The history of the Chinese city of Jingdezhen as a royal porcelain supplier for over 1700 years has formed the basis for its future incorporation into a national ceramic culture inheritance and innovation pilot zone. The plan aims to bring progress in the ceramic culture industry and provide support to ceramic professionals through the development of tourism. It envisions the development of Jingdezhen into an international hub for cultural exchange, co-operation and trade by harnessing the city’s potential as a rich historical and cultural capital that will create opportunities for skilled professionals worldwide, introduce new ideas and promote inclusivity and diversity.
Jingdezhen has over 30,000 artists known as yang jing piao, including 5000 foreigners or jingpiao, living in the city. The city grew as an accretion of settlements established around kiln complexes comprising kilns, workshops and housing. Street patterns emerged organically from the residual spaces around the porcelain industry and workshops, with lanes leading to the Chang River to easily transport the products. Main streets line the river converging business and commerce. The term ‘Porcelain Capital’ can be attributed to the city’s history of functioning as a major exporter of porcelain to Europe during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The Jingdezhen Imperial Kiln museum design by Studio-Zhu-Pei has been recognized for its innovative use of recycled kiln bricks to create giant vaults that envelop exhibition and public gathering spaces transporting the visitor from one end of the site to the other. The design recreates a traditional old-world charm infused with contemporary culture with the combination of recycled and new bricks that are used to create the vaults of varying curvatures, scales and lengths. By embedding the vaults into the ground surface, the structure attempts to create a rescaled image of the traditional brick kilns of the historic city. Space is fractured within the confines of the vaulted superstructure that envelopes both sections above and below, the ground segmenting the levels. Horizontal continuous slits in the vaults at the ground level create public spaces connecting the exterior with the interior. The vaults are punctured with playful inlets for light and reflected in a series of water tanks that create an illusion of tunneled, transient, mobile passageways that enable visitors to move through and experience the past unfold.
Covering a total of 10,370 sq.m., the museum is situated in a restricted historical context surrounded by ancient complexes of the Imperial Kiln ruins. The site plan is aligned with the north-south street grid of the city. The entrance of the museum facing west, leads visitors from the Imperial Kiln Relic Park through the lush green canopy, over the bridge and into the foyer of the museum. The plan integrates the intervention with the surrounding context of existing ruins including a few new ruins that were discovered after the construction. With street-level public spaces sheltered with overhangs, bridges, sunken courtyards and arched exhibition spaces varying in size and degree of porosity, the design provides for multiple opportunities for interaction and encounter. Programs such as an auditorium, a bookstore, tea room and café engage the visitor creating stationery spaces to collect and reflect in a mobile and directional environment. Five courtyards based on the traditional concepts about earth and porcelain making themed after gold, wood, water, fire and soil complement the forms as the spill-out spaces.
In the words of the makers,
“The unparalleled, linear, and arched structures of the museum, like old kilns, reach below the level of the street to not only give the flexibility to adapt itself into the complicated site, but also achieve an intimate scale of interior space,” said Studio Zhu-Pei.
“This strategy – in part also a response to the height of surrounding historical buildings – leads to productive ambiguity in relation to the building’s horizontal datum.”
“The “insertion” of the building into the ground of the site produces a series of public spaces at street level; also, more importantly, it allows for the design of a number of more intimate open vaults, and courtyards within the museum”
Brick kilns in Jingdezhen are demolished every couple of years to maintain a specific thermal performance benchmark. These warm, kiln-fired bricks would be used to provide warmth in the winter and children would often place the bricks in their bags for the day. The thin and high slender brick vaults display an optimum use of the material and an increased interior space. The arches were created as a result of concrete being poured between two layers of masonry brick walls. The combined use of recycled and new kiln bricks provides a sustainable solution to the needs of the industry and the city. This sensorial architecture with its delicate use of light evokes memories and creates new experiences.