Imperial Kiln Museum

Eduard Kögel
14. d’octubre 2020
Aerial view © schranimage

Studio Zhu-Pei designed the new Imperial Kiln Museum that unpretentiously tells the stories from the porcelain-manufacturing town of Jingdezhen in terms of shape and material, and in so doing comments on the future-potentials of the past far beyond this one town.

Design: 2016–2017
Construction: 2017–2020
Location: Jingdezhen, Jiangxi, China
Area: 10,370 square meters
Address: East gate of Royal Kiln Factory, Junction of Shengli Road and Zhonghua North Road, Zhushan District, Jingdezhen, Jiangxi
Architect: Studio Zhu-Pei, Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University
Design Principal: Zhu Pei
Front Criticism: Zhou Rong
Art Consultant: Wang Mingxian, Li Xiangning
Design team: You Changchen,Han Mo, He Fan,Liu Ling, Wu Zhigang, Zhang Shun, Shuhei Nakamura, Yang Shengchen, Du Yang, Chen Yida, HeChenglong, Ding Xinyue
Structural Consultant: Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University
MEP Consultant: Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University
Green Building Consultant: Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University
Landscape Design: Studio Zhu-Pei, Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University
Exhibition Design: Studio Zhu-Pei, Beijing Qingshang Architectural Ornamental Engineering CO., LTD.
Interior Design: Studio Zhu-Pei, Beijing Qingshang Architectural Ornamental Engineering CO., LTD.
Facade Consultant: Shenzhen Dadi Facade Technology CO., LTD.
Lighting Consultant: Ning Field Lighting Design CO., LTD.
Acoustic Consultant: Building Science & Technology Institute, Zhejiang University
Client: Jingdezhen Municipal Bureau of Culture Radio Television Press Publication and Tourism, Jingdezhen Ceramic Culture Tourism Group
Main Contractor: China Construction First Group Corporation Limited, Huajiang Construction CO., LTD of China Construction First Group
Photography: Studio Zhu-Pei, schranimage, Tian Fangfang

For the connoisseur of Chinese porcelain, the city of Jingdezhen has been known for many centuries. The Studio Zhu-Pei designed museum recently opened to the public with a large exhibition. The history of the city in Jiangxi province can be traced back 2000 years and for about 1700 years it was known as an outstanding place for the production of porcelain. Since the Ming Dynasty, the emperor controlled the official kilns, which produced in large quantities for the court in Beijing and for export.

View from the Imperial Kiln Relic to the museum © Tian Fangfang

The early settlement developed along the Chang River around kilns, and combined workshops with housing. The new museum was built directly opposite the historic ruins of the Imperial Kiln: these are now accessible in the Imperial Kiln Relict Park, marked by the fairly recent traditional-style Dragon Pearl Pavilion. In this heterogeneous urban context, the museum fits within the system of paths of the immediate neighbourhood although its volumetric form contrasts with those of the historical courtyard houses, multi-storey residential buildings and workshops.

Foyer © schranimage

Zhu Pei’s design for the Kiln Museum was based on the shape of traditional kilns. These consisted of multi-layered brick arches that were half sunken into the ground due to the accumulation of heat. However, the kilns were traditionally covered with a timber-built airy hall so that the shape of the kiln was not visible in the public. For the museum, the architects developed a group of nine irregular and barrel-vaulted elements of various sizes, arranged slightly shifted from each other to form a coherent group and to create an organic overall impression. Some of the elements are arranged to allow the ancient ruins exposed in the basement to be integrated into the exhibition in a sunken courtyard.

View to tea & cafe © schranimage

Each of the vaults is of different size and length, connected on the lower floor through courtyards. Together with integrated ground level courtyards they form a three-dimensional space with a strong local grounding.Small arches running at right angles to the main direction each connect between two main rooms on the ground floor, creating a fluid spatial flow between the individual segments. The museum is accessed via a forecourt, on which water pools to the left and right of the entrance reflect the almost completely closed façades. The main spaces for the permanent and temporary exhibitions are on the first basement level, where service functions are also located. On the ground floor, in addition to the barrel-valued exhibition rooms, the cafe, store and auditorium are accessible from the lobby.

View to open vaults © schranimage

Some of the vaults are open at the back and front and form a place protected from the hot and humid weather in summer, from which one has a view of the immediate surroundings. The tea and coffee house in one of the arches at the museum entrance invites the visitors to contemplate. From a seated position, they can look across the reflective water surface to the kiln ruins in the Imperial Kiln Relict Park. The five sunken courtyards of different sizes are dedicated to different themes: gold, wood, water, fire and earth. These five themes not only reflect ancient Chinese thinking about the »Five Elements«, but also relate to the techniques of porcelain making.

View from the amphitheater to Ming porcelain relics © schranimage

The use of recycled bricks from the original kilns has a long tradition in Jingdezhen. Because the brick vaults of the kilns have to be demolished every two or three years in order to maintain a certain heat output, the residents recycled the material for their building projects. The bricks, marked by the heat, are like a document of the porcelain production that has always shaped the appearance of the city. The new vaults for the museum are made of poured concrete, which is clad with bricks inside and out. The architects draw attention to the recycled bricks from the kilns which are partially melted due to the extreme heat, by adding new bricks to clearly show the difference. This places history in relationship to the present day and presents it for visitors in a kind of experimental archaeology.

Sunken courtyard © Zhang Qinquan

The vaults are illuminated during the day through openings in their side walls and to the courtyards. In addition, there are circular openings at the apex of the arches, which are reminiscent of the smoke outlet holes in the kilns, and which let in natural light during the day and provide artificial light at night.

Vault, brick, and light © schranimage

The museum translates the theme of the kiln with its unusual shape into the urban space and brings to mind what the city has lived on for centuries, but which has been lost in the urban development process over the last few decades. Additionally, the burnt-out bricks tell an equally important story of porcelain production with its economic, technical and cultural aspects, which gives the city its history and its future. Zhu Pei has succeeded in creating an unsentimental landscape of memories that inscribes an attraction in the urban fabric with a minimalist use of materials but maximum spatial experience; one which unfolds its effects far beyond the region.

South-west view © schranimage
Recycled kiln brick © Studio Zhu-Pei
Recycled kiln brick © Studio Zhu-Pei
Stair detail © schranimage
View to design store and tea & cafe © schranimage
Site location & context © Studio Zhu-Pei
Site Plan
Groundfloor Plan
Undergroundfloor Plan

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