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A modern house of hope with Chinese design

Meng Jing
Updated: May 18,2015 1:52 PM     China Daily

An artistic rendering of the China Pavilion for Milan Expo 2015. [Photo/China Daily]

For months, Su Dan has been traveling back and forth between Italy and China, tasked with the monumental job of overseeing the first national pavilion that China has built outside its borders.

The China Pavilion for Milan Expo 2015, which opened on May 1 and ends on Oct 31, is based on the design proposal by the 48-year-old Tsinghua University scholar and his team.

“National pavilions at each world expo are the indicators of the latest development in architecture. They not only showcase one country’s prowess in technology but also the evolution of its culture,” said Su, the pavilion’s design director and vice-dean of the university’s Academy of Art and Design.

“In a nutshell, it mirrors one country’s image. So it is always a challenge for designers, especially when you design for a country that has a long and rich history and diverse culture.”

Many of the national pavilions from the 140 economies participating in the event will likely go for bold designs that aim to impress, a challenge that Su’s team of about 30 professors from China’s top art and design schools are embracing with a different approach.

Su’s theme for the China Pavilion is “The Land of Hope”. Embodying this is the building’s roof, which is shaped like a cresting ocean wave of opaque glass-like shingles.

Surrounding the pavilion is a field of what looks like 30,000 stalks of wheat-to connect visitors with the Chinese farming culture-that are actually shafts of LED lighting.

Su said the pavilion is a perfect reflection of the Milan Expro’s theme: “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”.

The wheat field functions as an LED multimedia installation to form one of the centerpieces of the building’s exhibition program.

“The image we are trying to deliver is rather contemporary,” says Su, who won an award in 2012 at Idea-King, a China-based international competition for landscape planning and design.

In Su’s opinion, the 2010 Shanghai Expo’s China Pavilion, known as “The Oriental Crown” because of its resemblance to an ancient Chinese crown, is an expression of China via a giant symbol, something his team did not go after.

“We want to build an image of modern China, a big country full of energy and a promising future,” Su said.

According to Lu Yichen, associate professor at Tsinghua University and the chief architect of the China Pavilion, the team didn’t intentionally design an attention-grabbing form.

“We highlighted the experience and quality of the space. For us, this is the most important part of the building,” said Lu, who is also the principal of the New York architecture firm Studio Link-Arc, a partner of Tsinghua on designing and building the pavilion.

The building features many Chinese characteristics throughout its wooden structure, such as the interior bamboo roof panels.

Su said the design concept is loosely based on I Ching, also known as The Classic of Changes or Book of Changes. Originally from the Western Zhou Dynasty (11th century-771 BC), it has been transformed into a cosmological text of ancient Chinese philosophies.

The building specifically follows the trigrams of I Ching: parallels and the close relationships between heaven, Earth and humans.

“In our building, the roof represents heaven, the wheat field is Earth and the exhibition that shows China’s civilization is a reflection of human activity,” Su said.

The close relationship of heaven, Earth and humans and how they live together in a harmonious way is what made Tsinghua’s design proposal stand out from the other 13 submissions, Su said.

The design was completed in late 2013, taking nearly half a year for the Tsinghua University team to complete it.

“Building a project outside China is an unprecedented challenge for us. You need to guarantee smooth communication between design team and overseas construction teams. But no matter how hard you try, unexpected incidents happen from time to time,” Su said.

He admitted he has not had a good night’s sleep in months.

“There were delays in the construction of the pavilion,” Su said.

Feed back on the pavilion have been “so far so good” but that was before the expo opened on May 1, when 20 million visitors from around the world are expected. Su is confident that visitors will have a new impression of China from the building.

“We’ve already taken all the elements, such as the temperature in summer and Italy’s Mediterranean climate, into account to achieve the best results with what we have,” he said.

“Imagine Italy’s summer light through the bamboo roof of the pavilion, shining upon the golden wheat field. The view can be breathtaking.”

FACTS about Milan Expo 2015

Theme: “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”

Duration: May 1 to Oct 31

Total area for exhibition: 1.1 million square meters

Participating countries: 140

Estimated number of visitors: 20 million

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