Non-Linear Chronologies: 7 Chinese Firms Designing Architecture Against the March of Time

How can architecture speak to multiple moments in time without resorting to historical pastiche?

Samantha Frew Samantha Frew

The judging process for Architizer's 12th Annual A+Awards is now away. Subscribe to our Awards Newsletter to receive program updates, and stay tuned for winners announcements later this spring.  

Can a building exist simultaneously in the past, present and future? Time-defying architecture is a groundbreaking movement that says, yes, it can. The approach, more than a stylistic exercise, challenges the conventional linear approach of architectural history, integrating eras seemingly seamlessly through a singular design.

Across China, this architectural philosophy is gaining remarkable traction, reflecting a unique cultural junction of reverence and rapid modernization. Chinese architecture firms are at the forefront of this movement, driven by deeply engrained historical consciousness and a drive for global architectural leadership. This fusion of ancient heritage with futuristic vision highlights a unique approach to preserving cultural identity while embracing the technological revolution.

Key to the practice lies in historical knowledge and a precise application of it alongside the technological advancements of the modern world – architects must adeptly navigate between eras, employing techniques from Brutalism to biomimicry, with a sensitivity that avoids pastiche. The seven A+Award winners highlighted showcase innovative structures and materials that have created spaces that are both forward-thinking and multi-layered in time.

Bache Community Center

By DEDANG DESIGN, Suzhou, China.

Jury Award Winner, 11th Annual A+Awards, Community Centers

Bache Community Center by DEDANG DESIGN, Suzhou, China. Photographs by Dedang Design

The Bache Community Center is a modern building located in Suzhou, designed by DEDANG DESIGN. The center is situated in the old street of Bache, near the historic Grand Canal and is part of a micro-renewal project which aims to revitalize the area in anticipation of the new Soochow University campus.

The building successfully combines contemporary design with a deep sense of heritage and place, with the idea behind the design being to blend the old with the new. Using a “column-free” design, the center appears to “float” above the ground, creating an open and airy space that contrasts with the surrounding cramped quarters of the old street. In a bid to respect the heritage of the site the center has a courtyard that is raised and sunken, surrounded by old bricks, which offers a communal space while incorporating a contemporary architectural language. A ginkgo tree, which is a symbol of life and connects the building to the changing seasons, was included in the atrium.


By Chongqing Qimo Architectural Design Consulting, Chongqing, China.

Jury Award Winner, 11th Annual A+Awards, Hotels and Resorts

PUSHINE, a stunning resort by Chongqing Qimo Architectural Design Consulting Co., Ltd., is located in the peaceful Jinfo Mountain area of Nanchuan District, Chongqing. Completed in 2021, it is a modern hideaway that incorporates ancient Buddhist and Taoist principles of Zen. The hotel offers a contemporary escape, but it pays homage to age-old concepts and creating an environment that is ideal for rest and contemplation.

The flow of the mountain stream inspires the design of the hotel. It includes cottages and bridges set at different elevations, building a connection between architecture and the natural landscape. PUSHINE is a modern retreat that is a seamless blend of contemporary resort architecture with traditional Chinese philosophy that finds a harmonious balance, offering visitors a tranquil space to experience a profound sense of mental clarity and peace.


Chenjiagou “Impression Tai Chi” Theatre

By Architectural Design & Research Institute of Tsinghua University, Jiaozuo, China

Jury Award Winner, 11th Annual A+Awards, Hall / Theater

The “Impression Tai Chi” Theatre is located in Chenjiagou, which is considered the birthplace of Chinese Tai Chi Chuan. Designed by the Architectural Design & Research Institute of Tsinghua University Co., LTD the theater can accommodate up to 1200 people and is a testament to the preservation of natural landscape.

The theatre has a unique mirrored stainless steel facade that reflects the sky, creating a visually appealing connection with the environment without interfering with the visual narrative of the landscape. An annex inspired by traditional Chinese courtyards is constructed using rubble concrete and extends to the exterior, where the natural terrain is followed. Featuring grassy slopes on the roof and surroundings, the theatre design creates a “3D park” that adds value to the guest experience and honors the natural location of the building. It is a prime example of architecture that works with its surroundings, defying traditional notions of architecture to allow for harmonious coexistence.

