Xiaoshi Village is 60 kilometers away from Chengdu, located on the edge of the Sichuan Basin, and on the Longmen Mountains, which is on the north of Chengdu Plain. It has experienced a boom in coal mining, but has been transformed back into a normal village since the collapse of the mining industry in the 2008 earthquake. Since 2016, with excellent community governance and orderly village architecture practice, the public space system of Xiaoshi Village has been formed and the community has developed gradually.
We think that this building could be a turning point for Xiaoshi village to go out, which would make the community development gradually turn from inward-oriented type into external-oriented one with more contact and communication with the outside world. Therefore, we hope that this building can bring some difference to the local community. In addition to the spatial heterogeneity, it should also be more visually recognizable. But all this should be related to the daily life of the community. In other words, it should be a heterogeneous space integrated into the the community, a symbol that reminds the community of its connection with the outside world, and it should bring enthusiasm to the repeated daily life of the community.
The site is located at the entrance of the village, at the junction of two mountains and a river, with mountains and the main road on the north and a river on the south, decreasing gradually from west to east. The original red line was a 11,340 sq m comprehensive land plot. Considering the limited rural land resources, we tried to put the buildings on the edge of the plot as much as possible, leaving about two-thirds for later development.
There is a path with many pedestrians that connects two communities. We want to keep this path with memories of the rural community life, so that the building can be placed in the triangle on the left side of the path, which is basically in line with the plan, saving land to the greatest extent. This path will also be left for pedestrians. It is hoped that this strategy can allow more people to pass by this building and notice it, bringing more opportunities for future development.
After the site was chosen, we began to explore how to make the building with more than 1,000 square meters both a "landmark" and "affinity" for the community. If the scale is too small, then it does not fit in this land of 11,340 sq m; If the scale is too large, it will alienate the community.
We found that the triangular site can make the building more dynamic. When you walk from the two sides of the community, you face the end of the building, where the scale is small; And if you pass through the main road, you can see the more complete side, where the scale is large. Therefore, we adapt the plane of the building to the site and design it into a natural curve shape close to triangle, so that the building can sit on the site in a gentle posture, embracing the villagers who pass by from sunrise to sunset every day, and greeting visitors to the village with courtesy.
What’s different about about a rural art center? The difference is that in the city, the exhibition is usually in a closed environment, while in the countryside, nature itself is an exhibit, and we wanted to integrate the exhibition into the countryside through the design. The middle part of the building is designed as a circular atrium, which could include the surrounding natural environment, like mountains, sky, breeze and rain, and the historical memories of Xiaoshi Village, such as the railway bridge site. Standing in the atrium, you can feel the vitality of nature and the history of Xiaoshi village, which was prosperous because of coal mining.
We wanted the experience in this building to be as intimate as in a rural community, so there were no specific entrances and exits. In order to let people come and go freely, there were entrances and exits on each side of this triangle building. A circular line is designed around the central courtyard, and at the same time, it is possible that people can walk back and forth inside the building, so that people and people, people and nature, people and exhibits can meet again and again.
With transparent glass walls in different directions, the interior space is alternately filled with exhibitions and rural landscapes, reminding people that they are in the forest and inspiring their desire for nature.
The dynamic shape of the roof also enriches the spatial experience of the interior. The rolling mountains and running rivers slide quietly to the earth like ribbons, rising and falling one after another. The roof creates a pleasing sense of movement and vitality, bringing a soft feeling. Whether people are in the central courtyard or on the outer road, their every single move will give them a different view, which attracts visitors to go further and further.
The Art Design Center connects the village with the outside world and is a "bridgehead" that must be passed to enter the village. Therefore, it adopts a materials that are different from what are used in the village, like Chinese-style tile, bamboo, and granitic plaster. Due to the environmental protection and construction cycle, a steel-wood hybrid structure is adopted, and the array of wooden beams can better reflect the dynamic space formed by the roof.
The air conditioning and water and electricity system are all underground, increasing the roof space and making the it cleaner and more complete. The envelope uses aerated concrete blocks with rammed earth paint, and the character of the rammed earth can be echoed with the dynamic space, enhancing the spatial experience of the design.
When the main body of the building was completed and the indoor construction had not begun, the Art Design Center ushered its first exhibition, and the whole building was "half presented" in a hurry. In fact, we did not want to admit that it was completed. At the same time, Xiaoshi village also ushered in the China Homestay Industry Development Conference, with many tourists coming to the Art Design Center to visit, and the building once became the "protagonist". But as the exhibition and convention came to an end, the doors of the Art and Design Center were closed. We have been waiting for this building to be used for daily activities, after all, it is difficult to design a building that has only been used once.
It was not until this August, when we visited Xiaoshi again, that we changed our mind. Villagers walk past the building every day on their way home, some of them walk around it for a few times, and others wander in after dinner. The building just stands silent by the river, like a church, silent but conspicuous.
We feel that villagers’ daily "passing-by" may be the meaning of its existence, and it is also a container for art to grow in the countryside. We are willing to share this staged rural practice candidly with our readers. Perhaps the art space in the country road still needs a long time to explore, we are still full of expectations and imagination for the future.
Our study of Xiaoshi Village has been going on for five years, and the focus has been on the enhancement of community values and the integration with culture and industry. The project came about as a way to build a regional planning and art gallery, attracting more and more cultural and artistic projects to the local community.
In the planning of the project, we also considered other uses of the space in the future, and its connection with community activities. Therefore, we paid great attention to its flexibility. The building can be used only as an exhibition, but it can also provide other services, such as research and business.
It is hoped that this building can become a destination to attracting people to see exhibitions or participate in activities. At ordinary time, it is open to the public as part of community. Hopefully, tourists can have this building on the must-visit list in Xiaoshi village, so that they can stay longer and experience the unique lifestyle in rural communities.
I don’t think we have ambitions to reconstruct a new culture in Xiaoshi Village. In our plan, firstly we want to guide and cultivate the original local culture; and secondly we should increase its contact with the outside culture, so as to make it further iterate a little bit to develop into a unique culture.
The Community Culture Center is for the first step, allowing the original culture to grow on its own and emerge gradually; while the Art Design Center is for the second step, increasing the communication between the local culture and external world, and providing opportunities for future development and change. It is hoped that Xiaoshi village can become more inclusive and have more possibilities while maintaining its own identity, so that the once damaged local culture and values can be regenerated, and the local life can be gradually reconstructed.