Zeng Xiaolian Art Museum / Elepheno Architects
Text description of the architects. In 1999, the world horticultural exhibition took place in the “spring city” of Kunming under the motto “Humans and nature – departure into the 21st century”. Expo 1999 had a profound and lasting impact on the growth of Kunming as a city and the development of tourism industry in Yunnan Province, and remains an unforgettable memory for a generation of Kunming people. 22 years later, the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) takes place in Kunming. On this occasion, Contemporary Gallery Kunming selected a vacant site within the original World Horticultural Expo Garden for an artistic revitalization project to build a small art museum dedicated to the art of Zeng Xiaolian, a veteran scientific illustrator for the Kunming Institute of Botany , Chinese Academy of Science.
The project is located on the north side of Expo Gardens Friendship Road, on the site of the former Pakistan and Vietnam Gardens. The conception of the museum layout started with thinking about how to imagine the “pre-existence” of the place. While much of the exhibition architecture is removed from its surroundings and surrounding cultural context, our first impression of the Pakistan and Vietnam Gardens was quite vivid: stepping on the weathered red bricks, touching the cracks in the marble, seeing the shadows of pillars and trees by the strong sunlight. This richness is the result of a long period of natural growth that has given the place a sense of historical remembrance.
We define “pre-existence” as the preservation and perpetuation of the “new legacy”: the previous content as a historical thread is not scratched away and remains legible, while the newly written content is applied like a new pictorial layer on a piece of tracing paper over the original – old and new are carefully stacked on top of each other, connecting past and present without disturbing each other. The steel structure met the need for rapid construction while minimizing impact on the surrounding area. The final plan did not drop a single tree, while the original open-air pavilion, stone panel, marble railings, wall niches and stone benches of the Pakistan Pavilion were fully preserved and incorporated into the museum.
Inside, red bricks are used as exterior floor materials and are extended outwards. Between the paintings, sparse viewing frames are opened to the inner courtyard, blurring the boundary between inside and outside. At the same time, visitors shuttle through the indoor, outdoor, and semi-outdoor spaces while perusing and contemplating the paintings.
While most of the walls rise above the ground, this museum’s walls hang from the steel structure above, and the underside of the walls only need to be simply tied and fastened to the ground, avoiding the excavation of strip foundations or floor joists. The curves and intersections of these lightweight hanging walls create the rich interior and exterior spaces.
If the original art gallery is a floating entity, its boundary is offset by enveloping a ring of curtain. A new edge emerges that abstracts and filters the natural environment and also creates layers between the primitive vegetation and the new landscaping, allowing humans to travel even within the two layers of the system. The shadow is decomposed by the curtain and projected onto the wall, it being unclear whether it is a leaf or a branch. It is the presence of the medium that translates sunlight, trees, wind and time, and this is an aesthetic painting unique to this scene.