History speaks volumes, and it must be preserved, protected, and passed over to the next generations to come. The Archaeological culture that existed in China threw light onto the forgotten sites of one of the first ancient civilizations, the site of Erlitou, which was the first capital site of China’s first dynasty, the Xia dynasty. Erlitou cultural site has a history of 3,800 years. It is considered to be the root of Chinese culture and the National system.
The Erlitou Site Museum of the Xia Capital holds together the history and heritage of China’s oldest archaeological site.
Location: Luoyang, China
Architects: TJAD/Rurban Studio
Client: Luoyang Cultural Heritage Bureau
Project Type: Museum
Year of completion: 2019
Design – Philosophy, Concept, & Planning Solutions
Civilizations were developed, evolved, and established organically over some time. Every man-made civilization grew out following a certain pattern, emphasizing the context and culture of the people and their livelihood patterns. The basic idea behind the concept of the Erlitou site museum of the Xia capital was to replicate the Erlitou archaeological site that was discovered 50 years ago. The concept of design and its philosophy closely replicates the pattern of extension of the ancient city of Erlitou.
The museum design also inculcated the amorphous state of design that was achieved by creating a gradually changing special sequence, unlike the concepts that evolve through a single interpretation. The Erlitou Site Museum of the Xia Capital is made up of three major sections. The first section showcases the demonstration area, displaying the relics that were unearthed from the archaeological site. The second section presents the research results of the found relics, explaining the culture, urban layout, geography, and nation’s structural systems.
The third section focuses on the importance of utilizing the ancient historic sites of Chinese civilizations and their origins in the development and formation of early states.
The Erlitou Site Museum of the Xia Capital resembles the planning of the ancient city of Erlitou. Namely, the ancient city of Erlitou was also divided into 3 sections: Bronze working activities, commerce and residence, and the central seat of power. Therefore the museum was organized in such a way that it told the story of the ancient city of Erlitou, its discovery, development, and demonstration of relics depicting the culture that was deeply rooted in the Chinese history of civilization.
The overall planning of the Erlitou Site Museum of the Xia Capital showcased the modern contemporary style of architecture where spaces communicate with each other through the concept of continuity. The museum resembles the classic Chinese walled city where the external façade showcases the closed, solid, and rigorous walled structure, while the indoor spaces generate a sense of openness with ample open areas, courtyards, and open corridors that flow into each other.
Material / Construction
Materials that are used resemble the history of the Erlitou culture. Rammed earth, copper, and exposed concrete are the three main building materials used for the construction of the Erlitou site museum of the Xia capital. Both the choice of materials and the types of construction techniques are inspired by the glory of Erlitou culture and its structures back from the 16th century.
The ancient city of Erlitou was famous for its bronze-making skills, out of which copper was developed. Therefore the use of copper sheet curtain walls and accommodating large bronze workshops induced the experience of the Erlitou culture in the modern context.
Erlitou houses had rammed earth walls. The Erlitou Site Museum of the Xia Capital is also resting on the compacted earth. Rammed earth walls have been constructed using the rammed earth technique to resemble the aesthetic of the ancient city in the modern context. The 8 m high and 40 cm thick rammed earth walls stand strong as an important element of material design and construction. These modern walls have been steel reinforced and have been placed in position with a cast-in-place reinforced concrete beam and pillar frame. This construction technique ensured the long-term stability and strength of the structure.
In addition to the evident use of copper sheets, rammed earth, and exposed concrete work, the gigantic porticos, along with the reinforced concrete frames and steel structures, were painted with a copper colour and cladded with copper, respectively. Adding to this, the total amount of rammed earth used in the design and construction of the Erlitou Site Museum of the Xia Capital exceeds 4,000 m cube, making it the largest single raw earth building in the world.
The future and the life on this planet sustain only when we make conscious decisions. Sustainability is the need of the hour, and it must be taken into account when it comes to the architectural aspect of the design. Sustainability ranges on a wide spectrum of choices such as location, accessibility, transportation, built-up area, design, construction, materials, local or non-local resources, energy consumption, and release, etc.
The lead architect Li Li took into account the various aspects of sustainability. Starting from the land use pattern to the built-up to the materials used, a conscious effort has been made to reduce the impact of the building on the environment while increasing the level of integration with its immediate physical environment.
The Erlitou Site Museum of the Xia Capital is surrounded by rural villages, and it’s important to consider the fact that a structure like this would definitely have an immediate impact on its neighbourhood. This led to proposing a new integrated planning idea for rural settlement development and Heritage Park that sustains the heritage of the place.
The heritage parks service facilities were established keeping in mind the existing villages around the historic site. Considering the neighbourhood villages as an integral part of this overall project increases the employment opportunities catering to the local economy. This indirectly promotes the importance of infrastructure development in the surrounding villages.
The Erlitou Site Museum of the Xia Capital only occupies 1% of the entire Erlitou site area which is 40sq. km. The museum is located on the southern edge of the site, accommodating the exhibition area, the archaeological site, and the visitor’s centre. The busiest part of the site, the tourist centre, was built keeping in mind the planning and construction of the village in the southwest.
The overall design was done keeping in mind the surrounding livelihood. A conscious thought to not impact the villages around this ancient site of Erlitou was taken into strict consideration. Hence the pattern and the urban street layout followed the hierarchy and consistency all along the planning and designing process.
Hence the museum stands un-hindered in between the east and west side of the villages, integrating the entire Erlitou site with its neighbourhood villages. This not only did not change the dynamic and characteristics of the ancient Erlitou site but also acted as the bridge between the neighbourhoods.
The Historic Erlitou Site Museum of the Xia Capital is a perfect example of how past and history can certainly be translated into the present scenario and future context without losing their authenticity.