Tuesday, November 30, 2010

2010 Aga Khan Award: Bridge School, China

Chinese Architect, Li Xiaodong was asked to design a small school for the village of Xiashi in the Fujian Province, and he had the idea to combine the school with a pedestrian bridge that connected two historic toulou (circular castles made from packed dirt). A creek runs right through the middle of the village and the toulou serve as important historical landmarks, so it made sense to locate the school at the physical heart of the village. As Xiaodong says, the concept resulted in “minimum intervention, yet maximum impact – to rejuvenate the whole community.”

The school is constructed out of two large steel spans that cross the bridge and smaller steel supports and framing. Local materials and wood were used to create the facade, interior furnishings and school furniture. While the steel is very modern, especially in the context of a rural village, the material will last a long time while creating a structurally-sound school. The use of local materials helps the building blend texturally and aesthetically with the rest of the village.

Catherine Slessor wrote an article about this project, she described it as "...an intelligent, contemporary take on the archetype of the inhabited bridge. Supported on concrete piers, the simple steel structure acts like a giant box girder that’s been slightly dislocated, so the building subtly twists, rises and falls as it spans the creek. Inside are a pair of almost identical, wedge-shaped classrooms, each tapering towards the mid point of the structure. Although it’s possible to use the building as a bridge, a narrow crossing suspended underneath the steel structure and anchored by tensile wires offers an alternative and more direct route."

I believe this is a great design that respects the surrounding environment with this architectural form, Slessor mentioned that the jury was unanimously impressed by the clarity and grace of the new architecture, while also admiring its potential to transform life in China’s rural margins.

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