A Contemporary Take on Ritual and Tradition
Just before and after the Ching Ming Festival, is the best time to produce one of the best green teas in China: Hangzhou Longjing. The gentle rains during this season make Hangzhou resemble an ink painting. In the city’s most famous temple, the Lingyin, a tea room and guest house complex in a modest contemporary garden was finally completed after several years of design and construction.
The architect of this small garden, Wang Shu, had the idea of a small complex combining a tea, guest house and garden while enjoying tea and chatting with the monks of the Lingyin Temple. Of course, the monks first had to accept that the architect would not copy traditional Chinese styles, but adopt a contemporary language that they might not fully understand.
For Wang Shu, the contemporary and the traditional are inseparable. So, although the monks may have thought it a little eccentric, he built a simple style tearoom in the middle of a Song Dynasty courtyard. Six guest rooms, observation pavilion, veranda, stairs and pool are arranged in a narrow C-shape adjacent to the edge of the couryard wall. These garden elements create a small world that is both an abstract interpretation of the traditional garden but also a metaphor: taken as a whole, the construction resembles an artificial hill, the curving weaving stairs and verandas giving symbolically different views onto the garden. The design echoes the curved shape of the small
hill-like studio at Xiangshan School Campus, the red/gray collage of the Ningbo Museum of Art, and the winding walkable roof of Shui’an Shan Ju hotel in Hangzhou. Wang Shu has here brought together large and small elements of previous works, presenting them in an even more contemporary way.
A very rare kind of Chinese architect, Wang Shu has developed and insists on using his own original formal language. Experiment and exploration have always been the hallmark of his work, continually reproduced but always in a way that best suits the particular place and project. Respectful of tradition and beholden to the wisdom of Chinese architecture, he relies amply on his personal experience and inclinations.
His projects are always the result of the architect’s accumulated experience and development, combined with his passion for culture, history, tea, zen, and the gardens of the very special city of Hangzhou. The shape of the Song Dynasty courtyard, the porcelain with the traditional pink and plum colored glazes fired in the kilns of Longquan are all features of the building.
The artificial hill, pond, and overhanging eaves provide an introverted space as you climb up the steps to reach the top of the roof to be rewarded with a full view of the garden. The seats are created from folds in the porcelain-clad intrados of the roof. Diamond-shaped gaps give views between the buildings onto the courtyard and surrounding urban fabric. Gazing over this intricate landscape looking out towards the city and mountains, the observer has a keen sense of the history and future of Chinese architecture.