Jingdezhen Imperial Kiln Museum by Studio Zhu-Pei

Imperial Kiln Museum

Located in the center of historical area, the site of the Museum is adjacent to the Imperial Kiln ruins surrounding with many ancient kiln complexes. Jingdezhen is known as the “Porcelain Capital” in the world because it has been producing pottery for 1,700 years. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, Jingdezhen exported huge amount of porcelains to Europe.

Situated on a fairly restricted historical area adjacent to the east side of the Imperial Kiln ruins, the plan of Imperial Kiln Museum was aligned with the north-south street grid of Jingdezhen, with its entry, water pools, bridge, facing west, embracing the open file of Imperial Kiln Ruins, welcoming visitors from Imperial Kiln Relic Park and public pedestrians to be wandering through the forest under green canopy, going through the bridge, flowing into the foyerof the museum.

The Imperial Kiln Museum comprises more than half a dozen brick vaults base on the traditional form of the kiln, each of vaults is of a different size, curvature, and length. They were naturally applied into the site, carefully integrated with many existing ruins including a few ruins were found after the construction. The unparalleled, liner, 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 intimate scale of interior space.

This strategy – in part also a response to 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. Most of those public spaces are covered under shaded, protected from rains because of hot and rain a lot during summer in Jingdezhen.

One of those open spaces, two open vaults sited in both end, will also reveal the traces of the historic fabric on the site. When one walk on the bridge and enter the foyer, and then turn left, you will pass a series of arched exhibition spaces lightly varied in size and with contradicting openness (enclosed or open to the sky) to encounter a gentle stair in the end flowing down to the underground level with five sunken courtyards.

Meanwhile you can obtain a three-in-one (kilns-porcelains-people) museum experience when you see those porcelain, ruins and sunken courtyards which create manifold layers’ experiences with ancient bricks on façade. As you turn right at the foyer, you will respectively pass the bookstore, cafe, tea room and finally reach a semi-outdoor area under the arch, witnessing a picturesque scene: in daytime surfaces on these arches reflect the waves of water while low horizontal gaps tempt people to sit down on the floor to see the long horizon of the imperial kiln ruins, without expectation.

Similar surprise would be created when you see the Longzhu Pavilion of the imperial kiln ruins through the vertical seams when you are on the way to the auditorium before accessing the foyer. Five sunken courtyards varied in size have different theme: gold, wood, water, fire, soil. Those five themes not only reflect old Chinese thinking about earth, but also associate with porcelain making techniques. The overall experience of the museum tries to rediscover the roots of Jingdezhen, to recreate the past experience among kiln, porcelain, and human being.

Structure and Materials
I was fascinated in local ancient kiln tectonic and material. Looking in the past, craftsmen built the brick kiln without scaffolding in a very special way. Thin and light brick kiln achieved a maximum interior space with minimum materials, the brick kilns appeared in organic forms reflecting heat flow from the one end to another. The basic structure of the museum is arch structure system, it is made up of concrete poured in between two layers ‘masonry brick walls.

There is a small arch to be layout perpendicularly to connect two arches. Using recycled kiln bricks to build house and all kind of buildings is a significant character in Jingdezhen because brick kilns have to be demolished very two or three years in order to keep a certain thermal performance of the kilns. Entire city was covered by recycled kiln bricks. Those bricks record a warmth, inseparable from the lifeblood of the city.

In the past, the children would take a warm brick from the firing kilns to place in their schoolbags to keep warm the whole day in the freezing winter. The materials of the museum are dominated by bricks, recycled old kiln bricks are mixed with new bricks together to reflect the local culture of construction. This interweaving of two different historical phases proposed by the combination of new and old bricks must arouse interest, curiosity, create new questions and give new answers by interacting with the mind of people who inevitably evoke memories and enjoy a unique experience.

The past cannot be erased but rewritten by recounting with a new awareness and maturity, a sort of contemporary archeology. The visitor can have a 360-degree sensory experience through the repeated contact between exterior and interior that stimulates touch, smell, hearing and sight and transports the visitor into a sort of trip between past, present and nature.

Natural light
Even the light evokes active and tangible memories and is the proof of how ancient techniques can be reinterpreted and reread in a contemporary key. The interior natural light is achieved by both skylight and sunken courtyard, inspired by smoke holes of ancient brick kiln, the skylight in hollow cylinder shape are distributed on the top part of the arch to provide natural light in day time and artificial light in the night time.

  • Location: Jingdezhen, Jiangxi, China
  • Architect: Studio Zhu-Pei, Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University
  • Design Principal: Zhu Pei
  • Front Criticism: Zhou Rong
  • Art Consultant: Wang Mingxian, Li Xiangning
  • Design team: You Changchen, Han Mo, He Fan, Liu Ling, Wu Zhigang, Zhang Shun, Shuhei Nakamura, Yang Shengchen, Du Yang, Chen Yida, He Chenglong, Ding Xinyue
  • Structural Consultant: Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University
  • MEP Consultant: Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University
  • Green Building Consultant: Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University
  • Landscape Design: Studio Zhu-Pei, Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University
  • Exhibition Design: Studio Zhu-Pei, Beijing Qingshang Architectural Ornamental Engineering CO., LTD.
  • Interior Design: Studio Zhu-Pei, Beijing Qingshang Architectural Ornamental Engineering CO., LTD.
  • Facade Consultant: Shenzhen Dadi Facade Technology CO., LTD.
  • Lighting Consultant: Ning Field Lighting Design CO., LTD.
  • Acoustic Consultant: Building Science & Technology Institute, Zhejiang University
  • Client: Jingdezhen Municipal Bureau of Culture Radio Television Press Publication and Tourism, Jingdezhen Ceramic Culture Tourism Group
  • Main Contractor: China Construction First Group Corporation Limited, Huajiang Construction CO., LTD of China Construction First Group
  • Area: 10,370 square meters
  • Year: 2020
  • Photographs: Studio Zhu-Pei, schranimage, Tian Fangfang, Courtesy of Studio Zhu-Pei

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