Bamboo Clouds by the Water – White Crane Lake Visitor Center by Archperience Design.
Located adjacent to Yingtan City, Jiangxi Province, White Crane Lake covers an area of 10 square kilometers and boasts panoramic views of the horizon, bamboo forests on its shores, calm waters, and a vast blue sky above, creating a tranquil and poetic atmosphere for visitors there.
The Visitor Center is the centerpiece of a comprehensive development initiative for White Crane Lake. The challenge for the designers was placing a stylistically modern cultural building aimed at increasing tourism, in a natural environment defined by its quiet ambience. The project had a multitude of functional requirements to fulfill, while balancing the need to elegantly coexist with a landscape of forests, mountains, and the lake itself.
When the architect Jin’ang Yang was first formulating his design approach to the project, a simple solution would have been to take the materials and forms of the existing local houses in Jiangxi – and then abstracting and translating that language, essentially reinterpreting traditional architecture with a modern approach. However, considering that the building’s program requires nearly 3,000 square meters of area, it was quickly acknowledged that the appearance of a new, large-scale traditional Chinese-style building on the water's edge would be visually disturbing and incongruous with the nature surrounding it.
Upon visiting the site for the first time, the architect’s intuition and experience came into play and a general design approach was decisively determined. Rather than overtly associating with the local residential architectural style or excessively emphasizing traditional materials and methods of construction, the new building would instead accentuate the natural qualities and atmosphere of the site of White Crane Lake itself.
The Visitor Center is located on a tidal flat, surrounded by the lake on the north, south, and west sides of the site, with an extensive bamboo forest to the east. As the sun rises in the early morning, the lake is shrouded in dense clouds and mist which gently disperse themselves in the surrounding forests. Visitors walking through the forest at this time of day have the impression of simultaneously walking through trees and clouds, high in the sky. In response to these phenomena, the architect proposed the design concept of “Bamboo Clouds by the Water", as a means of evoking this fleeting and deeply poetic early morning atmosphere, and integrating the four site elements of water, shore, bamboo and cloud, to architecturally express it.
In order to reduce its intervention on the environment, the volume of the building adopts a decentralized layout, so that its overall form is divided into a series of connected volumes which effectively reduces its perceived visual scale. The building’s design also incorporates rounded forms and curves, softening its relationship with its surroundings and giving the impression of flow and movement – the project invites visitors to stroll around it in order to take in its overall design, with the views of its form and environment constantly changing with every step, unfolding like a traditional Chinese scroll painting on the lake.
Creating the Building’s Skin
The scheme incorporates a transparent, undulating glass volume with a second layer of "bamboo skin". The continuous skin appears to float over the glass volume, analogous to a gentle cloud of bamboo by the water – while formally, it integrates the separate building masses, giving the building a sense of fluidity, continuity, and integration with nature.
The form of the woven “bamboo skin” was developed according to an analytical design process: first, the defining line of the building’s envelope was established according to programmatic and formal considerations. Following this, secondary points along the envelope were chosen as a basis for the undulations of the skin, according to the building’s functions and the particular view of the landscape at each point – resulting in the semblance of a floating bamboo cloud from the exterior, and ensuring the best possible views from the interior public spaces.
In the process of developing the final form and texture of the woven “bamboo skin”, the architect conducted a series of schematic explorations, looking at various potential patterns which could be incorporated. After considering horizontal and vertical grid-like versions of the skin, as well as an option of a series of interconnected pyramidal forms, a large number of computer analyses were made using Grasshopper software. In the end, the lightest option was chosen for its clear, translucent quality, and practical feasibility as a “woven” texture for the building’s skin.
Extensive consultations regarding the building skin were made with both the client and suppliers, while significant on-site testing was also conducted in order to ensure durability and the desired visual and tactile effect. In the end, the designer finally decided to adopt a special surface-treated metal alloy, which provides a robust material with a strong resemblance to natural bamboo. Although it does not possess the tactile qualities and soft touch of natural bamboo, it was chosen for its long-term viability, ease of maintenance, and overall cost. For a modestly scaled public building, it was deemed to be the best solution by all parties involved.
