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How long is the bridge between nature and architecture? One kilometre, says Junya Ishigami

At Zaishui Art Museum in Ritzhao, Shandong Province, the Japanese architect has recontextualised the connection between architecture, nature and water.

How long is the bridge between nature and architecture? One kilometre, says Junya Ishigami

For award-winning Japanese architect, Junya Ishigami, and his eponymous practice, this project for an art museum is very definitely rooted in China. The concept for what is a one-kilometre-long building is based on the tension between nature and humans (with architecture as our stand-in representative), particularly the architect’s perception of that tension in a Chinese context.

The main development at Zaishui Art Museum features an exhibition space, visitor centre and shopping centre. Ishigami’s stated ambition for the design is certainly grand: “A new relationship between nature and humans is born – making this happen is the object of the project.”

It begins with the observation that there is a disconnect between architecture and China’s “vast, boundless landscapes.” The country’s buildings, say the architects at junya ishigami + associates, seem to have “something lonely” about them… they “stand in isolation as if dropped into their limitless surroundings” and “everything feels in some way defensive.”

These reflections have led to a design that is trying with almighty scale to puncture the divide between nature and built form. It’s not, however, a shallow biophilic approach. This building doesn’t just mimic the landscape – it sits within it.

Related: Getting to know Hiroshi Nakamura

Set within an (artificial) lake, the building stretches a full kilometre with a floor area of 20,000 square metres; it undulates, narrows, widens, drops, twists and opens up. It’s an answer to a simple question: how to bring the natural environment and architecture as close as possible to one another?

Columns are repeated at intervals and filled in with glass, while a sash-like roof floats on top. The water’s edge suddenly takes on architectural connotations as the new ground surface and the usual inside-outside dichotomy is inverted.

Some of the glass sections can be opened up in mild weather, creating ventilation and adding airiness to the general atmosphere of light. At times wide, high and open, at others tight, low and enclosed, the spatial experience varies as the visitor passes through. Beneath the water, lower sections of the glass panels have gaps that naturally channel water from the lake indoors and the lake even freezes over in winter. It’s clear that the changeable, impermanent state of water is central to the design, not accommodated as an after-thought.

Zaishui Art Museum continues a number of themes in the work of Ishigami, who previously worked under Kazuyo Sejima at SANAA. Playing with scale, nature and the boundaries between inside and outside – these are all hallmarks to be read alongside his Naïve Art-like philosophy that prizes the perspective of children and asks, what might architecture be if we can unlearn some of our most ingrained assumptions?

Part ethereal and with a trademark atmosphere of lightness, this recent project seems to be at once transgressive and sensitive to nature; it draws delicate attention to and celebrates the qualities of water while enabling the hubristic act of walking on it.

junya ishigami + associates

Arch-Exist, junya ishigami + associates

Further reading – artificial intelligence, Metabolism and crisis in mid-20th-century Tokyo.

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