The Screen is a building designed by Li Xiaodong Atelier, a study of the relationship between landscape and building, of architecture as a bridge for sharing spaces with nature and reducing our footprint on the land. In The Screen, the architecture is at the centre of a natural area which has no boundaries and blends in with the landscape to permit full enjoyment of it.
This 600-square-metre structure contains offices and living quarters for the workers who will maintain the route’s planned viewing and resting platforms. The open-weave facade pays tribute to Chinese craftsmanship, and interior screens in local bamboo continue the expansive yet private feel.
The project goes beyond the idea of architecture as solidity, as an element characterised by gravity, standing in opposition to the land and at the service of man. The poetics of his dematerialised, impalpable, clear visual screens allow Li Xiaodong’s building in Ningbo to disappear, leaving the hilly landscape in which it was built as intact and visible as possible.
The rectangular structure is a concrete volume disguised by a “floating” surface of grey brick assembled on a steel frame on the basis of a regular grid which breaks up its visual impact, leaving the confines of the building hidden behind it somewhat imprecise. Inside, where two courtyards have been created to bring greenery into the workers’ everyday lives, the walls are sliding glass and bamboo screens. Architecture never forms a barrier, but is seen merely as a way of organising and optimising use of space and establishing relationships between indoors and outdoors.
The Screen contains offices and homes for the people who work in the area, who will support future construction projects (including an eco-hotel, restaurants, a guest house, an art gallery and a temple, containing a path for contemplation of the valley landscape).
Li Xiaodong Atelier:
This project was initiated because a long-term shortage of space at the school and the increasing demand on existing spaces in recent years. The two major difficulties were to obtain land and to raise funds for the project. Finally, the new building had to be established within the only vacant space—a small courtyard space surrounded by the existing buildings of the School of Architecture. The project depends on sponsorship by the Foundation and on Tsinghua alumni for funding. Construction began after getting barely enough to cover the budget.
Thinking of Design:
- Issues: Given the objectives, conditions and the situation of the new building, the main issues this project faces are to work within very tight constraints to create space efficiency, a developed and recognizable architectural attitude, consistency, a coherent image and gradients of public and private spaces.
- Architectural Attitudes: Because of its historical background, the old building of the School of Architecture attached more importance to form and style than to the essence and experience of space. The new building for the School of Architecture should not only be able to handle the encountered issues and meet the functional requirements, but also convey a clear attitude– that space and form should not be simply determined by style, but respond to the purpose of the building and the issues it faces.
- Space Efficiency: The conditions and requirements of the project, which include the highly constrained building site, demand a highly efficient use of space in order to meet the building’s program requirements and effectively control construction costs.
- Consistency and Distinguishability: Surrounded by existing buildings, the building will be highly visible and intimately connected to the other parts of the school. The new architectural form should be coordinated with the style of the existing buildings but it should also be distinguishable from them. Simply speaking, it is necessary to create an adjacent relationship that supports connection and independence, but not excessive interference.
- Sustainability: Sustainability has always been a concern of the architect and it is a basic issue the building must be required to face. Built inside the atrium space–surrounded by the “four-faced wall,” –this project has a relatively difficult base condition. The project attempts to introduce natural light and to guide the natural flow of air by means of spatial arrangement, so as to shape a comfortable environment without excessive energy consumption.
- Publicity: For a school building, especially the building of the School of Architecture that has a strong communication requirement, it is essential to create public space that inspires participation, communication, and a host of activities. Implementing and strengthening the public aspects of the building is a critical part of the design.
- Concept: Based on the conditions and issues mentioned above, the proposed design strategy is to deal with issues related to function and efficiency through the unitization and systematization of the architecture, to influence issues concerning sustainability by means of the arrangement of space and low technology strategies, and to handle the issues regarding the relationship between the architecture and the surroundings, as well as architectural optimization of aesthetics by creating a screen interface on the facade. The main design concept is: a floating 3×3 grids covered (jiugongge) cubic box, built of a solid and void system of spatial units—a fuzzy interface and weak form, with aesthetic sense and distinguishable features.
- Three-Dimensional Space Module System: The 7.5m X 7.5m X 7.5m cubic space is the most important unit size from which to create the spatial module system as it is based on the original settings for a studio of 30 students. From this unit, the entire building volume – the 22.5m X 22.5m X 22.5m cubic box—is piled up. This systematic structure decreases the complexity and increases the efficiency of the construction process. As a consequence, it can also effectively reduce the project cost.
- Consistency: The façade as screen will work as a filter. It will have a transitional and softening effect, blurring and filtering the dissonances between old and new but not blocking the transmission of light.
- Distinguishability and Optimization: It is not easy for the building volume, which is composed of a single element, to have a strong conflict with other styles due to its simple form. Its three-dimensional trellis surface will give the building a non-invasive distinguishability and a sense of presence. We used a bright yellow metal framework, obviously different from the environment, to define the entrance of the new building and symbolize the independent personality of the new building. Using all these strategies and more, we believe we can transform “the backyard to the front yard” – and convert what was originally a negative situation into a positive one.
- Privacy, Sun-shading, and Integration of Equipment: The surface space that is composed of 30-degree-angle lattice panels is capable of sun-shading and reducing energy consumption. In addition, it helps to offer a moderate visual filtering buffer for the use of the internal space, so as to maintain certain privacy and to eliminate the interference caused by the close spacing. On the other hand, it also helps to integrate the equipment spaces, such as the outdoor unit of air conditioning, which maintains the integrity of a building.
- Shaping of Horizontal and Vertical Open Spaces: The building is a 22.5m X 22.5m X 22.5m cube, in order to introduce natural light and to facilitate the natural flow of air. The 3×3 grid (jiugongge) building cube is moderately raised to create an open space at the lower layer and generate a horizontal flow of air. The central unit of the 3×3 grid (jiugongge) spatial system is pulled out to form an vertical open box that will introduce natural light to every floor and provide a stack for the circulation of air up through the building. The partition doors of each floor are equipped with airflow devices that will allow the air in the rooms to naturally flow to the atrium. We hope to shape an energy-saving and comfortable internal environment.
As a new building, this project is not only expected to meet functional demands but also to redefine the original space and use patterns of the school. It will create more opportunities for learning and communication and increase students’ enthusiasm and creativity just the way and inspired and thoughtfully designed educational space should.
Project name: The Screen
Location: Ningbo, Zhejiang, China
Materials: grey brick walls, Outer cladding of locally made brick assembled on a steel frame, Concrete roof, Concrete frame
Project Area: 600 sqm
Cost: 8 million RMB
Completion Year: 2014
Client / Owner / Developer: n/a
Architects: Li Xiaodong Atelier – Room401, New Building, School of Architecture Tsinghua University, Beijing, China
Architect In Charge: Li Xiaodong
- Li Xiaodong with Martijn de Geus, Jerry Hau, Renske van Dam and Ying Xin
Text Description: © Courtesy of Li Xiaodong Atelier, floornature, AZURE Magazine’s Awards
Images: © Li Xiaodong Atelier, Martijn de Geus