Neri&Hu’s Aranya Art Center, located in China’s “Gold Coast” of Qinhuangdao, is a part of the developer Aranya’s seaside villa community. The newly built resort town is all about communal activities, with work from firms ranging from OPEN Architecture to Vector Architects that emphasize culture and education—and the newly opened Aranya Art Center is no exception, as its inscribed cylindrical design and tone of “calm drama” creates a unique opportunity for art and entertainment. 

The building’s heavy concrete envelope is richly textured and pierced by the occasional bronze-fitted windows and centered around an open-air pond-cum-amphitheater. When a performance is scheduled, the base of the round room becomes a descending wave of concrete steps punctuated with custom lighting. When out of use, the depression is filled with water, creating a reflective pond whose surface plays with the natural light and splashes on the surrounding concrete walls. 

The enclosed mass around the circular opening is filled with unexpected amounts of natural light and warm woods, and snaking corridors that choreograph the way visitors wander through the art center. The interiors were designed for peace in mind, for the maximum enjoyment of art.

Despite the heavy and industrial concrete that informs the first impression of the building, the warm interiors and light-filled spaces have the ability to surprise, and Neri&Hu have said that the overall design was informed by the sea just a stone’s throw away. Accordingly, the art center is warm and calm in the summer, and iced and sharp in the winter. 

Although it’s unfolded in the midst of China’s building boom, the art center was designed to encourage a sense of community and a slowing down. The traditional nods to Chinese architecture and history, from the presence and importance of the pond to the non-linear pathways and use of wood, encourage subtle reflection in a ready-made developer project.   

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