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SYN Architects: The project, located over 100 kilometers from Beijing and more than 200 kilometers away from Shijiazhuang, lies at the foot of Taihang Mountain, and adjacent to Yishui Lake. The village in Yi County of Baoding City, Hebei Province has undergone tremendous change during the past two years: 142 square kilometers of land in the area has been allocated for use as a kind of playground for architectural experimentation. Many new creative projects have been initiated, grown, and taken root in the countryside, forming the basis for an innovative eco-village which integrates current trends in art and culture with the simplicity of traditional country life. It is not far from the city, and encourages an active and engaged way of living. Tiangang Village, a circular-shaped art museum, is the leading example for the changes which are taking place in the area.
01.做好「土壤」｜Nourishing the “Soil”
In 2019, the three aspects of culture, tourism, and commerce under the Longjitaihe Group Limited were reorganized, and the IVYONE GROUP was formally established, and the IVYONE Yishui Lake Cultural Tourism project (which included Tiangang·Zhixing Village) entered the planning phase. During the same year, SYN Architects was invited to join, taking charge of planning, architectural design, space operation and other related responsibilities. At the time, the site confronted by developers and the planning and design team was in dire need of revitalization, and creating Tiangang Village became the first step towards bringing new ideas and energy to the area.
▼项目鸟瞰 Aerial view
Tiangang Village lies deep in the mountainous region of Yi County, with abundant beautiful scenery of tall peaks and rivers, and a heritage of uniquely profound, long-standing folk culture (martial arts society, the Jiuqu Yellow River Lantern Festival, among others). However, the area has faced various challenges such as traffic congestion, poor basic living conditions, conservative attitudes of the local population, and a general lack of skilled labor. Attracting money and investment to the area throughout the calendar year has proven to be difficult, so in 2013, it was designated a key village for poverty alleviation and opening up by the province. Following that, The First Conference of Hebei Tourism Industry Development took place in 2016, and the policies for reducing poverty began to take effect. The infrastructure of Tiangang Village had been improved, and featured industries began to move in. However, due to the lack of a sound industry, capital, and talent chain, the potential for a large-scale economy could not be met.
An approach has been adopted that can be seen as a metaphor for chess play, where each move is crucial and leads to the next, with the sum of all moves entailing an overall strategy. Keeping the existing foundation of the area’s underlying attributes, infrastructure, and innovations in mind, IVYONE GROUP and SYN Architects set about planting the first seed (Zhixing Village) in Tiangang Village, with the intent of spurring new development in the area west of Yishui Lake, and ultimately creating a village uniquely allied to its surrounding environment. Tiangang Village presented a distinct design opportunity for SYN Architects, which has extensive experience in rural revitalization, and has successfully completed many projects in both rural and urban contexts. Planning, design, and daily operations must all be considered and work together, following the lead of the SYN Rural Revitalization 1.0 ( the village planning made by SYN Architects is based on the development of the whole district or at least the county) initiative in the Jingyang District of Deyang, Sichuan. Moving forward, SYN Architects has begun a transition to the new stage of SYN Rural Revitalization 2.0 in Tiangang, striving to “promote the development of local populations through the unification of knowledge and action. Change brings new possibilities to the village.”
▼新旧对话：生机与希望 Dialogue between old and new: Life and Hope
A tree cannot stand without its roots, and the roots in turn are supported by the surrounding soil. To revitalize the countryside, it is necessary to stimulate its inherent “endogenous strength” so that it grows according to its natural tendencies, like wood. SYN Architects approaches the countryside with the intent of cultivating the “soil” of five dimensions: methodology, solutions for industry, new farmers, endogenous strength, and problem solving, so that taken as a whole they fuse together, and provide a path towards contributing to the sustainable development of the countryside. This would also entail a thorough integration of urban and rural areas. The counter-example is the former “Tiangang Village”: when the village was first upgraded, a semi-circular “tourist service center” was built: it is located at an important juncture of Huanhu Road and has a panoramic view of its surroundings. Although it is not near the lake, it can be reached by boat. The general condition of the area is excellent, but it has been largely vacant for the past three to four years due to a lack of tourists. This “unfinished buildi
02.「烂尾」再造 ｜The Rebirth of an Abandoned Architecture
Lead architect Zou Yingxi frequently mentions “incapability and disappointment” to describe the phenomenon of rural revitalization in China: the ones in charge were lacking in practical experience and the villagers were unhappy with the result. Tiangang Village also encountered this kind of situation in the early days. And across the country, a large number of villages went through the same process: in their efforts to change the appearance of the countryside, excellent architects have built many beautiful houses, but due to a lack of “context”, they quickly became vacant boxes. The so-called “visitor service center” is a kind of building easily taken for granted. If the basic questions of “who comes, why, and what do they do,” cannot be answered, is the architecture creating or solving problems?
