One of China’s leading architectural practices, Neri&Hu has designed an art centre within the Aranya seaside resort community, located in Beidaihe New District, Qinhuangdao in Hebei province. The building, spanning 1500 m2, explores the nexus between space for art versus communal space. Despite the straightforward brief of an art centre, Aranya, as a community has a strong emphasis on the spiritual nature of their lifestyle ideology, an oneness with the environment. So the design scheme is as much about the internal courtyard, a communal space for the residents, as it is about the exhibition being displayed in the centre. Drawing inspiration from the seasonal ocean waters nearby — azure and calm in the summers, and splintered ice though winter — the building design attempts to encapsulate the natural wonder of water at its core. The scheme maximises its outer footprint but carves out a pure conical geometry at the center with a stepped amphitheater at the base. The central void space can be reconfigured and used in many ways, a water feature when filled with water, but also a functional performance and gathering place when the water is drained. The exhibition galleries above benefit from the public space integration, but it also makes the project much more than just a place for display, it is also a place for sharing. Within the thick mass of the building volume is a series of interlocking spaces that visitors can meander freely within, slowly ascending, enjoying a choreographed journey with directed views both inward and outward. Gallery spaces are about the enjoyment of art. This project is no different in that regard, a spiraling path leads you through all the spaces, urging you onwards by the desire to see more. Starting at the bottom with the café, multi-purpose gallery, and an outdoor amphitheatre, the path guides visitors through five distinct galleries, culminating at the rooftop where you get 360-degree viewing of the activities below.
Composed primarily of various textured concretes, with and without aggregate, the façade and materiality of the building is heavy in nature, like a solid rock sitting firmly in the shifting environment. Smooth surfaces reflect the changing skies, while the molded modular units pick up on the play of shadows throughout the day. Bronze elements act as accents on the heavy façade to catch light and draw attention to the entry of each gallery. Custom lighting and details add a touch of intricacy to the otherwise modest palette. In the evening, open modules allow light to shine through, the building is a jewel at the core of this seaside community.
Photo courtesy: Pedro Pegenaute, Zhi Xia