sculptural and rhythmic, these arched concrete volumes enliven the chinese countryside

the village ‘living room’ given new life by syn architects 

Bridging the gap between pragmatism and innovation is a test for every architect taking on projects in the countryside. Among the various buildings SYN Architects has designed in China’s Tiangang Zhixing Village, the renovated cluster of structures referred to as the Village ‘Living Room’ clearly demonstrates this idea. The renovation of the ‘Living Room’ retains, in total, the main structure of the original village committee building and introduces a café and children’s activity area on the upper and lower floors, respectively — creating a mix and match of programs.

sculptural and rhythmic, these arched concrete volumes enliven the chinese countryside
all images © ArchiTranslator

transforming countryside living 

The Village’ Living Room’ faces the Tiangang Art Center and an art installation dubbed the ‘Big Straw Hat’. These two projects, facing each other, lay the groundwork for the rest of the process. To activate the building, the team at SYN Architects introduced a model of operation previously applied in its projects, including the opening of a ‘SYN Coffee’ shop, adapted to serve residents: villagers have been employed as baristas and service personnel, and neighbors have taken the opportunity to drive villagers to the building to enjoy coffee in the parlor.

Additionally, the building’s organization team has arranged for village children to attend courses and activities in the second floor ‘reception room’, offering them access to an education equal to that found in cities. As an extra touch, lead architect Zou Yingxi also arranged for family portraits and snapshots of villagers’ lives to be displayed in various parts of the ‘Living Room’, and founded the ‘Tiangang Zhixing Village Chronicle’ as the voice of local culture and events. 

sculptural and rhythmic, these arched concrete volumes enliven the chinese countryside

using arched motifs to expand and redefine the buildings 

The original village committee building featured five single-story arches and porches, sloping roofs, and brick walls, previously ‘hidden’ from the villagers. But the rhythmic repetition of arches inspired lead architect Zou Yingxi. Taking the arched motif as a starting point, the team at SYN Architects expanded their scale on the northeast extension of the original arches, establishing a connection to form a series of trumpet-shaped volumes, with the roof and walls created by a thin, curving concrete shell structure. In addition to enlarging the original five arches, the architect incorporated an arch along the wall facing the street, creating a public space adjacent to the building and providing a welcoming entrance for visitors.

sculptural and rhythmic, these arched concrete volumes enliven the chinese countryside
Village ‘Living Room’ expanded and renovated

Extending from the main body of the building towards its outer edge, the six groups of arched shells form a series of angular-shaped spaces next to one another. Having raised outer sides and lowered inner sides, two challenges arose: water drainage difficulties and snow accumulation in winter. To solve this issue, Yingxi covered the concrete shells with a row of flat triangular skylights, re-routing the flow of rainwater and facilitating the placing of drainage pipes within the structure below; the skylights also introduce natural illumination, emphasizing the shape and form of the arch, and bringing a rich interplay of light and shadow onto their curved surfaces.

The northeast side of the building, facing the countryside, is comprised of a large facade of floor-to-ceiling glass, which, together with the shapes of the arches, forms a striking architectural presence looking outwards to the landscape. All seats in the Village History Exhibition Hall area on the first floor are oriented towards the windows, looking out at the charming mountain scenery and art in the distance. Internally, the reception room provides a space for new farmers to converse with long-term villagers while, externally, integrating with the beauty of the surrounding landscape. Standing outside the building and looking in, one can see how the walls form a forced perspective and appear to ‘shrink’ on the interior and how the new structure’s presence is visible throughout the pre-existing building.

sculptural and rhythmic, these arched concrete volumes enliven the chinese countryside

the imprint of time meets the collide of old and new

More importantly, the curved motif is strengthened and extended to the interiors as arched timber volumes in the Village History Exhibition Hall’, coffee shop, and children’s activity area, creating a sense of place while meshing with other features, like shelving units for books. Additionally, the architects have illuminated the ground on the exterior, echoing the lights projected onto the arches to create a luminous effect when seen from afar. Ultimately, these carefully designed details form a visually striking rhythm, further emphasized through the abstract spaces created by its use. 

Beyond concrete, the building incorporates timber, red brick, pressed grass panels, and other architectural materials reflecting countryside living. ‘It is also worth noting that the ground-level red brick floor is placed solely on the projected surface between the arches so that the play of light can be observed on the ground. Meanwhile, at the top of the second floor, a luminous film has been used to create a uniform light environment,’ notes the team. 

sculptural and rhythmic, these arched concrete volumes enliven the chinese countryside
sculpting arched concrete volumes brightened by warm lighting

In addition to the main structure of the Village ‘Living Room’, the architects have renovated the original stage, health clinic, and adjacent public square. The clinic boasts the same architectural language, framed by an arched doorway to emphasize its presence. The communal stage maintains its function and basic appearance as a place for theater plays. At the same time, the public square takes on a new character infused with the concept of time: 12 separate rectangular patches of grass have been placed there, representing the 12 zodiac signs and giving room for a new plant to grow every year on a different patch.

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