Based on these considerations, SYN Architects decided to take over responsibility for the design, operation, and content of Tiangang Village and the process of its revitalization. The process utilized at Zhixing Village was introduced into Tiangang: using “good soil” as a metaphor and methodology, and solving problems through the principles of assistance and activation; and furthermore taking “breaking ice, loosening soil, sowing, and watering” as guiding precepts.
In 2019, IVYONE GROUP and SYN Architects temporarily lived in the village in order to oversee the construction process. By uniting their knowledge with action, they encouraged fresh perspectives, thought processes, and hopeful attitudes, gradually gaining the confidence of villagers, investors, developers and other groups involved with the project. By guiding them to invest maximum effort in the project, they were following the words of Zou Yingxi: “The success of rural revitalization is ultimately based on ‘belief’ rather than blaming the former planners”.
In April 2021, IVYONE GROUP · Tiangang Zhixing Village was officially completed and opened to visitors, while the “Yi Shui Triennial” exhibition had quietly settled in before then. In the past two or three years, the uninterrupted stays of artists in residence and their local creations have associated the notion of “residence” here with cultural activity. Art has the ability to express the countryside’s reality and promote communication, providing a fresh, forward-looking perspective for Zhixing Village, with which the effects of “homogenization” may be counteracted. ”
Art festivals held in Japan have been established for some time now, and provide us with a working precedent, where world-renowned art festivals have transformed the countryside and attracted significant economic activity. We did not treat the art festival as a mere festival, nor did we reduce the art gallery to an expressionless space. They are the starting points to ‘drain’ certain elements from the place, and to stand as emblems of industry, in order to start the process of activation and ‘warming up’ for what is to come – in effect, a marketing tool.” Zou Yingxi led the SYN Architect team to successively introduce various industries and products to the overall project such as coffee, lecture halls, guesthouses, public markets, scientific research, fishing, and cultivation of cash crops. They are scattered throughout the village like art installations, and the locals who shuttle back and forth assume the role of directing visitors where to go. This deliberate dispersal has become a means by which to break down the barrier between urban and rural areas. The immersive experience of discovery within the countryside encourages urbanites to relax nerves that have been tightened by the city, and to truly integrate into the local scene and the art that has been produced there. Various industries have been introduced in an ad hoc fashion, but an organizing principle is required – and a major participant is required to take the first step, providing an example for others to follow. In Zhixing Village, SYN Coffee (which is part of the SYN Group, together with SYN Architects) became the first industry to get involved.
Behind the “abandoned architecture” is the first review of the building and site by the village cadres during the “initial revitalization”. SYN Architects took this as a pre-existing condition, analyzing it fully in order to comprehend the site and its situation to better upgrade its functioning. Following the renovation, the building is replete with multiple functions such as art galleries, hotels, and catering services. It is different from traditional scenic spots and resort gateways, acting as a gathering place for artists and art-related events, and is linked with heavy investment in the community. It is a first step to revitalize the countryside through art within the sub-center of Yishui Lake, and is the first pilot project for IVYONE GROUP to set out in the development of cultural projects in the countryside, blending tourism with rural revitalization as the starting point – Tiangang Village is the result of an important effort in finding a viable direction for future development of these kinds of sites.
03.「一笔」而成｜ “One Stroke”
The original semi-circular concrete frame structure sits amongst the mountains and rivers in the area, facing Tiangang Village. The disorderly initial condition of the site and fractured structure evoked a village in a predicament of forced stagnation. In response, SYN Architects subsequently demolished part of the original building and then “continued” it: a slender orthogonal volume curves and spirals up along the inner arc of a semicircle, gradually completing the shape, creating a variegated relationship between seeing and being seen; a continuous, unbounded, circular architecture of balanced proportions. The building can be seen as a metaphor for the oriental philosophy of nature, where heaven, earth, mountains, water, and people are all harmoniously integrated. It forms an extension to the landscape, furthers the existing cultural context, and is additionally associated with art, which links the area’s industry to the city and warm associations of the countryside.
