WuliEpoch Culture Center is hybrid between showroom and community center in a residence compound at the fifth ring of West-North Beijing. Surrounded by significant historic sites of Badachu Monastery, Fragrance Hill Mountain, and the Western Hills maintain chain, the project attempts to create a triptych of architecture, landscape and interior design. The architecture and interior put up an immersive show within near and far landscape.
The hearth was the locus in a primitive hut, and the rites of life moved around the hearth. The circumferential path is followed in ritual and religion practices. From a house to a city, people repeat the circumferential path in a church, mosque or Chinese civic structures, which are each the hearth of cities. Instead of merely addressing pragmatic needs, residential related architecture should also deal with people’s deeper spiritual and religious needs. As a community center for a residential compound, the WuliEpoch Culture Center departs from defining the spiritual quest in daily life.
The site for the project is a triangulated, irregular lot embraced by the West Hill mountain chain. Our design brings back the circumferential path to create a spatial dialogue with the encompassing landscape, which is the hearth as we define it in modern life. Landscape is no longer perceived in static frames, but with a dynamic shifting relationship between the eye and the vista. A continuing path moves gradually from exterior to interior in a circumferential way. It hovers up from the ground to the second floor, then turns to the third-floor banquet hall, before exiting to the exterior roofscape. It continues folding up and down on the roof, and then moves gradually along another path down to the ground of the forecourt, where the path begins. Space expands and contracts along the path, echoing the spatial rhythm on the central axis of the Forbidden City. The shifting landscape changes scale as the space changes along the path. The circulation logic aligns with the philosophy of the space, representing and embodying an endless quest from the inner self to the outer landscape in an evolving incarnation that defines the truth of life.
We have constructed a new typology for the courtyard with the curve wall we created. Instead of enclosing space rectangularly, we have walls crisscross one another in multiple levels, creating a rich syntax of irregular courtyards that are varied in size, scale, and sectional relations. Spatial definition is no longer limited to enclosure but, instead, encompasses horizontal suspension, ground demarcation, and the threshold between the tangible and the intangible.
The triangulated courtyards are defined open-endedly, by walls of three levels. The first wall is grounded and rises gradually from floor to roof; the second wall is suspended in the air and pivots to the north from the first wall; the third wall picks up where second wall ends, suspends and expands in a new direction; the fourth, fifth and sixth walls continue pivoting, rising and falling—dancing to the spatial choreography embedded in the valley of the Western Hill. As walls are either open or suspended, and spaces are penetrable, a single architecture element is able to define various courtyards simultaneously. Courtyards no longer have definitive boundaries; rather, there are multiple definitions of layering spaces. The compositional logic for the new courtyard aligns with the cubist substructure. The mathematical model behind the courtyard morphs from Cartesian to projective geometry. Moreover, the definition of the courtyard is broadened, and the courtyards are able to expand from exterior to interior, or even something in-between. The free dialogue among the architectural elements creates a new syntax for a “cubist courtyard”.
The project interprets nature in three ways: first, the interior space depicts nature in a digital fashion. The signature image of “autumn foliage in Western Hills” is depicted the field of glittering wooden laminated aluminum panels. The array of ceiling panels change color from warm yellow to white, suggesting the transition from entrance to skating ring. An “inverted Western Hills” is created by various curving array of ceiling panels; second, first nature and second nature are juxtaposed and joined simultaneously. Recycle concrete blocks are cut into thin pieces and put together to form curving nature surfaces. The hills and waterfalls, created by thin masonry and lighting, show the solidification and abstraction of nature. The contrast between the mortal and immortal nature gives people space to think critically about nature; third, distance landscape is introduced into the interior in a dynamic way. Landscape becomes a living space.
Due to site, budgetary, schedule and construction ability constrains, the execution of the project encounters tremendous challenges. As the site locate near military base, limited excavation depth and blocking in foundation execution are great obstacles for construction. The project team modify construction plan accordingly to keep up with the schedule. On top of that, limited material supply due to the tight construction schedule also affect project delivery. We change the material specified to materials that are available, and we also come up with a more sustainable way to solve the problems. Structure design was also optimized to meet the budget.
Atelier Alter Architects is a cross-disciplinary practice based in New York and Beijing. Constantly redefining boundaries of architecture, the works of Atelier Alter strive for manifesting ideas of significance: ideas that offer critics rather than imitations.
Designing with social agendas, the practice focuses upon culture and civic works since the beginning. By transferring metaphysical context into spaces of historic remembrance, the practice completed projects of Qujing Culture Center, Senior Culture Center, and Yingliang Fossil Museum. Meanwhile, projects of BIT Sport Center, WuliEpoch Culture Center, Yingliang Stone Archive exploded the typological transformation of social and culture spaces. Noted for designing from critical analysis of the site, Atelier Alter Architects has been recognized by numerous awards, including AIA Design Award, German Design Award, BOY Award, AZ Award etc. Meanwhile, works from Atelier Alter Architects has been published and featured worldwide.