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Nanjing Sifang Art Museum

Steven Holl Architects

Nanjing Sifang Art Museum
By Yehuda Safran -

In 1805, Sir John Barrow asked the emperor of China why the court painter refused to use perspective, the emperor responded that the imperfections of the eye are not a sufficient justification to represent object in nature as imperfect. Invited by Arata Isozaki to participate in this project of China International Practical Exhibition of Architecture on the Pearl Spring north of Nanjing, designing the first architecture museum in China, Steven Holl was drawn to consider the Chinese way of representing depth and volume.
He was inspired by the ancient method of parallel horizontal divisions, with different layers that create the illusion of depth and relative height by other means than western perspective. By resorting to this alternative way of representation he liberated himself not only from the convention attached to perspective as a method of representation, but from much else which belongs to Western architecture - certain detachment from the surrounding - instead he was able to obtain a complete otherness.
Now, far from Nanjing, surrounded by a series of walls of human height, in black-rammed earth, the building assumes its full measure as if by gathering the lines on the ground. Indeed, there again, there is the part of the building, which is below the ground, the auditorium, tea house and the curator lodging, exhibition spaces on the ground and above the ground. It does capitulate the narrative by offering a magnificent view of the landscape from above with the city of Nanjing in the distance. As if to say that architecture is of the city where ever else it is geographically. The walls are dividing the ground and the lower part of the building cast in blackened concrete that was poured in forms made of bamboo cut in half.
The result is brutalism with the finest grain. It emphasizes the embryonic connection between the walls and the building. It is a tower with a depth, it prefigures the horizontal skyscraper in Shenzhen in so far as it...

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