▼天、地、山、水、人，和谐共融 Heaven, earth, mountains, water and people are in harmony
SYN Architects believes that “architecture is a means to shape the landscape, and landscape is a continuation of architecture.” Hence, this building that carries out the function of holding exhibitions can itself be seen as a work of “land art”. The main body of the building is coated with white granular paint to maintain a purity of color – and with its clean geometric form and absence of linear directionality, it becomes a kind of enormous sunlight-catching object. The building’s sculptural presence is combined with nearby rice fields and villages, establishing a strong visceral connection between the building and the natural environment, enabling it to leverage its surroundings to amplify the aesthetic tension between the two entities.
▼建筑成为大地艺术作品 Buildings become works of earth art
The resultant architecture is the product of SYN Architects’s core problem-solving approach: the half arc of the original building faces the river’s shore and distant mountains, so 14 guest rooms are set within it, opening up to the private and tranquil scenery. The side facing the village and the main road is the primary interface between the building and the site, so public spaces such as reception and catering have been set parallel to the road, while a large circular exhibition hall is placed in the middle of the volume.
▼圆形展厅 Circular exhibition hall
In order to accommodate and display different kinds of art, the architecture must be adaptable according to the needs of each exhibition. So the exhibition hall, winding road, roof terrace, corridors, and external areas of the building are spatially connected through the form of a “swirl vortex”, providing a variety of spaces of various dimensions. Each one evokes a unique relationship between wall and the roof, transforming as one moves from one to the other, and allows the building’s roof to be used imaginatively and efficiently. Art exhibitions generally require some separation from the adjacent market outside, so U-shaped obscured glass is utilized for a portion of the outer walls, allowing the entry of natural light, while blocking the line of sight and rendering the scenery outside indistinct. These walls emit a warm, uniform glow when the building is illuminated from within at night, lending the building an appearance akin to a kind of surreal vortex suspended in the sky.
▼光影游戏 Light and shadow play
The effect of a hotel within an art gallery, and an art gallery within a hotel has been created here. The guest rooms have increased value due to their relationship to the constantly changing artworks, while the exhibition halls benefit from having extra reception and service due to the supporting facilities of the hotel and restaurant. SYN Architects has embedded a sustainability concept throughout the project from the very beginning. It includes amongst others, sustainability of industry, sustainability of the “consumption time” of urban visitors, and of course, the sustainability of the physical space from which the architecture is composed.
04. 揭露「本质」｜ Revealing the “essence”
As visitors arrive at the Art Center at ground level and follow the path of the curve, their experience of the space is constantly changing: first passing beneath the large cantilevered canopy at the entrance of the building, bypassing the columns, then reaching the starting point of the “vortex”. This is the first surprise of the space;
▼穿过入口巨大挑檐，寻觅第一重惊喜 Through the huge eaves of the entrance, looking for the first surprise
as the ramp climbs, the building maintains a spatial ambiguity between inside and outside, restricting certain perspectives of the surrounding landscape and focusing attention towards multiple shifting views of the exhibits. The second surprise becomes apparent after reaching the top of the ramp.
▼沿着坡道攀升，约束出第二重惊喜 Climb the ramp and constrain the second surprise
As visitors come upon an open-air viewing platform at the highest point of the building, from which they may observe the scenery surrounding Tiangang Village – both its traditional face and new developments. And, in the process of walking to the highest level of the Art Center, the observers there in turn become the focus of attention for people outside the building, which becomes the final surprise.
This type of experience, where an instantaneous realization is made following an accumulated process of passage through many levels is analogous to the “epiphany” spoken of in Buddhism. SYN Architects has attempted to take the vague and disorganized form of the initial project here, and transformed Tiangang Village into a meaningful, structured, and effective place of “knowledge and action”. This “reorganization of perception” also encompasses reshaping the “soil” of discovery and insight.
