Cultural Centre to Bring Aesthetic Rejuvenation to Rural China
When Chinese architect Atelier Xi received a commission to design a small cultural centre for the remote, rural county of Xiuwu in the central Chinese province of Henan, it responded with an unexpected proposal. Even though the centre was to be just 300 square meter in area, Atelier Xi thought it would be better to break it up into seven separate, enigmatic structures and spread them around the county’s large area so that it could have a wider impact on the sparse population. Now open to the public, Peach Hut is a communal space cast in pink concrete and set in a field of blossoming peach trees whose leaning trunks inspired the hut’s form. Big irregular windows give visitors panoramic views of the surrounding farmland.
Among the six other mini-pavilions planned are a theatre called Periscope, a drinks bar called Observatory and a communal library called Bent House. Like the Peach Hut, their settings will be thought-provoking, including a forest, a mountaintop, and an abandoned village. Atelier Xi says the theatre will float on water.
In the beginning, the architect received the original commission to design a 300-square-meter public building for facilitating the county’s culture and art education in Xiuwu, Henan. However, considering the vast serving area (630-square-kilometer county area) and the difficulty of traveling between scattered villages, the architect came up with a proposal to divide one building into a series of miniature facilities in different locations so as to better serve local communities.
The long-term drawbacks of remote rural areas include insufficient educational resources, inadequate information access and scant aesthetic imagination. Thus, community leaders and the architect seek for an aesthetic approach towards rejuvenating these communities. Through these minimal architecture investments, the project aims to inspire sensibilities of local residents, to help them enjoy and rethink life quality, as well as to alleviate isolation and poverty.
These cast-in-place concrete miniatures are interpreted into a series of tree-shaped spaces with tentacles reaching out for the sky, bathing in light and shadow. Their locations vary from fields, woods, to mountaintops, and their forms differ as well: while one grows out from the ruined walls in an abandoned village, another embodies a floating theater on the water.
The construction of the seven units is divided into two phases with the first phase consisting of Periscope (a vernacular theater), Observatory (a beverage bar in a peach tree farmland) and Bent House (a communal library).
Peach Hut, the first completed miniature pavilion, is surrounded by a field of blossoming peach trees in a farmland. The trees on the site which all lean to one side, which inspired the sculptural form of the architecture. The architect envisions that the building is cut from a series of invisible arcs derived from the earth and the cloud, forming a unique shape that rises to the sky.
In the Peach Hut, all windows are of diverse shapes, responding to different views and light angles: the large floor-to-ceiling window on the second floor allows viewers to jump over the peach trees and overlook the panoramic view of the farm; the round window frame on the south side rotates along the central axis, and captures dynamic imageries of the orchard under the subtle variation of daylight; the vertical windows at the corners lengthen the depth of field from the orchard to the village at far; the shadow resulted from the skylight changes at every moment; and the entrance corner window is made as a quarter circle resembling the stooped peach trees, thus resonating with the picturesque land.