Located on the Changjiang Road, Nanjing, the Old National Art Gallery, built in 1936, was the first art museum in Chinese modern history. Architect Xi Fuquan (1902-1983), who studied in Germany, returned to China in 1929 with his Ph.D. degree awarded by Berlin Technical University and designed National Art Gallery (1936) for Nanjing, the capital city of China. Xi’s works are presented in form of simplicity, integrating traditional Chinese elements into details, standing as the representatives of the New Nationalism Architecture in the early 20th century of China.
The National Art Gallery was completed on December 27, 1936, and opened in the next April. Although the building survived after the war broke out later, yet it was then used for other purposes. Not until the September of 1960 it was renamed as "Jiangsu Art Museum", which is still in use today.
The year of 2017 was the 80th anniversary of the Old National Gallery, and it was scheduled to re-open to the public during the Chinese New Year's holiday. To meet the security requirements for the use of public buildings, additional facilities were in need. Since the existing spatial condition could not accommodate additional facilities, an entry pavilion was decided to be built up at the square of the front entrance, to re-organize visitors’ circulations and the outdoor space of the front square.
The gallery is enclosed by low courtyard walls. A central axis appears from Chang Jiang Road to the square of front entrance strictly symmetrizes the layout. Three doors partitioned by columns make the front gate, east and west sides respectively locating a square flat top guard room. Granite-paved square welcomes visitors into front courtyard, leading them straight to the front entrance of the main hall. Two sweet-scented osmanthus trees, two Ornamental columns and two flagpoles are symmetrically distributed from South to North. Both sides of the square are occupied by lawns, ornamented with tall and straight cedars symmetrically. Viewing from the central axis from Chang Jiang Road, the main building, framed by multilayered courtyard gate, sweet-scented osmanthus trees, columns, cedars, appears to be dignified.
The newly added entry pavilion cannot violate the historical symmetrical layout spread along the central axis and should avoid the destruction of the lawns and trees on the site. Thus, the construction is basically limited to the area behind the guard room, and between the columns and lawns.
This design chooses the existing sweet-scented osmanthus tree in the site as the starting point, encircling and holding it up in the shape of a “flower-vase”, the continuous roof extending towards the north and gradually narrowing, passing through the columns and lawns, terminating at the edge of the lawn. The contour of designed form draws back at the front edge of the guard room, the roof height aligning with its upper window edge, and slightly lower than the ornamented column. The whole body is hidden behind the guard room. The narrowing curved contour leaves space between the guard room and column. The curve of cornice delicately varies the visual perspective, pulling the main building forward, facing towards the audience.
The sweet-scented osmanthus tree becomes the transitional node linking the internal and external space. The flower vase, encircling the sweet-scented osmanthus tree, introduces light beneath the roof, with the shadow of trees wobbling in the breeze. Under the guidance of the sweet-scented osmanthus tree and the generated light-shadow effect, audiences step into the entry pavilion, the unique spatial configuration offering an innovative view of this historic building during their movement. This path stepping into art is filled with refreshing fragrance, specifically in Septembers and Octobers.
The continuous and homogenized form, together with construction conditions of the site, determines the light-weighted structure and its construction method of assembling prefabricated pieces. The main body of the pavilion employs steel structure, with GRC (glass fiber reinforced concrete) entirely shaping the envelope and surfaces. Due to the transport restrictions on site, the entire form was divided into 26 pieces, prefabricated in the factory, and assembled on site.
The finishment of the old gallery’s façade is artificial stone coated, most of which staying intact after 80 years, the coarse coating even presenting a sense of persistence after vicissitude. The sample of GRC surface layer was made to imitate the appearance of the artificial stone coating. During material mixing, larger particles of gravel were added. The surface was chisel pitched before it got hardened. "suspended artificial stone" makes the entry pavilion and the old gallery integrate as a seamless whole.
The curved roof gently holds up the sweet-scented osmanthus tree, the space tying a knot under the tree, slipping into the low and flat shadows. Accompanied by the delicate variations of somberness and brightness of the tree’s shadow and its subtle fragrance, audiences step away from the street hubbub, and enter into history and art…
This project took two and a half months, from design to the completion of construction. Osmanthus Vase -entry pavilion was completed on schedule for the 80th anniversary of National Gallery of Fine Arts. Taciturn material shapes flowing space and light, and the new structure is wished to be admitted by the 80-year long art history, jointly with the old gallery, enjoying their upcoming time in peace, and imprinting momentos.
Tong ZHANG, born in Hangzhou, China, is Professor and Deputy Dean of School of Architecture, Southeast University. His research focuses on sustainable urban and architecture design, architectural regionalism under the trends of globalization with 7 published works and more than 40 papers on core periodicals. He has presided over the design work of more than 20 projects and has been awarded national and provincial design prize for 15 times, including 2003 China Young Architect Award, 2006 ASC National Young Architect Award, and 2016 Jiangsu Master Designer. His design works, research and teaching achievements has been selected to take part in several significant exhibitions including 2010 the 12th and 2016 the 15th Venice Biennale of Architectural, 2004 China International Architectural Exhibition, 2011 UIA Tokyo Congress “Chinese Architecture, Progressing Footprints” and 2014 UIA Durban Congress “Contemporary Chinese Architecture under the Proceeding of Globalization”.