Jingdezhen, China was once home to the Imperial Kiln of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The ancient facilities now lay in ruin, however their former site serves as the perfect platform to display the many precious porcelain artifacts that were once fired in their brick ovens. Museums are usually designed as singular structures; iconic buildings that act as symbols for the museum’s brand. Instead, Studio Zhu Pei broke this mold, fracturing the program into eight vaults of varying size, length, and curvature, which call to mind the spatial and material quality of the ruined kilns. Connected by courtyards, the long row of brick vaults is arranged along the north-south axis. Their walls are made up of concrete poured in between two layers of masonry brick walls, drawing on the longstanding tradition in the area of building with recycled bricks. The result is a modern facility with an important urban dimension, which poetically projects the museum’s historical collection into a global context.
Hannah Feniak was honored to discuss the material aspects of the project with its designers, allowing them elaborate on the global and future-oriented dimensions of their architecture.
Hannah Feniak: One important part of the project was making historical references to ground the project in a local context. At the same time, aspects of the design and the museum point to a more global future. Can you elaborate further on the decision that you made to achieve this equilibrium?
Studio Zhu Pei: The moment I started to conceive the museum, the famed Xujia Kiln was by coincidence under reconstruction. I was deeply attracted to the way local masons build. The parabolic shape of kilns is made from light and thin clay bricks. No scaffolding is used, and the construction is done by gravity and viscidity of clay. The process of kiln construction is similar to that of jiggering and jollying in porcelain making.
In the early eighteenth century, French Jesuit priest Père Francois Xavier d’Entrecolles wrote in his diary, “The city of Jingdezhen is completely occupied by kilns of all sizes. Surrounding mountains are illuminated by kiln flames at night.” It can be imagined how busy this “Porcelain Capital” of the world once was. Kilns become a place not merely for making porcelains but also for communication in public urban space. In the old days a child would pick up a burning hot kiln brick on his way to school and put it inside their schoolbag to survive a freezing cold day. In summertime, when kilns are temporarily closed, the cool wet air makes it a wonderful resort for playing and socializing. It is clearly felt that the memory of the kilns has been injected into the local blood, and the image of its prototype stays lingering in the local mind. Naturally it became the reference of my design.
This museum is to exhibit the antique porcelains from the excavation of the Imperial Kiln relics, as well as some that are now preserved in the Palace Museum in Beijing and originally made here. If a question is posed to the porcelains, “Where is your homeland?” The answer would definitely be like this, “Kilns!” Thus, the fundamental idea of my design is to bring back a sense of homeland for the porcelains. In fact, the scale of the museum in section is quite similar to Xujia Kiln. Imagined ancient working scenes of craftsmen inside the kilns would be evoked when a visitor watches and promenades around the museum. This is exactly the so-called rootedness. It reshapes a past experience, represents a kind of isomorphic inner-relationship of “kiln-porcelain-human.” In this way, new designs are combined with the past experience.
Open the shejil, open the linked world ! Make design easier。