Dongyuan Qianxun community is in Xiangcheng District of Suzhou city, with Huangqiao Town in the north. There are residential lands in the east and the west, and Huqiu Wetland Park right on the southern side of the road. The community center is located in the southeast corner of the land, and is adjacent to two city roads.
Like most residential areas in newly developed cities, Qianxun is still a closed commercial housing community. The current model of residential development in China is a result accumulated over the past 30 years, and it is closely related to the formation of social and economic classes. The new policy of encouraging open community is difficult to subvert this model in a short period of time. In the relatively empty towns, completely open community is even more difficult to achieve due to the identity and security requirements of residents in current social environment. In this condition, it is inevitable to locate the public facilities in the corner of the block. We as architects are not satisfied with such a derived passive choice. Instead, we would like to explore: is it possible to use the ontological strength of architecture to respond and change this negative logic?
Suzhou is a place containing southern Yangtze river culture resources with courtyard life as their carrier; A river in east-west direction wanders in the wetlandpark along the south side of the community, the reeds and trees along the river bring natural flows to the wilderness of this area: these two conditions from humanity and nature constitute the external environment of the project. As a community center at the edge of the compound, this building needs to provide public services for the surrounding communities, including communal affairs, social events, art exhibitions, parent-child activities, sports, convenient store and so on: these public activities constitute the internal demands of the project. We here wish to pursue a specific spatial order, to integrate the internal demands and external environment of the building, so as to become a common carrier of both. We will then be able to create a dynamic community space compatible for both socialness and naturalness, with both cohesion and openness.
The mutual inference between structural system and spatial order is one of the main design methods of Scenic Architecture office recently. After trials of a variety of ideas, we decided to use alternately stacked shear walls to generate the space. Our structural consultant called it a system of "stacking walls as deep beams". It meets the structural needs of vertical loads and horizontal stiffness, while forming a special spatial order: the walls provide enclosure and divide different spaces, and the holes in between walls provide openness and link different spaces —— we hope the double potential of this order is capable to help this community center to achieve the coexistence of cohesion and openness.
According to the functional demands of the programs, the basic width modulus of the usable space is around 7m. We ended up a span module of 7.2m to subdivide the building in the size of 60m X 45m into six strip structures in the width of 7.2m. These strips were integrated with the stacking wall system according to the internal and external circulations, to organize and generate the inside and outside spaces of the whole building.
The vertical structure of the second floor is mainly composed by north-south gable walls that are freely distributed along the strip structures. They naturally became the starting point of the roof design. With comparison studies we adopted concrete concave shell as the building covering. The span of the 160mm thick cylindrical shell structure is 7.2m in short direction, and 12-20m in long direction with the shell height of 1.3m. The spatial experience under the roof is like segments under waves, with sense of stability under the ridge like the traditional double slope roof; and with sense of outflow under the bottom. The continuous shells create two fused internal experiences, and an external image of waved gable walls, which expressed a relevance of water and traditional architectural style in southern Yangtze River region.
We designed a main pedestrian passage from north to south on the west side of the building. The residents in the community can take this passage throughout the community center to the bus station or the wetland park in the south. In the southeast corner of the building there is another passage, which is connected with a small retail courtyard on the east side, connected with the main route through a waterscape garden. Along the main route we set up a convenient store on the southwest corner near the city road, and a children’s playroom on the north close to the residential area. The main passage is expanded to a covered public plaza in the central area of the building. The plaza faces the lawn to the west and from here you can enter the lobby to the east. The lobby is a multi-functional space for art exhibitions and other community activities. It is also the hub area to enter other internal spaces: through a sunken courtyard you will find a fitness center in the basement which is connected to the residential parking; on the ground floor the building provides spaces for the management, community affairs, small shops and social space for residents; and on the second floor you can find the community library and studio, in the cafe facing south you will be able to enjoy the view of the wetland park.
In this spatial structure, the alternately arranged solid walls and openings merge the architecture with the nature in their mutual definition, and form a courtyard cluster permeable to each other. A variety of community activities and passages find their own places with the division of courtyards, while they are also connected through the interflow of the spaces.
The detail design of buildings also firmly serves this system. By using cast-in-place reinforced concrete structure and internal insulation, we have then opportunity to bring a rough vertical texture to the exposed stacking shear walls casted by carbonized wood formwork with a fixed vertical gap; At the bottom of cast-in-place concave shells we use smooth wooden formwork to guarantee the abstract presentation of the exposed concrete ceiling. The roof is covered by aluminum magnesium panels, which enables curved surfaces to fit to the concave shell geometry. The rainwater on concave roof is collected by the gutters on the bottom of shell, and then drained through free fall or collective pipes. All tectonic details follow the integral order of architecture, and the establishment of the order of architecture also relies on all the details.
Tectonic and space are the architectural ontology that architects can mostly count on. In the process of responding to the needs from nature, society and human, we hope to use the strength of architectural ontology to explore new orders. We expect to not only establish a public life space for the community, but also bring flows of light, shadow and time to the place.