Shou County Culture and Art Center
Shou County Culture and Art Center, located in Central China, was built in a new city southeast of the old town, on what used to be empty, flat farmland with a lack of landscape features. Many new tall, generic buildings surround the area and fail to reflect the local climate and local culture. The county government did not insist on specific design requirements but demanded the project to “be built quickly and completed next year.” The building needed to include an art gallery, cultural center, library, and archive.
Zhu Pei investigated the cultural roots of Shou County, observing old dwellings and ruins, and identifying how ancestors sought a balance between the primal force of nature and active construction without modern technologies. The inward-oriented living patterns of the vertical courtyard houses, and the narrow lanes extending out in all directions connecting houses to one another, reflect the local way of life and hint at the rules of construction for local climate conditions. Zhu Pei reimagined this living and spatial experience to help embed Shou County Culture and Art Center in the local community.
Multiple courtyards of different sizes are placed in a relatively enclosed rectangular block. They are connected by a winding, undulating public walkway, which is a public loop protected from the sun and rain. The public loop guides people over the bridge, crossing the moat into the building. The extensive front yard at the main entrance forms a public square that represents the tang wu (central room) of typical Shou County residences, while the backyard resembles the back garden of local folk houses. Each program of the building has two or three inner courtyards. From the front yard, visitors can wander all the inner courtyards without interrupting the continuity of the rooms. Walking along the protected public loop, visitors can find themselves at times on the first floor, second floor or third floor. The space is unpredictable, and light and shadow continually shift to surprise visitors, allowing them to feel the artistic spirit of traditional Chinese architecture expressed by the principles of “hide, breathe, cultivate and wander.”
The introverted concept of Shou County Culture and Art Center is a sensible choice for the unpredictable future development of the surrounding area. It also reflects the grace, inclusiveness, and vitality of the ancient city of Shou County, which has withstood the test of time.