Neri&Hu and the zenithal light of Aranya Art Center

A white cone excavating the introverted mass of the Center forms a light channel to illuminate from above an amphitheatre designed for a coastal community.

This article was originally published in Domus 10523, January 2020.

When the developer Aranya asked Neri&Hu to design an art centre in its seaside resort community, Neri&Hu seized on the opportunity to question the notion of space for art versus communal space.

Despite the straightforward brief of an art centre, the Aranya community places a strong emphasis on the spiritual nature of its lifestyle ideology and oneness with the environment. Therefore, the design scheme is as much about the internal courtyard, a communal space for locals, as it is about the exhibition on display in the centre.

Drawing inspiration from the seasonal ocean waters nearby – azure and calm in the summer but with splintered ice in winter – the building design attempted to encapsulate the natural wonder of water.

The scheme maximises its outer footprint but carves out a pure conical geometry at the centre with a stepped amphitheatre at its base. The central void can be reconfigured and used in many ways, as a water feature when filled with water or a functional performance space and rendezvous when drained. The exhibition galleries above benefit from the integrated public space but this also makes the project much more than merely a display space; it is also a place for sharing.

Neri&Hu Design and Research Office, Aranya Art Center, Qinhuangdao, China, 2019. Photo Pedro Pegenaute

Within the thick mass of the building are a number of interlocking spaces through which visitors can meander freely, slowly ascending and enjoying a choreographed journey with targeted views both inwards and outwards. The gallery spaces are about enjoying art and this project is no different to that regard. A spiralling path leads visitors through all the spaces, urged onwards by a desire to see more. Starting at the base with a café, multi-purpose gallery and outdoor amphitheatre, the path guides visitors through five different galleries, culminating on the rooftop with a 360-degree view of the activities below.

Composed primarily of textured concrete, the facade and material nature of the building are heavy, like a solid rock sitting firm in a shifting environment. Smooth surfaces reflect the changing skies, while the moulded modular units pick up the play of shadows throughout the day. Bronze elements accent the heavy facade, catching the light and drawing attention to the entrance to each gallery. Custom lighting and details add an intricate touch to an otherwise modest palette. In the evening, open modules allow the light to shine through and the building becomes a jewel in the heart of this seaside community.

(from the architects’ project description )

Aranya Art Center
Neri&Hu Design and Research Office
Project leaders:
Lyndon Neri, Rossana Hu
Project team:
Nellie Yang (associate director, architecture), Ellen Chen (associate and project manager), Jerry Guo (associate), Utsav Jain, Josh Murphy, Gianpaolo Taglietti, Zoe Gao, Susana Sanglas, Brian Lo (associate director, product design), Lili Cheng
Built area:
1,500 smq
Design and construction phases:

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