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Edited By Li Xiangning - 31 May 2018

The first project by Naturalbuild, which was widely noticed by professionals and covered in social media, is the Lostvilla Boutique Hotel in Yucun, located in a small town called Moganshan in Southern China. The design bears a clear echo of Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza’s design language, but compared to Siza’s philosophy of architecture and space as the sole visual focus, the Lostvilla is more of a place to observe rather than an object to watch: what you feel inside this environment is space; space that constantly reminds you of the outdoor scenery, and this makes you look away from the architecture itself. This approach is eminently suitable for the needs of a mountain resort. Guests are not expected to be brainwashed by the architect nor to worship their architecture; they are offered perspectives for viewing and enjoying nature. And all the while, the delicate and well-designed details of a variety of materials provide a comfortable place to relax. Naturalbuild was invited to create Soft Matter for an outdoor installation and extension of the Lin Gang exhibition, as part of the Shanghai Urban Space Art Season 2017-18 that I curated. This project may be viewed as a reflection of the ultimate exploration of materials and structures in stripped-down, simple architectural form. Their building leverages the most basic themes of architecture: covering and support. The covering material is polyurethane foam, sprayed onto both sides of a grid and reinforced with structures pre-stressed by using hanging weights. At the same time, curved steel bars forged using meticulous structural calculations were added to the supporting steel frame to control exactly how it deforms. The design strikes a perfect balance between the precision of the structure, its flexibly-shaped covering, and the rough material that stays close to the natural landscape. Jiading RV Camp Center may be seen as an overlapping example of the two projects cited above. Its steel/wood hybrid structural skeleton, which has the advantage of being quick to build, can be used for interior walls. At the same time, the wall with exposed wooden beams and a free upper portion shows off its exquisite structural design. The large interior space extends horizontally, contrasting with the outdoor scale-like, cabin-style siding. Yushan Island Hotel adopts a similar monolithic design approach, but on a larger, more group-friendly scale. The monolithic complex continues the solid feel of its lower foundation area, while offering an open blend of landscapes through its large-format glass windows above. Each of the main interior spaces boasts a landscape window that internalizes the spatial experience of the landscape, bringing the garden into the building itself. The central design of the columns in the buildings’ interior reveals the influence of typical contemporary residences in Japan. The typical low table-equipped area in the ground floor living room dialogues with traditional dwelling features, such as a brazier and mantlepiece. Taken together, these few works show how a building based on a sloping roof can be simplified into an abstract polyhedron. In each part of the process, no matter whether material is transferred or a window hole opened up, two or more stylistic approaches are seldom allowed to clash. Moderate and succinct, at all times clear-cut and never lost in unnecessary detail - such is my most intuitive experience from looking at Naturalbuild’s work. What impresses me about their ability to deal with form is their meticulous sense of balance and their control over design. They clearly know what their goals are; and they know when to down tools and avoid over-design. This “natural” balance is very rare among young architects of their age. This architects’ practice, located in the increasingly internationalized city of Shanghai, has brought its own language to the sphere of contemporary Chinese architecture: one that, while rooted in the Jiangnan architectural tradition of China, employs contemporary accuracy and clarity. Clues for how to interpret the source of Naturalbuild’s architectural ideas lie in the educational background of the practice’s partners: Tongji University in China, and Princeton University in the United States.

#Chen Hao   #China  #Asia  #Naturalbuild  #Letter from China  #The Plan 107 

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