▼建筑框景，自然入画 Architectural frame scenery, natural painting
Taking the concrete structure of the original building as a base to be extended and augmented, SYN Architects has added a new steel structure, allowing the main façade to gradually twist and tilt outwards and upwards, transforming from walls to eaves. The original building’s network of columns is not able to support the load requirements of the new architecture, so additional columns and a new structural system have been introduced. SYN Architects has taken this necessity of engineering and given the new organization of columns an aesthetic quality – while satisfying the requirements of bearing the new load, the pillars appear to be scattered within the space somewhat randomly, like a naturally growing jungle, which ultimately has become virtually the only ‘decoration’ within the entire building.
“The art pieces within an art gallery have more importance and meaning than the gallery’s interior decoration”. Zou Yingxi seeks to express the “essence” of the Art Center’s space by evoking the original atmosphere of the bucolic countryside in which it exists.
At the main entrance, the concrete floor has been lifted and curled to form a sign-in desk, while ‘exposing’ grass in its place, a signifying echo of the natural surroundings. In the dining space, the ceiling is exposed, with the exception of suspended timber stanchions of varied lengths, as if the ceiling panels have been lifted to expose the background color and reveal the building’s structure.
▼餐饮空间 The dining space
In addition, the two main materials used for the interior, timber and concrete, unify the visual language of various functional spaces, and create a dialogue with the countryside and mountains visible through the windows. This allows the building to maintain a coherent beauty through simplicity of form and material, while still offering depth and richness in visual and tactile experience. The use of natural materials is essential in a space evoking an idyllic, pastoral atmosphere – and light itself is also a kind of natural material. The building’s curved skylight provides even illumination throughout the main spaces, generating rich light and shadow effects throughout the day, lending the building a kind of sundial effect, enacting an easy embrace of the passage of time.
▼客房空间 Guest room space
With the element of time having been introduced into the space, the Art Center has become a kind of theater of life, a shared spiritual source of inspiration and communication for artists, tourists, and indigenous people. Following its establishment, the Art Center and the surrounding buildings have left a “bizzare but beautiful” impression in the eyes of the local villagers – and have attracted a steady stream of curious artists, tourists and investors, so that Zhixing Village has established a new identity as a place of lively activity. The natural landscape here is exceptional, and with the added appeal of new architecture and a fresh model of operation, it can surely become a resort destination within easy reach of Beijing.
▼生活剧场 Live theatre
▼一层平面图 Plan 1st
▼二层平面图 Plan 2nd
Project Name: Tiangang Art Center
Location: Tiangang Village, Yi County, Baoding City, Hebei Province, China
Owner: IVYONE GROUP
Investor: IVYONE GROUP
Project Type: architectural design, landscape design, interior design
Design Period: 2020.02-2020.08
Construction Period: 2020.09-2021.04
Site Area: 2736.81 square meters
Building Area: 2586.95 square meters
Indoor Area: 2586.95 square meters
Floor Area Ratio: 0.95
Greening Rate: 23%
Project Function: Art gallery + Hotel
Project Team Members
Lead Architect: Zou Yingxi
Project Architects: Gao Bo, Jin Nan, Jiang Zhihua, Chen Shifang, Tian Yahong, Wang Ziqiang
Interior Design Team: Xia Fuqiang, He Min, Cao Zhenzhen, Qian Guoxing, Liu Tingting, Li Qianxi, Feng Yan, Guo Mengjia, Li Hui
Landscape Architecture Team: Xu Lu, Li Beibei, Zhang Junchao, Liu Shuang, Liang Jingqi, Shi Qingqing
Soft Decoration Design Team: Shu Kun, Gu Yuecheng
Construction: HCCI Urban Architectural Planning and Design Co., Ltd.
Structural Consultant: Beijing Zhonghe Jiancheng Architectural Engineering Design Co., Ltd.-Team Lu Lijie
Lighting Consultant: Eastco Lighting Design (Shanghai) Co., Ltd.
Cost: 20 Million RMB
Material and Manufacturers:
Bamboo and Wood—Shanghai Moso New Decorative Materials Co., Ltd.
U-Shaped Glass—Shahe Longlong Glass Products Co., Ltd.
White Granular Elastic Paint—Guangdong DPV Coating Co., Ltd.
Photography: Zheng Yan
Video: Huasheng Studio