The Beijing Culture and Art Center will be located in the city’s historic area where centuries-old courtyard houses are being transformed into concrete look alikes. The competition brief for the design of the BCAC required the renovation of exactly this type of structure. In this case, the original building is a private clubhouse for the nouveau riche, its design representative of the excesses of pre-Olympic Beijing.
People’s Architecture Office views these existing conditions of nostalgic historicism and kitschy interiors –saturated neon colors, European molding, gold plaster reliefs as essential parts to their design for the BCAC. The goal is to draw attention to the contradictions between modern structure and faux form, and at the same time highlight the irony of placing an innovative art institution in a concrete imitation of a revered Beijing typology.
The clubhouse courtyard then is ‘sliced’ into several alternating bands that run the entire length of the building. These bands are stripped bare. Surface “bling” applied to the walls, ceilings and floors are removed to reveal raw concrete, a methodical excavation resulting in unexpected juxtapositions. A single beam, for example, will be encrusted with faux carved wood ornament in one area and scraped down to its slimmer, unadorned concrete profile in another.
The clubhouse’s concrete structure lends itself to flexibility. Spaces are expanded and linked by removing walls since most are not loadbearing. This unified interior is not possible with a traditional courtyard house made of wood. Large sliding glass doors line either side of the yard to allow activity to spill out from the interior to the exterior.
The basement is an open space with a system of custom designed partitions that accommodates exhibitions, performances and film screenings. Large openings between the first floor and basement provide visual connections between the levels. At the same time the incongruity of the traditional structure above and the modern basement below is exposed and highlighted.