Rising Chinese architect Yichen Lu, founder of New York–based Studio Link-Arc, has fashioned China’s pavilion for Expo Milano 2015 in collaboration with Tsinghua University. Fringed by wheat fields that reference the country’s agrarian traditions, the structure rejects the typical notion of a pavilion as an object in a plaza. Lu, an associate professor at Tsinghua University, envisioned the display as a cloud hovering over a “land of hope,” giving it an undulating roof derived by merging the profiles of a city skyline and rolling landscape to posit that “hope” is the attainment of harmony between nature and urbanity. A reflection on past and future, the pavilion as a whole is experienced as a series of public spaces beneath a roof supported by the “raised-beam” structure typical of traditional Chinese architecture.
AN editorial intern Kindra Cooper recently had the opportunity to interview Yichen Lu about his design for the pavilion.
Kindra Cooper: What made you decide to represent China as “The Land of Hope”?
Yichen Lu: “Land” refers to China’s agrarian history and the diversity of its landscapes, while “hope” refers to China’s incredible achievements and the aspirations of its people. We designed the Pavilion to represent the optimism of the Chinese people, but we like to think that it speaks to the world. The client, the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, chose “The Land of Hope” as the theme for the Pavilion. It is closely related to the Expo’s theme of “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” but it also links two concepts fundamental to Chinese culture, land and hope.
Tell us more about the roof. What design techniques did you use to make it?
Since timber is not often used to create long-span spaces or complex structures, we had to work very closely with the engineers, contractors, and fabricators to make the project work within the budget and timeframe.
The Pavilion’s roof structure is reinforced in the east-west direction with six steel rafters, and in the north-south direction with ten steel purlins. In addition to the steel rafters and purlins, the roof structure is reinforced with a series of cable trusses that take advantage of the Pavilion’s unique shape. We located these trusses in the more vertical portions of the roof in order to make them effective structurally. For us, this actually achieved the best of both worlds. The glulam structure creates an incredible feeling of warmth, and in addition you can read the building’s structural diagram from within the space. At the end of this process, we ended up with 1,052 panels, and 287 separate types.
The interior hosts a series of multimedia exhibitions that tell of China’s past, present, and future. What do these exhibitions consist of?
The Pavilion has a very ambitious multimedia exhibition program, starting in the preface space. In this space, a series of LCD displays show artwork made by Chinese schoolchildren. After this, visitors enter the main exhibition area, located under the Multimedia space. This space is populated with exhibits focusing on various aspects of Chinese cuisine and agriculture. For example, one display showcases tofu made in the province of Anhui and explains how it is made. Another display from Fujian shows how tea, a local specialty, is produced. Another very important display focuses on the work of Yuan Longping, an agricultural scientist whose research into cross-breeding rice varieties greatly increased crop yields in China.
Once visitors complete the main exhibition area, they enter the installation space. Visitors emerge gently from the landscape by walking up a long feature stair which takes them to a platform on the second floor. From this platform, visitors view an installation consisting of 22,000 LED stalks that is integrated into the “field”. This installation shows images of Chinese landscapes and farmland. It is actually quite spectacular—it’s the centerpiece of the exhibition program.
After viewing this installation, visitors enter the Multimedia Hall, which shows a short film focusing on family reunions during the Spring Festival. There are also traditional dance performances held in this space.
What are some of the strategies you used to make the pavilion on a limited budget?
We conceived the pavilion as a covered public space—there’s actually very little enclosed space in the project. This helped hold costs down since it drastically reduces the amount of curtainwall, interior finishes and MEP equipment, and the like.
In addition, we decided on a palette of very simple and inexpensive materials to delineate the architecture below the roof. These elements are defined by: exterior OSB paneling, plaster, and polished concrete. A simple materials palette allows these secondary architectural elements to recede into the background so that visitors can focus on the exhibitions.
To what extent did you design the Pavilion the way you would a permanent building, and what were some allowances you made to keep it as a pavilion?
For us, the ephemerality of the building was actually a very interesting aspect of the design, and we wanted to make the most of it. As I mentioned previously, we designed the pavilion as a covered public space. As a result, it touches the ground very lightly. The site is about 46,000 square feet. However, the Pavilion only has about 3,600 square feet of enclosed space at grade. This means it will very easy to remove the pavilion after the Expo has ended.
In addition, we made the pavilion’s roof assembly as light and ephemeral as possible. The waterproofing layer on top of the pavilion’s roof structure is a translucent PVC membrane, which will be easy to remove. The bamboo panels (and supporters) on top of the roof are also a separate assembly. When the Expo is over, they can simply be unbolted from the roof structure.