on Airbnb. In the duplex sitting room, after coming up through a spiral staircase allowing for only one person and passing the “immortal bridge”, one will get into a study facing the east and be able to see a green hill in the east through a circular window. The Airbnb suite downstairs is named “Green Field Corner”. Looking through the green glass box toward the north, one will find the field soaked in the morning sunshine looking like a dreamland.
▼沐浴夕阳的梦幻之地，the “Green Field Corner”
▼浴室天窗，the skylight of the shower room
The Summit – in a two-storey high curtilage and above a pond, a covered slope leads to the second floor and “light is dimly visible”, similar to what’s described in the <The Peach Blossom Spring>. Upon stepping on the terrace on the second floor, it suddenly become bright open and one could see the setting sun accompanied by the water flowing westward under a tall chimney.
▼池水上盘旋通往二楼的坡道，covered slope leads to the second floor
3 floor U West ： 6.9m,最多可以做几层？在这个西北角，被切割成4.3m+2.6m，2.6m是溪口首层的小卧室；4.3m是一个带阁楼的Studio，38平方米的占地搭建了±0.00、+0.500、+2.000、+2.300共四个标高，分别是工作室兼厨房客厅、Playgrannd、浴池（湿）兼读书（干）、卧室。登上屋顶花园，四周山峦起伏，脚下“五岭逶迤腾细浪”，真彷如在高山之巅对月放歌……
3 floor U West: The Sky – with a 6.9m ceiling height, how many floors can be made maximally? In this northwest corner, there is a small bedroom of 4.3m+2.6m，2.6m on the first floor and a studio with an attic of 4.3m. On the 30 sqm area there are four standard heights of ±0.00, +0.500, +2.000 and +2.300 for function space serving as studio/kitchen/sitting room, playground, bathtub (wet), study (dry) and bedroom respectively. Standing in the rooftop garden at night and looking at the surrounding “mountains” like rolling waves, one can’t help but sing aloud in the shining moonlight as if standing on top of a high mountain…
▼共享厨房，the shared kitchen
Although in the end the property owner became so fond of the 7 houses that he was reluctant to rent it out on a long-term basis and instead, had it transformed into a hotel, I believe this would be a hotel demonstrating the highest social spirit. No matter which suite you pick, you will find all the other guests are neighbors instead of strangers. This will be a dwelling experience entirely different from that delivered by traditional hotels.
▼配合空间的原创艺术品，original art pieces created for the project
Caves in a Devine Mountain Ideal for both Accommodation and Traveling
▼立面激活人与人的交流，the facade stimulates the communication
In his book <Transparency>, Colin Rowe wrote that with “its extensive transparent areas”, the Bauhaus dormitory realized the kind of “transparency of overlapping planes” in analytical cubism; while by contrast, Le Corhusier’s villa at Garches is primarily occupied with the planar qualities and a transparency is effected not through the agency of a window but rather through the primary concepts which “interpenetrate without optical destruction of each other.” We may say that Colin didn’t “design” the elevation but through graphic design, the façade is constructed (or generated) by space directly. In the ZiNi Twelve Portal Project, we build 7 small houses on two platforms and through the courtyard and backyard of the houses jointly with the “illegal structure”, its façade is thus constructed. Dong Yugan wrote in his essay <Appreciating Rockwork as Mountain> that “In Guo Xi’s mountain and water works, the scenic spots and resorts in mountains are often named after pavilions, terraces and towers; while in this painting by Li Gonglin, there are lots of caves and maintain terraces that become classical combination for maintain dwelling thanks to their remarkable resemblance to pavilions, terraces and towers.” We are attempting to interpret the transparency described by Colin into Li Gonglin’s <Mountain Villa> – a peep into the courtyards and sitting rooms of the mountain villas would lure one to explore further. The fragmented façade surely doesn’t need to be unified in terms of material and color in the name of minimalism. The entire Zi Ni Tang Park was undergoing constant construction and development from 1950’s to 1990’s and has thus become a museum of building materials. We just picked one piece from its history and used 13 kinds of material to build 7 houses in order to simulate the free state of a private property. The unique façade consisted of a pile of seemingly “unauthorized construction” constitutes shortcuts for the neighbors and their pets to drop around, so the people here would be as happy as those living in mountain caves and dwellings.
Both the experiment of “Internal Architecture” and interpretation of <Transparency> can be said to be attempts to blur the boundaries between the interior and the exterior, and to bring Nature into architecture in an either abstract or concrete way. This project adopts an approach of “broadening the border” to turn the surface, on which the space depends, into space per se, thus making the definitions of both interior and exterior ambiguous. Upon completion of the mountain villa, we found it a bit too abrupt to “reveal the mountain view through an open door”. It just happened that there was an aged wall with a gap in front of the building. Why not use it as gate to the mountain? Again, by way of “broadening the border”, we used a new wall to enclose the old one and created a venue for lute-playing, chess, calligraphy, and painting (the four hobbies of Chinese ancient literati). Of course, it can also be used for barbeque, film showing, party and selfie taking…