Gulao -“Dikes and Mounds” Water Town | Struggle and Co-existence Between Human and Nature
Located in Heshan city, Jiangmen, Guangdong Province, Gulao Water Town has a history of more than 600 years. Xijiang River becomes broad after flowing through here from the upper stream, and the sediment is deposited to form a sandbar. In ancient times, when the flood peaks of the Xijiang River came to this place, local people had to leave their hometown and flee to other places.
In the 27th Year of the Hongwu Reign in the Ming Dynasty, FENG Baxiu, a local people, led the construction of Gu Lao Wei on the imperial order. From then on, Gu Lao Wei turned from a tidal flat into a fertile Lingnan water town. At the alluvial beach around the “Dike”, people dig out fish ponds one by one, and small “Mounds” are formed between them; then, people planted sugarcane and built houses on the mounds, so it is also known as “Dikes and Mounds” Water Town.
Villagers now live near the water and are self-sufficient in life. In the water town, there is still a natural flavor after proper artificial modification, criss-crossing water networks and villages embedded in it form the unique wetland ecological and cultural landscape in Lingnan. In the morning sunshine, boats speed swiftly between villages, ten thousand mu of fishponds shine like mirrors, and one thousand hectares of mulberry trees are green, creating an ink painting of the co-existence between human and nature.
Dikes – Mounds Dike – Ancient people built “Dike” to fight against floods and disasters, and “Dike” is the boundary that divides the inside and outside. Mound – Ancient people built “Mound” to set up a home, and “Mound” is the foundation that bears up and down. Today’s reconstruction design takes the old and new buildings as the boundary, the story background and space framework of Renhe Primary School as the narrative basis, endowing the new meaning to “Dikes” and “Mounts” in the architecture of this water town. Art boxes are embedded into the original structure of primary school, together with the water town, growing and waiting for being read over.
Due to its public attribute, Renhe Primary School is almost the tallest and largest building in the water town. Standing at the top of the building is like standing in a grandstand, so you can watch the daily drama of the villagers in the water town; on the other hand, villagers may also see the building as a backdrop for a stage that performs the prelude of the contemporary art in the water town. Specific time and site genes can redefine the future memory of the building. Present state is not the final version of the building, but an intermediate version between the present and the future; Hopeful Dike & Mount is an organic symbiotic space, and the present state will become a key clue to trace the past in the future.
Renhe Primary School – Ren Art Museum | Inheritance and Replacement of Functions Renhe Primary School in the village was surrounded by several ponds of different sizes. It was a 12-class primary school built in the 1980s with donations from people who were in Hong Kong but whose ancestral home was in Gulao. After more than 30 years, with the development of urbanization, this primary school has moved to the other place. However, young villagers also work or study out of this village. The old school building of Renhe Primary School has been reduced to an abandoned passive space beside the ponds.
The new owner hopes to transform the dusty primary school into a carrier of art museum and art home stay hotel through functional replacement and make it the center to drive the development of surrounding tourism. “Ren” Art Museum is constructed in the original teaching building of Renhe Primary School, and its name is in honor of the old primary school; the introduction of contemporary art into the countryside continues the educational nature of the primary school itself. Natural scenery of this water town has attracted teachers and students from different art colleges and universities in the surrounding cities to come and sketch from nature. The function of the B&B is to provide a dwelling place for visitors, giving them more time and reason to learn about this land and the story of this school.
Old – New | Juxtaposition of Time It hopes to show the time attribute of two different ages in the design by building transformation, so a strategy of light-weight contact with the original building is adopted to make us clearly distinguish and analyze the boundary line presented by the newly added functional blocks and the old building. The old white part functions as a home stay hotel, while the newly added dark gray art boxes serve as a generator for public art, attracting artists and students outside of the village to come here for exhibitions, education, sketching and other activities and providing a public space for local villagers. There is a strong sense of collage of time and space between the dailiness of the countryside and contemporary art, and these newly implanted art boxes are grafted on the original white part, forming a unique viewing route inside.
Different functional properties of the building in different ages are deliberately showed in the design, so you may feel it’s complex inside – you may feel that you’re in a contemporary art museum, but later you may feel that you’re walking through a village primary school in the 80s’.
The main entrance of the school introduces a three-storey gray box as the art hall of the home stay hotel, with tall slender columns running through the three-storey part and leading to the entrance with the twist angle. Sculptor CHEN Jingyi’s 8.6-metre-high art work Passing Through stands among the three. From different heights of the three floors, people can view different fragments of the sculpture and have different interpretations. The sunshine comes in from the east in the early morning, and the shadows of the trees fall on the sculpture. It is silent but seems to say something.
The remaining iron railings and the iron slogans constantly indicate the history of the primary school and try to pull people back to the scene of the 1980s ages. Staircases and hallways are made of original washed-stone materials, full of signs of the times. These marks should not be “Absent” from the building. The mottled traces and exposed structure seem to have a dialogue with the newly added door cover, each representing its own ages.
Original classroom is transformed into a home stay guest room, and expanded french windows try the best to include the surrounding waterscape of the “Dikes and Mounds” Water Town. The balcony outside the guest room can be opened or closed according to customer’s demand, and the adjacent room can be connected into a super long balcony public space, looking like the old classrooms in our memory.
Exhibition space of Ren Art Museum on the top floor adopts movable and reversed wallboard, which can be rotated to control the intensity of natural light entering the exhibition hall according to the nature of the exhibition.
The old canteen has inherited its former identity and become the new restaurant of the home stay hotel. It is connected with a dark gallery to the outdoor swimming pool and intersects with the outdoor staircases of the Ren Art Museum on the third floor, forming a complete tour route.
Histories – Synchronicity In the stratigraphy works, relative chronological orders are usually determined by studying the fossils of organisms in the rock layers, and archaeologists explore the secrets hidden underground by using the layers of key columns. Key column sections of stratigraphic sediment can put the different years together at the same time. This way of presenting the materials gives human more clues about what happened in history. We can’t access time as we can access space, however, we can use space and materials to visualize time. Presenting architectural fragments with diachronic characteristics in a synchronic way requires us to grasp the key clues of the building and combine these new and old raw materials into a new space-time narrative and field experience. It contains familiar memories and present experiences. We seem to have left the place, but we’re actually still here.
For those Chinese who were born in the 1980s and 1990s, they may feel that it was just a simple slogan when standing at the entrance hall and look up at the 13 characters; however, 20 or 30 years after our birth, we’re beginning to understand the true meaning and power of it.
Project Name: The Ink Pond Artist Hotel Creative Team: LONG Chengguan，LI Gonghua Deisgn Firm: PMT Partners Ltd. Website：www.pmt-partners.com Contact E-mail：email@example.com Principal Architects: ZHAO Weihao, HU yan , ZENG zhe Design Team: HE Shuting, HUANG Jiarong , LU Zeqiang, LIN Mianshi Photographs: ZENG zhe，WEN Qingfeng , LONG Chengguan Building Area: 4000 m2 Completion Year: 2020 Project Address: Gulao Village, Jiangmen City, Guangdong Province, China