"In early 2021, we were approached by the town of Donglin in Leshan to design a rural complex building for the local village. Since its establishment, Studio Dali Architects has been working on the ‘Architecture program for public welfare’, with two non-profit design quotas each year for projects that genuinely hope to make a beneficial change to the local village through design but cannot afford the normal design fees. We hope to enable more ordinary people to experience the changes brought about by design. This idea resonated with the officials in charge of Donglin Town, and thus began the design of this project. "
——李烨 Li Ye
▲ 方案视频介绍 ©时地建筑
What does a lively life look like? People walking in the streets, the sound of bargaining in the market, steam rising from food stalls... Throughout history, the liveliest place in China has always been the marketplace, known as "ganchang" in Sichuan and Chongqing, where people from miles around come to shop and socialize.
Donglin Town, named after its abundant forests and bustling markets, is located in the dual-heritage city of Leshan. Due to its remote location and lack of transportation, Donglin has remained relatively unknown and underdeveloped, with few public spaces for community activities.
As of early 2021, the town's permanent population was approximately 5,000, with over 80% being elderly. Like many rural areas, Donglin has faced the challenges of hollowing out and an aging population in the process of urbanization. Nevertheless, we have observed a demand for public space in hollowed-out towns.
Contrary to the initial impression of emptiness, the marketplace scene is bustling with people haggling over prices at the center and others sitting around drinking tea and watching on the periphery. These scenes form a "memory handbook" of the local area, which has been passed down through history and has become a cultural source and emotional bond that helps maintain the town's regional identity.
As a cultural center for three villages and one town, the project contains several comprehensive public functions such as villagers' services, a village supermarket, a reading room, an old’s activity room, a children’s activity room, a meeting room, an exhibition of village specialties and a live broadcast studio, which has the potential to gather popularity as a public space. How to extend the "Hustle-and-bustle" to daily life? How to integrate the "familiarity of life" of the town residents into the building? In our observation, research and design practice, we are constantly exploring the answers.
Donglin Town is located in the plain and shallow hill landform commonly seen in the Sichuan Basin and a narrow Donglin River runs through the town, linking the town with several villages. The Baiguo Bridge on the river is the boundary of three villages and one town, and the building is located on a rectangular plot of land at the head of the Baiguo Bridge.
Observing the spatial form of the town, due to the influence of the river and hill geography and the main road along the river, the town has a linear development, unfolding along the main street along the river. Therefore, the main life of the residents is mostly distributed between the two sides of the main street and the branch lanes formed along the street. As a continuation of the public space of the town, we hope that the spatial experience of the building can be related to the original formation of the settlement, and that the "street feeling" familiar to the residents can be continued in the building to create a more intimate environment for local people to communicate.
The design of the building emphasizes the openness of the cultural space, with a variety of different functions converging under one roof, which is open to the public without any obstruction, and villagers can freely access the under-roof space at any time. By arranging and adjusting the internal space in a staggered way, an open "main street" that runs through the building and open spaces such as "alleys," "courtyards," "terraces," and "corridors" of different scales are formed around the main street.
In the center of the main street, a gabled courtyard space is set aside with bamboo tables and chairs, forming a social scene of the old Sichuan "The traditional way of drinking tea", where the elderly, children, tourists, government workers and volunteers are expected to gather with relaxation. This open approach responds to the local climate and culture of Sichuan and also adapts to the public life patterns of different groups, creating the possibility of multiple wandering paths.
The foundation of creating a vibrant community lies in daily life. In rural areas, public spaces serve as the carrier of daily productive and living activities, accumulating into indispensable collective memories over time. Meanwhile, the collective local memories also influence the sense of belonging and recognition of the villagers towards their village. Therefore, we hope to continue and deepen the villagers' collective local memories through the design of new public spaces.
By constructing a diverse and dynamic social space to meet the need for belonging of different groups, such as the elderly, children, tourists, and government staff, while also fostering an approachable and familiar social environment to encourage people to chat, produce, live, work, participate in activities, and enhance their interactions to form collective memories with local characteristics.
For towns like Donglin, which are hollowed out and aging, it is important to record, print and transmit identifiable cultural forms such as the unique local customs, local folklore and so on, thus forming a new "cultural memory site" to counteract the gradual disappearance of regional cultural identity.
The design adopts various ways to control the cost and strive to achieve more spatial value within the limited funds. The building structure uses a low-tech modular structure, with a concrete frame structure for the main body and a steel-wood hybrid structure for the roof, which is economical and easy to construct. The building nodes are simplified, with a limited number of wall construction nods used throughout the building, increasing its richness through arrangement and combination. All building materials were selected from common materials found within 50 kilometers of the project site, emphasizing locally sourced, rough and fine materials. These measures successfully controlled the construction and decoration costs within 1,500 yuan per square meter, while also creating a spatial experience for the building that is both simple and rich.
In the shaping of the spatial atmosphere of the building, emphasis is placed on the material textures of the roof and ground. while a more abstract surface is intentionally used at the intermediate level, the wall level, which weakens the material properties of the walls. The purpose of this strategy is to create a more clearly readable spatial order.
The roof and floor of the building are more monolithic and large-scale geometric planes, so the materiality of the steel shingle roof and terrazzo floor is preserved, and the detailing is added to weaken their sense of scale and emphasize their significance as a spatial ambience definition. The walls are rich in transitions and spatial treatments, so a soft grey cement paint is used to reduce the sense of materiality and make the human experience more focused on spatial transitions and changes in light and shadow. The door and window openings are made of wood and metal, and the use of material texture fragments in abstraction attracts people's attention, indicating the intention of the building's openings to promote communication and interaction.
The Donglin Town Cultural Center was immediately welcomed by the local residents and is now the most vibrant public space in the local village. We can observe that various localized design strategies have increased the connection between the building and the local area, making the building more integrated into the local environment and making the new architectural space more accessible to the local residents, thus creating an emotional connection. It is expected that the new building will not only serve a functional purpose, but also bring a new identity and inspiration to the local area.
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