June 4, 2020

The radiant city

city

Atelier DYJG took on a government commission to work with artists and help rejuvenate Yantai city in China.

The north of Yantai city in Shandong Province faces the sea and a range of hills 70m high, while there were major roads to the east and west. It was inevitable therefore that the city would sprawl southwards, and in 2007 the government took the decision to invest in the area and build a museum and plaza at a site along its southern edge. According to the brief, residential areas were to be in the west and south, with a park towards the east by the river. The museum was to be located at the foot of Qinglongshan Hill, covering an area of about 2ha, and adjacent to it would be Qinglongshan Cultural Plaza, 11ha in size.

Atelier DYJG was commissioned to build the plaza in 2009. At that time the site had been flattened and a 33m-high sculpture, designed by a local artist and based on the ancient Chinese written character meaning ‘dragon’, had been erected in the centre of the site as a visual focus. The design of the museum was finished and was ready for construction.

The brief

The client gave the following requirements: firstly, the site should be a venue for festival events and performances, and serve as a daily recreational and attractive place for the public. Secondly, through the construction of the plaza, the area should have a good link with the surrounding mountains, rivers and bridges, as well as promoting the construction of new urban areas located in the southern part of the city. Lastly, the client specified that the site should provide some service facilities.

Design and build

A series of green islands were used to separate the enormous site into several reduced-scale spaces with different functions, landscapes and elevation changes. These green islands also connected Qinglongshan Hill and its plants, and created a visual combination between the hill and the plaza.

Parking was consigned to the edges of the site to keep the central area as open as possible, while an event space was included in front of the museum. Four different types of local stone were used for the paving to produce vivid effects in the large-scale hardscape.

Sunken buildings

Following investigation, it was discovered that the seemingly flat site was located on a gentle slope. This meant the museum would be slightly higher than the surrounding roads, while the edge of the site was a full 1.5m lower.

To combat this, two sunken buildings were created along the edge to solve the height difference. With two main roads in such close proximity, the site was also very noisy. The boundaries of the underground buildings were used to block the traffic noise, successfully creating a quieter environment for the plaza.

The underground buildings were hidden under an undulating grass slope. Another sunken area was designed close to the commercial buildings, creating an independent business area and subdividing the space, reducing the sense of scale. Pavement, benches and plants further divided the sunken space for future outdoor commercial use.

Outstanding features

A fountain was designed to surround the character sculpture and imply a dragon bursting from water. This also helped to integrate the sculpture – which was originally somewhat isolated – into the plaza. To create a symmetrical space, a second fountain was designed on the far side of the museum entrance. The fountains were designed so that the upper and lower pools formed waterfalls.

A series of green islands with wooden platforms and benches created spaces of ‘human scale’ on the upper plaza. Irregularly arranged tree beds and long stone benches were used to provide a relaxing environment.

Alongside these features several small open-air amphitheatres were built to the southwest of the museum. Sculptural steel colour-changing lights run around the amphitheatres and unite them.

Lastly, the designer used the ancient Chinese dragon character throughout most of the landscape elements, including buildings, green islands, benches and lighting. The character was even used to form patterns on the plaza pavement.

Qinglongshan Cultural Plaza is a valuable lesson in how to successfully integrate several very different elements – the museum buildings, the existing dragon sculpture, busy city roads, the river and other surrounding environments – to become a vital and cultural urban public space.

Materials and features

● Local stone: Four kinds of local stone were used to produce vivid effects across the large-scale hardscape

● Bamboo: Anti-corrosive and easy to install

● Plants: Mainly easy-to-source native species

● Lighting: Steel lamps were an important design element

Challenges

● The requirement was a large paving area, but huge hardscapes can come across as less ‘human’. 3D modelling was used to negotiate this point.

● Because of the long construction period, contractor and client personnel changed. This made smooth working more difficult.

● Sourcing good plants was difficult, and only achieved through discussions with contractors.

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