Taicang Art Museum: between art and nature
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Taicang Art Museum: between art and nature

A journey through time and the Jiangnan region

Li Li | Li Jin | Li Shanshan | Song Danfeng | Leng Xianqiang | Chen Jiliang

Taicang Art Museum: between art and nature
By Editorial Staff -

Located to the northwest of Shanghai, the Taicang Art Museum wasn’t designed to be an imitation but a gesture of deep respect in the way it recreates and conserves the past in a project in step with today. The city of Taicang itself is a historic location in the Jiangnan region that gained fame as the birthplace of the important Lou Dong School and for the influence this institution has had on China’s history and art. This project has recreated a typical Chinese garden, along with its traditions, in the heart of a modern city. But the approach of the architects, led by Professor Li Li of Tongji University, was to avoid simply imitating the past, in the awareness of the strong conflict that exists between yesterday and today. They preferred, instead, to create a respectful reinterpretation.

In the middle of a densely built city, the Taicang Art Museum has successfully carved out its own space devoted to contemporary art, while also integrating with the context, traditions, and history of the place.

The springboard for the project was to evoke the deep feelings experienced when we’re in connection with nature – in other words, the aim of traditional Chinese gardens – by creating a harmonious atmosphere that reflects local traditions and incorporates a series of green spaces and pools, the largest of which defines the central courtyard of the building.

As mentioned, the studio has always been aware of a strong conflict between overbearing contemporary buildings and regional traditions. It was precisely for this reason that a strategy was adopted to dematerialize the architecture, resulting in not just one imposing volume but a complex of multiple structures linked to each other and on different scales, thereby creating an interplay of solids, voids, and lightness through the presence of windows and green spaces.


Light, windmill-like architecture

Taicang Art Museum, Li Li, Chen Jiliang, Leng Xianqiang, Song Danfeng, Li Shanshan, Li Jin ©Tian Fangfang, courtesy of the architects

Both the image of a windmill and studies conducted last century by Chinese anthropologist and sociologist Fei Xiaotong played a key role in developing the floorplan of the Taicang Art Museum. Around the main courtyard – but the same applies to the main exhibition space – various functional and exhibition areas are arranged like the blades of a windmill, including, for example, the temporary exhibition area, an art education space, retail outlets, and creative spaces. It’s this different organization of space that has transformed the tradition of arranging rooms around a central garden into a more contemporary approach in which visitors have a sense of moving from one area to the next.

This reflects Fei Xiaotong’s study Differential Sequence: from the entrance to a series of narrowing and twisting spaces, the aim is to awaken the deeper consciousness of visitors. You therefore move along a bamboo path, for example, to arrive at the central and most intimate area of the museum, where you connect with water.

The building as a whole conveys a feeling of lightness and purity, accentuated by the prevalence of white concrete, empty spaces between the various volumes, glazed walls that create a connection between inside and out, and the patios and garden areas. But the interiors are also characterized by clean lines and minimalism, both in their shapes and their essential, neutral palette. A tangle of exposed beams invites the eye to look out into nature.

The complex not only traces the history of local painting, but also has facilities for events and meetings.

>>> Read an extract from the article published in THE PLAN 129 on the Xia Dynasty Museum in Erlitou.


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Location:Taicang, Jiangsu Province, China
Architects: Li Li, Chen Jiliang, Leng Xianqiang, Song Danfeng, Li Shanshan, Li Jin
Built up Area:16650.12 m2
General Contractor: China Construction Third Engineering Group Co., Ltd

Structural consultants: Zhang Zhun, Kuai Beilei, Chen Lei
MEP consultants: Shi Jinyue, Huang Zhidong; Zhu Weichang, Jia Qiong, Xu Qin
Landscape consultants: Li Jiyuan, Liu Chang, Sun Shibo
Lighting consultants: Yang Xiu, Chen Xingru, Xu Xiaqing
BIM consultants: Yao Yuya, Chen Ye, Shen Yinqiu, Lu Anyang, Wang Zhe

Photography by Tian Fangfang, courtesy of the architects

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