Located in the Southeastern part of Guizhou Province, the Shui Cultural Center is a gateway to Sandu County, the land of the Shui. The Shui are one of the ethnic minority groups in China, most of whom live in Guizhou - where West-Line Studio works exclusively - which is why the office pays special attention to researching minority cultures and traditions in order to bring some of their particular elements into the design. Despite being few in number, the Shui people have still retained their own language, together with their unique system of pictographs. They have around 400 characters used mostly during ceremonies and sacrifices. The iconic shape of the cultural center pays homage to the Shui language, following the shape of the character for ’mountain’. The facade pattern is also inspired by Shui’s traditional characters, starting again from the basic triangular shape of the mountain, which is repeated to evoke the character for ’rain'.
The site, which covers an area of 13,800 square meters, was created by a bend in the river, so it is surrounded by water on three sides. On the other, the West side, a water square welcomes the visitors guiding them to the entrance. Shui means water, which is why this element is so relevant for both the site and project. North of the water landscape is the Yulong tower, with a bronze drum on the top. The drum, cast in bronze, is a typical ritualistic element in Shui culture. Bronze can also be found in their altars, which inspired the architects to use perforated bronze steel plates to cover the building. The pattern makes the plates lighter - a thin skin which creates a contrast with the heavy concrete structure - breaking the sunlight to create a dramatic effect once inside.
The concrete is marked strongly by a wooden pattern, given by the pine quarterdecks. Pine wood is one of the most common materials in the Sandu area and the contemporary concrete structure echoes the local traditional wooden architecture.
The building itself consist of three main stripes, which combine all the functions of the tourist-cultural center. The first is the ritual hall, which with its sharp edges, strong colors and narrow space aims to create a strong first impression on visitors, who are clearly stepping into a different dimension. The second stripe still keeps the sharp roof but welcomes visitors with less dramatic tones and serves as reception hall. In the third stripe, which has two floors, at the ground level we lose the pitch roof to find a more conventional space that includes all the main functions: visitor and service center, cafeteria, toilets, business center and an upstairs office area.
With its iconic and distinct shape, the Shui Cultural Center stands as a new contemporary landmark which pays homage to the local culture and traditional architecture. The Shui culture is evoked using particular materials and shapes but also in recreating a holy space, able to submerge the visitor who is guided into a magic journey through the Shui’s ancestral world.