The skin is composed of a diamond-shaped grid which serves as a base layer, and a densely interspersed woven layer, which is supported by a series of curved galvanized steel pipes. The curvature of each steel pipe corresponds to the curvature of the skin. The pipes are vertically spaced at 1500mm intervals to ensure visual consistency of the curtain wall. Through the careful combination of controlling the number of grid nodes and a completely manual weaving process to ensure a degree of randomness, the final result successfully achieves the "bamboo cloud" effect that the architect had imagined from the outset.
A comprehensive lighting system has been integrated into the building’s outer skin, so that when the sun goes down and darkness sets in, the complex external latticework brilliantly lights up. The building appears to shine, recalling a bamboo lantern floating on the lake, creating a visually memorable scene for visitors to the site.
In the courtyard enclosed by the building volume and a series of elevated walkways, the architect has carefully placed a spiral staircase: it allows visitors to ascend to the second-floor viewing platform from ground level, but also provides a strong visual focus for the courtyard space overall. Its concentric circular steps with changing radii and variegated side railing create a dynamic, complex shape which provides a creative tension with the other elements of the space.
A borderless pool has been incorporated into the roof terrace on the second floor, which has been designed so that the surface of its water seems to blend with the distant blues of the lake and sky beyond when looking over and across it.
The visitor center is divided into a number of clearly legible volumes, whose functions include a general reception area, restaurant, conference space, and VIP Club, among others. The reception hall is located in the southwest portion of the site to offer convenient accessibility, the restaurant occupies the northwest side which offers the best views of the landscape, administration is in the quieter southeast corner, and the VIP Club is placed on the top floor to maximize views of the lake.
The architect took on the project with the intent of applying an approach informed by a kind of poetic imagination, ultimately arriving at the concept of "bamboo clouds on the water", allowing the new building to gently integrate with the surrounding mountains and forest, seamlessly taking its place among the natural elements of the area. The mist that rises from the lake in the early morning is transformed into an edifice which seems to hang in the air, receding into floating clouds of bamboo on the shore.
Archperience Design is a Beijing-based architecture studio whose philosophy is predicated on exploring innovative design strategies, derived from each project’s unique economic, cultural, and technological parameters. In doing so, the studio aims to achieve the highest aesthetic and experiential quality by going beyond the traditional constraints of scale and function, and to provide maximum value to each project’s client, users, and city.
To facilitate this, Archperience incorporates design concepts which involve the full integration of the elements of architecture, landscape, and interior design at each stage of every project, giving equal emphasis to conception, planning, design development, and construction.
This approach favors problem-solving through holistic thinking and creative methodologies from beginning to end, and is an accurate expression of the value we place on unique design solutions, careful attention to detail, and the highest construction quality possible.
Partner / Chief Architect
First Class Registered Architect, China
Mr. Yang Jin’ang, First Class Registered Architect in China, obtained a Master’s Degree in Architecture at Cornell University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture at Tsinghua University. He previously gained extensive experience working for SOM, AEDAS and other well-established foreign design institutions, and has over fourteen years of experience in the design of high-end hotels, commercial complexes, industrial offices, and buildings in the cultural tourism sector. He is able to skillfully navigate the full process of bringing a project to realization, from the earliest stages of pre-conceptualization to its ultimate on-site implementation. His international experience, innovative vision, and ability to communicate bilingually allow him to effectively support his team and bring a constant creative energy to the studio.
Since founding Archperience Design, he has prioritized innovation within his team through effective organization and the sharing of ideas. He places the utmost importance on understanding and working together with clients, and has completed a series of projects conceived through forward-thinking and integrated approaches, resulting in a consistently high level of construction detail and architectural quality – giving him a reputation of trustworthiness and creativity amongst his clients and the architectural sector in general.