Neri&hu’s Aranya Art Centre in Qinhuangdao is one of the few structures plugged into the Aranya gold coast Seaview resort. Apart from the art centre, the site also features villas, the dune museum, the lonely library and the community hall. The Aranya community, including the art centre, focuses on communal living that is quite a variation to the frenzied lifestyle of china. The open courtyard plugged into the heavy massing of the context is another element of contrast in the design. Thus, the Aranya art centre brings both serenity and a dramatic display of light into spaces.
Ideology of Aranya Art Center
Though the brief was to design an art center for the population living in the seaside resort, Aranya reflects on the aspect of communal living. They believe in the spiritual oneness with the environment by integrating the communal lifestyle. The art center opened an opportunity for the architect to experiment and question the notions of architecture, space, and community on a tabula rasa site. The design implemented strategies to create spaces that integrate people and encourage interaction with one another.
Although a new edition to the existing urban scenario, the design has scope for experimentation with forms while infusing the context of Qinhuangdao. Integration of the urban fabric to the art center involves providing areas of shade and seating that are a part of the structure. Thus, the concrete seats act as a hub for communal interaction apart from the activity within the building. The interiors look nothing like the unassuming facade that follows the existing character of the township.
The Aranya art center captures the communal essence by establishing a connection between people and the environment. Within a thirty-seven-cent area, the heavy massing of the center envelopes an internal courtyard that acts as a community space and an art gallery. Moreover, the exhibition arena that is the core aspect of its design transforms into an open-to-sky reflective pool. The amphitheater collects water through its inverted conical roof, thus adding to the dynamism of the structure. Apart from bringing the community together, the central space that faces the coastal line also draws inspiration from the calm ocean waters nearby.
Architectural features of Aranya Art Center
Volume and form
As the Chinese design studio stated, its appearance resembles “a solid rock sitting firmly in the shifting environment”. Although it appears rigid in its exterior with its extensive use of concrete, it facilitates a backdrop for a dynamic environment. The built form takes maximum use of the outer footprint of the site, with minimal additions that include a walkway and extended seating from the building to the urban streetscape. Repeated concrete modules adorn the façade, with a couple of windows breaking the monotony. A few of the blocks are solid, while others have tiny openings within. The curved white walls and ramps make the interior organic while the exterior is rigid. The spiraling path directs the visitors from the basement to the rooftop with a panoramic view of the city. The cinematic value of the interconnected spaces brings fluidity and freedom to move around.
Light and shadow at Aranya Art Center
Light is a vital element in the art center, portraying the contrasting nature of action and tranquillity in space. As per functionality, the light penetrating sets the ambiance in two ways. Firstly, the concrete moduled fenestration filters light into the room, similar to jalis. Secondly, the central arena witnesses a rotation of light with time, mimicking a sundial. Thus, the journey of the visitor follows the light’s choreography. The light also filters from skylights and windows that position themselves based on viewpoints.
Material and texture
The materials hugely impact the scene intended to create through a logical use of materials for interiors and exteriors. At the same time, it also brings out brutalism in terms of material usage. It mainly consists of a wide range of textured concrete with and without aggregates. Smooth surfaces accentuate the shadows formed on the concrete walls, while coarser counterparts used at the foot of the building extend as solid modules followed throughout the exterior. In terms of materiality and scale, the bronze complements and contrasts with the concrete. Apart from the materials, the texture and tone also influence the ambiance. Thus, a dark grey shade covers the outside of the structure, giving a rock-like appearance, whereas a monotone grey palette fills the interior of the art center. In contrast to the light tone of buildings nearby, the dark grey draws focus to the building.
Functional spaces of Aranya Art Center
The location of the main arena lies on the basement floor, with a ramp spiraling from the entrance on the first floor. The ramp is a single path that touches every gallery space and displays vitrine in the building. Apart from accessibility, the ramp also facilitates easy moveability where anyone can access important points without a map. The first and basement floors have principal activities such as cafes and the open courtyard, while the second and third primarily function as gallery spaces.
The Aranya art center is a model of the influence of architecture in molding a city from a communal perspective. Although the city of Qinhuangdao is an old seaport, it has scope for development and experimenting with new styles that suit the needs of the people. Sea-facing projects such as the art center will build a prototype for cities in China. And the rest of the world to try concepts that integrate people into the place instead of dividing them.
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