Free Space with Wood

By Fan Architectural Firm (FANAF), Nanjing, China

Jury Award Winner, 11th Annual A+Awards, Showrooms

Free Space with Wood by Fan Architectural Firm (FANAF), Nanjing, China. Photographs by ingallery Jin Xiaowen.

The “Free Space with Wood” commercial showroom in Nanjing was designed by Fan Architectural Firm (FANAF) in 2022. The project is a fine example of the importance of preserving historical elements in modern design. The focal point of the space is a restored red brick wall, traditional to historical Chinese architecture, that connects the past with the present.

The showroom is divided into two courtyards using wooden elements and frameless glass to blend the interior and exterior spaces. The entrance courtyard merges indoors and outdoors with a black box, as it integrates the vibrancy of the city. The traditionally inspired internal courtyard features a wooden ceiling that extends outward and a C-shaped teahouse, creating a peaceful atmosphere.

FANAF’s design approach focuses on preserving historical integrity with minimal intervention and maximum preservation while adding contemporary functionality. The design creates a dynamic yet respectful dialogue between old and new.

The Oatmeal Factory

By JSPA Design, Ningwu County, Xinzhou, China

Jury and Popular Choice Award Winner, 11th Annual A+Awards, Factories & Warehouses

The Oatmeal Factory by JSPA Design, Ningwu County, Xinzhou, China. Photographs by Schran Images

The Oatmeal Factory in Ningwu County , built in 2022 by JSPA Design, is a groundbreaking industrial facility that rethinks what a factory can be. Rather than being a muted and utilitarian space, the factory incorporates elements of nature and sensory experience into its design, creating a space that defies traditional industrial architecture.

The factory is divided into two levels. The lower level is made up of brick walls and houses the technical spaces, which is a tribute to local building traditions. The upper level is a modern concrete volume designed for public spaces. By incorporating patios and gardens, the factory introduces natural light and creates a sense of openness that is not usually found in traditional factories.

By blending traditional brickwork with modern concrete, the factory creates a conversation between past and present. The Oatmeal Factory is an innovative blend of industry and nature, reimagining the role and form of a factory in a contemporary context.

Chongqing Shibati Traditional Style Area

By Beijing AN-Design Architects, Chongqing, China

Jury Award Winner, 11th Annual A+Awards, Urban & Masterplan

Recently revitalized by Beijing AN-Design Architects, the Chongqing Shibati Traditional Style Area represents the perfect blend of modern technology and traditional spaces. Shibati is located in the old city of Chongqing and is known for its ancient stairway and deep cultural roots dating back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The renovation project, covering over one million square feet, was guided by the principle of protecting and inheriting Shibati’s core values. The design retained the original urban layout of “seven streets and six lanes” and preserved the complex elevation changes characteristic of the site.

The restoration process was meticulous and cultural relics, historical buildings, cliffs, stairways and trees that define the mountain city were all restored. Elements like telegraph poles and iron railings were also restored to maintain historical continuity. Modern features were carefully integrated using original styles, techniques and materials. This approach created a seamless blend of old and new, ensuring that the Shibati area remains a living and breathing part of Chongqing’s urban fabric. It is a place where traditional charm coexists with modern functionality.

Stations of Shanghai Metro Line 18

By Shanghai Rail Transit Line 18 Development, Shanghai, China

Popular Choice Winner, 11th Annual A+Awards, Transport Interiors

The Shanghai Metro Line 18 has several stations, including the Danyang Road Station, that were designed to transcend time. The line opened in 2021 and runs through the Yangpu Binjiang area, which is rich in history. The stations use contrasting black and white colors to create a modern feel while also emphasizing the region’s industrial past. The unique design combines a minimalist approach with historical storytelling to create a time-defying architecture.

The stations effectively blend different eras and are a great example of how transport infrastructure can transcend its conventional role, becoming a dynamic space where different periods coexist and enhance the urban fabric.

The judging process for Architizer's 12th Annual A+Awards is now away. Subscribe to our Awards Newsletter to receive program updates, and stay tuned for winners announcements later this spring.  

Samantha Frew Author: Samantha Frew
Sam Frew is an interior designer with ten years of experience in the high-end hospitality industry. She is one-half of Campbell | Frew Design Studio. Over the years Sam has collaborated with some of the world’s biggest hotel brands including Accor, Millennium, Ensana and Radisson.
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