Gardens Concrete Cultural Centre in China

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Classical Chinese gardens have shaped the curved white concrete geometries of the Shanfeng Academy, a cultural and sports center in Suzhou of the Chinese studio Open Architecture.

Shanfeng Academy combines a theater, Gallery, library and cafe with sports and dance facilities serving 2,000 students as well as locals in a newly created neighborhood.

Due to the diverse mix of features of the building, Open Architecture decided to divide it into a series of five blocks separated by four-season themed gardens.

Each block has been given its own “unique personality”, the five coming together to create a dynamic roofline of curved, angular and rectilinear shapes.

The curved shapes of the blocks, connected by raised walkways, are modeled on the classic gardens of nearby Suzhou, which are a series of traditional Chinese gardens inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

“The rupture and the separation create voids in the form of four gardens,” explained Open Architecture.

“Between the gardens and the solid voids are the semi-free alleys where the colonnades and their moving shadows define another type of void.”

The largest volume is located at the eastern end of the Shanfeng Academy and contains the Large Theater surmounted by a curved roof that opens onto the bamboo spring garden.

On the other side of the spring garden is the triangular shape of the forum, which contains a black box theater and a “chapel-like” meeting room illuminated by skylights.

To the west, the energy cube houses gyms and dance studios that overlook the veranda from balconies carved into its cuboid shape.

The gym block to the north, meanwhile, has a glazed section at its base and a sports field on its roof. It overlooks the autumn garden and the library, which is organized around a pool of water in the summer garden.

Each block of the Shanfeng Academy is connected by a white concrete surface marked by boards, pierced with irregular square and circular openings that create layers of view through the site.

Visitors can move around the site along raised sidewalks, single-storey paths framed by thin colonnades or on the upper level paved with planting areas.

“White plank concrete is used for the building envelope, both to pay to the traditional architecture with white walls and gray roofs of the Suzhou area, and to solve the problem of traditional white plaster that requires constant maintenance,” said Open Architecture.

“As you move around the building, the architecture changes, with layer by layer of the foreground, the middle and the background,” he continued. “Several threads of time and space continue to coexist and unfold, forming a rich spatial experience full of sensory details.”

Founded in New York in 2003 by Li Hu and Huang Wending, Open Architecture opened its office in Beijing in 2008.

In addition to the Shan Feng Academy, the Studio has designed other cultural projects, including the amorphous Grand Theater in Yichang and a rocky concert hall in a valley outside Beijing.

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