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Ahead of the curve: Office Off Course, China

An archaeological park in Zhejiang province by Office Off Course juxtaposes strident angles with soft curves

Office Off Course have been shortlisted for the AR Emerging Architecture awards 2019. View the shortlist here

From the year 950 until 1550, China’s Longquan kilns made beautiful, green-glazed celadon ceramics that became famous throughout the country and, eventually, the world. Although production continued long into the Ming dynasty, the factory had its heyday in the Southern Song (1127-1279), when the emperor was forced to move his capital south to the nearby city of Hangzhou after the loss of his northern territory. The site of these storied kilns, close to Dayao village oin a valley surrounded by bamboo-covered hills, has recently been designated Longquan National Archaeological Park of China and equipped with visitor and exhibition centres. These were both designed by Chinese practice Office Off Course, which was founded in 2012 by Huang Zhe, Huang Li and Zhang Yao, who work ‘constantly, collaboratively and virtually’ between offices in Shanghai, Hangzhou and Boston. 

Archaeological park visitors centre office off course architectural review yz 01

Archaeological park visitors centre office off course architectural review yz 01

Source: Zhang Yao

The parti for the visitor centre is a continuous jagged wall in rough, red-tinted concrete; at several points, it cuts through three rectangular volumes and, between these, forms four irregular courtyards. Although the resulting complex is in some regards reminiscent of the traditional garden architecture of southern China, with circular ‘moon gates’ giving views between the spaces and to the landscape beyond, more unexpected is the suspension of one of the volumes above the ground and the deployment of curving, black metal walkways to move between these spaces and through the circular apertures. 

The exhibition centre takes a different approach, being covered by six laterally aligned pitched roofs stepping down the hillside. This cluster superficially resembles the vernacular architecture of the village; however, beneath this huddle of tiled roofs is a sweeping multi-level space with walls of glass bricks, over which two glass-bottomed volumes hang from the ceiling like swallows’ nests. The translucent industrial material framed with black steel contrasts with a floor of hand-laid cobbles, which are carried up to cover some of the walls.

Visitor centre by office off course drawings architectural review

Visitor centre by office off course drawings architectural review

Click to download

Office Off Course is currently working on a further facility for rural tourism in the form of a bird observatory, also in Zhejiang province. This domestically silhouetted pavilion sits in a wetland habitat and is made from concrete cast in situ in a bamboo formwork, giving the pitch-roofed building an attractively rough, striated surface. Chinese cities may still be growing but the number of urban projects is decreasing, the architects claim, saying ‘China is no longer a fairyland’. On the other hand, rural areas, where regulations are more relaxed and there is a growing demand for leisure facilities from the urban middle classes, offer architects ‘more freedom and more possibilities in practice’.

The architects’ names, stated above, have been corrected from the print edition, in which they were erroneously stated as Huang Wei, Huang Li and Zhang Wei

This piece is featured in the AR November issue on the Foreign + Emerging Architecture – click here to purchase your copy today 

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