The Majiabang Culture Museum is located in the southwest district of the Jiaxing Economic and Technological Development Zone, a suburban area. To the southwest of the museum lies a protected Majiabang culture area, where just a few vestiges remain of the Neolithic Majiabang culture dating back 7,000 years. To the north and east of the museum lies the so-called Development Zone: an expanse of grasslands, rice fields, and water networks long left untouched, making the site a luxuriant natural setting. A relatively empty, unrestricted context gives architects a freedom that can, however, be a big challenge: how to build something in such a seemingly disorderly environment?
The open environment induced extension rather than vertical development, creating a set of buildings - most of them just one story, and only a few a little higher. In fact, the highest building stands 18 m tall. Running along the edge of the site, the building is reached from a road and a long walkway up to the entrance. It seems as if the architect has customized an irregular hexagonal “building-block box”, placing several blocks of different shapes, sizes, and heights into a box, and then removing parts of each box to create voids or courtyards. The volume rises and falls to match the natural gradient, and is lower towards the flat open ground and ancient ruins.
Extremely simple in design, this building-block box uses the same material and color through to imbue a strong sense of integrity and introversion. Standing outside, you cannot tell how the building blocks are fitted into the building-block box. The curiosity aroused encourages you to enter and find out. However, once inside, you have a completely different spatial experience. The architect has not only organized the functions in an orderly manner, he has also arranged spaces that are both dense and open, carefully making the walkway pass through the connections between different building volumes and the outdoor courtyards. The main entrance to the building is located on the north side. A canopy across the outer entrance divides the original trapezoidal space into two parts: the pathway and a courtyard. Visitors need to pass through the covered pathway and enter the wedge-shaped courtyard to enter the hall. Inside, the hall spreads out horizontally, its white geometrically patterned ceiling echoing the lines of the sloping roof. The expanse of the hall is broken by a middle courtyard. From here, you can see the glass window at the west end, beyond which lies the Majiabang culture archeological site. Visitors can follow the exhibition route to enter the exhibition center, and from there move to the west end to the observation platform to look out over the Majiabang site. Or they can simply walk out of the building-block box through another outdoor courtyard.
The concrete chosen as the main building material was poured into timber formwork to produce a surface texture simulating a wooden structure. The warm brown tones were achieved by adding iron oxide to the cement mix, giving the rough geometrical building a soft-looking surface that recalls the pottery found on the Majiabang culture site. As well as adding a sense of history to the building, the warm earthy shades also echo the colors of the surrounding soil, rice fields, and grasslands.
The Majiabang Culture Museum appears like a building-block box set in the wilderness, the courtyards serving as the breathing apparatus of the box. The extended layout, gently undulating lines, and warm tones give balance to the huge original volume. Combined with the simple landscape around the courtyards and site, the building appears not only immersed in the natural landscape but an essential element of it - almost as if it has always been there. Indeed, the relationship between different landscapes and the consequent need to adopt different strategies to achieve a rapport have always been an important part of Zeng Qun’s architecture. The project for Theme Pavilion of the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, and the Changsha International Convention & Exhibition are somewhat similar. Both projects stand in wide, open spaces detached from urban or cultural centers in areas in the throes of transformation. Large open spaces themselves, the projects mimic their surroundings. Zen Qun used a simple extended square plan, combined with materials such as perforated stainless steel panels and screen glass curtain walls to allow the huge buildings to match the large empty sites and embody strength but at the same time lightness.
The two campus buildings - the College of Arts & Media of Tongji University in Jiading, and the Jiangsu Suzhou Experimental Middle
School - are also built on extensive sites. Accordingly, the design focuses on the relationship between interior and exterior spaces. The centralized layout of the College of Arts & Media of Tongji University in Jiading exploits the different heights of the surroundings and the transition from interior to exterior, while the emphasis in the Jiangsu Suzhou Experimental Middle School is the connection between the rhythmic courtyard and the building mass.
In stark contrast to these projects far from the city center is the Shanghai Qiyuan (Chess Academy), located on the prosperous West Nanjing Road, almost in the “heart” of Shanghai city. Given the long narrow site, the architect opted for a very different building typology to the previous extensive plans. In keeping with the site, the Chess Academy is a simple vertical volume. The body of the building is white, the shapes and entrances on the east, west and south sides almost
self-effacing. Although contrasting with its surroundings, it does not appear out of place. In fact, the white of the new building links in with the white panels of the existing building stock. Although the north façade is more varied, making the building stand out from its neighbors, it nonetheless appears fairly well integrated into the existing street texture and urban landscape.
Renovation of No.1 Bus Station is a reconstructed former vertical parking silo, now serving as the office building for the Tongji Architectural Design Group. A new story was cantilevered over the top of the old building, and a special volume inserted on the ground floor to accommodate the new function. The different colors and shapes of the old and new volumes underline the parallel extension of the original parking lot, but at the same time blend the different pieces together, giving the new building a harmonious completeness that fits seamlessly into the street landscape.