A unique project in the Chengdu province of China has become the platform for cultural civilisation and exchange between Italy and China. Designed by aoe architects, the new Cultural Exchange City Reception Centre is at the heart of the project to illustrate the cultural mix between the two countries in what is termed the Sino-Italian style.

Chengdu is hailed as the land of abundance and has a civilisation history of 4 500 years old, with city construction dating back as far as 2 300 years ago. During the 13th century, intrepid Venetian merchant, explorer and writer, Marco Polo, travelled through Asia along the Silk Road. His travels are recorded in his travelogue, The travels of Marco Polo, which became the first comprehensive look into the then mysterious Eastern world, describing the wealth and great size of China in the Yuan Dynasty.

Now, in the 21st century, once again against the Belt and Road initiative, the planning of the Chengdu Tianfu Cultural and Creative City once again aims to bring the cultures of the two countries together in the form of the Sino-Italian Cultural Exchange City Reception Centre. Located about 36km from the centre of Chengdu, the centre will cover an area of 17 815m², with a construction area of 2 107m².

Cultural Ruyi
aoe architects hoped to create an intersection of the two countries’ cultural differences by creating a “Ruyi” between the East and the West. This “Ruyi” forms the inspiration for the overall design and has been used in China since ancient times as a gift to foreign ambassadors, to signify the conclusion of friendly relations and peace between the two countries.

For this reason, the Italian pavilion draws its design inspiration from Italy’s most representative piazza, shaping an intimate and pleasantly scaled urban art living room. The design elements are extracted from the ancient Roman arches and domes, and the smooth enclosure of multiple circular squares is used to form a rich and versatile space to meet the multi-functional requirements of exhibition, meeting, reception and catering.

The use of pure white on all walls gives the building a different three-dimensional light effect in the sunlight, while the large area of glass extends the indoor space to the outside and allows the outdoor scenery to be fully mapped in, becoming a dynamic mural of the four seasons. With the change of wall materials, the designer created a feeling of space that is both inside and outside, and the pavilion is thus perfectly integrated into the surrounding natural environment.

According to aoe architects the building was finished in a bright, all white paint due to the material’s low cost, given the tight budget of the project, as well as the final finish offering ease of maintenance, while delivering a clean, modern look which creates a stark contrast with the building’s natural surroundings.

Creating harmony
The harmony between architecture and nature lies in the use of natural resources. At both sides the pavilions have been designed with top lighting so that the light is evenly diffused in the indoor and outdoor spaces. In addition, the introduction of multi-level outdoor greenery and the use of buoyant ventilation devices combine the natural elements of light, scenery and wind. This allows people to perceive and coexist with the surrounding natural environment while they are in the building.

Respecting nature
Meanwhile, the building’s design respects the existing ecological environment and uses materials and means such as low-E glass, local wood and green roofs to reduce building energy consumption and achieve sustainable construction. The exhibition hall serves as an important part for linking and integrating the surrounding ecological forest.

In terms of space planning, the designer has reserved the most flexible space for exhibition and display. The staggered height of the building allows visitors to stand at different heights and view different scenery, creating a “walk-in-the-woods” mood and a unique experience.

Circular interiors
The interior of the building is a flowing space shaped by ten circular walls of different sizes, which are divided into three levels of elevation in accordance with the terrain, rising from the entrance hall to the interior space step by step. It has two circular skylights in the entrance hall and the central exhibition hall to guide visitors from the entrance hall to the main exhibition hall.

The circle is a centring element derived from the geometric characteristics of classical Italian architecture, it combines the concept of symbiosis between architecture and nature and in Chinese architecture, it can emphasize the partiality, penetrability and ambiguity of space.

The ceiling is controlled at the same level, and the height of the space is richly varied. Except for a solid round wall of which both the interior and exterior boundaries are all glass, it is fully incorporating the outdoor landscape into the interior, framing the exterior scenery.

The circular space consists of two spatial forms: Indoor and piazza, and three outdoor semi-circular piazzas are defined. The fountain piazza at its entrance, the Italian piazza and the outdoor theatre are each reproducing a typical Italian urban piazza space.

Moving from East to West
The Piazza Italia is surrounded by the ruins of the Roman arches, with the three circular indoor spaces designed as a meeting hall, a multi-functional hall and a multimedia showroom, all arranged around the central exhibition hall.

By controlling the size of the circular wall openings, the light and darkness of the spaces are defined, while the meeting room is surrounded by water features and sculptures. The other five outdoor semi-circular walls are surrounded by greenery and mountains, facing nature.

Visitors cross the gable to the Italian piazza and ascend a curved staircase to the roof garden, with two circular gardens, one in the east and one in the west, both complemented by the contrast between natural vegetation and stone.

Finally, the Chinese Cultural Hall on the east side is reached by walking down through the cultural corridor or stepping over the Chinese white jade pavement above the water pond. The two paths symbolise the two Silk Roads between the East and the West, on land and on water as described by Marco Polo in his travelogue.

Project name: Sino-Italian Cultural Exchange City Reception Centre.
• Project location: Chengdu, China.
• Architecture firm: aoe, Beijing, China.
• Construction status: Completed.
• Site coverage: 8,4%.
• Landscaping ratio: 66%.
• Building height: 13,55m.
• Lead architects: Wen Qun.
• Design team: Ma Jianning, Fan Ruixue, Wang Ye, Chang Zhiyu, Pan Jichang, Li Xiangting, Lu Yu.
• Interior: Zhu Dan, Du Jing, Liu Jingyi, Xue Yawen, Liu Chen.
• Client: Tianfu Investment Group Co. Ltd.
• Structure engineer: CSCEC Aecom Consultants Co. Ltd.

For more information on this project, visit www.aoe-china.com.

Photos by: Arch-exist Photography

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