Located in Zhuguanlong Township, Shouning County, Ningde City of Fujian Province in Southeast China, the Tea Leaf Market is built for local people’s tea leaf trading activities. Supported by authorities of Shouning County, the project was successfully completed thanks to the concerted efforts by SUP Atelier, local government, bamboo contractor and local people.
At the initial phase of design, the architects, together with local authorities, explored the possibility of a large-span space of high utilization efficiency based on experiences from earlier bamboo construction, as the fundamental and diverse functionality of the market requires a large-span space for gathering. Apart from seasonal tea leaf trading, the market can be used for farm product trading, short stay and children’s sports activities; On special occasions such as weddings, funerals and feasts of beggar festival (a local traditional festival which falls on Aug.1st of lunar calendar), people can also gather under the market’s roof.
The biggest challenge of the project is to build a large-span structure with raw bamboo. So the architects carried out in-depth studies on building technologies of “rainbow bridge”, a sort of traditional wooden arch bridge, in search of solutions inspired by ancient wisdom. With simple yet reliable traditional technologies, large-span bridges and shelters, seemingly different in building category, can both be built with easily-obtained materials by assembling multiple structural units with appropriate length. After loading tests carried out by both SUP Atelier and the bamboo contractor, a bamboo structure, featuring an 18m span, was successfully completed, marking the largest span of a bamboo cover built with raw bamboo in the world.
Long perceived as symbols of Chinese traditional culture, pavilions and towers are not necessarily enclosed; instead, quite a few of them are built with an open gesture, reflecting the concept of harmony between human and nature, which has been deeply rooted in Eastern culture. The tea leaf market, though serving as a shelter against storms, features openness, too. The rammed earth walls, concrete structures and terrazzo floors are put together to present a sort of natural solidness while indicating the human-nature harmony. The metal roof built with modern technologies is joint seamlessly with the light bamboo structure, guaranteeing both durability and climatic adaptability of the building.
The lightness and beauty of overhanging eaves of Chinese traditional buildings were described as “looking like stretched wings of beautiful birds” in Classic of Poetry, an ancient Chinese literature classic. And in the remote Zhuguanlong Township, this sort of lightness and beauty are reflected through the innate strength of raw bamboo. As the Chinese saying goes, “Weak birds fly first”. The soaring gesture of the market, which was proposed and built for local people, aims to boost such a spirit crucial to the region’s future prosperity.
The tea leaf market is the latest project of SUP Atelier’s rural practices, which are based on material & technology studies and carried out through public participation of local villagers. We take every opportunity to fulfill our commitment to sustainable development and inspire teaching activities in sustainable design with valuable experiences gained in those projects. Just before its completion, the tea leaf market of Zhuguanlong Township was awarded the UIA Award for Innovation in Architectural Education. It’s our great pleasure and honor that the joint efforts of SUP Atelier, local authorities, villagers, the bamboo contractor and the local construction team have paid off.