A Masquerade for Vinegar

Eduard Kögel
20. March 2019
Photo © Arch-Exist

As with many other things, vinegar has a very long history in China: its importance for food preparation and health is mentioned in the book The Rites of Zhou, which dates back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770BC–476BC). This history is presented in dedicated museum in a former vinegar factory, the conversion of which was designed by architect Zhang Hua from Tianjin.

Project: Millet Vinegar Museum
Location: Zibo, Shandong province, China 
Client: Shandong HUAWANG Brewing Co., LTD.
Chief Architect: Zhang Hua
Design Team: Huang Nanbei, Wang Qian, Sun Qingwen, Zhai Xiangtao, Li Qian, Guo Qing
Area: 835 m2
Year: 2016
Photographs: Arch-Exist
Photo © Arch-Exist

The Millet Vinegar Museum is located in the city of Zibo in the Shandong province. Today, the core city area of Zibo has more than two million inhabitants, and the administrative area almost five million. Zibo is an industrial city, and belongs to the 50 strongest economic locations in China. In addition to heavy industry, the city is known for ceramics production. There are also other industries, including food processing.

Photo © Arch-Exist

The simple three-storey factory building was clad in the typical white ceramic tile that is to be found all over China. To transform the building for the museum, the architect took his inspiration from the volumetric forms of the jugs and ceramic containers in which vinegar was traditionally prepared and stored. This formal analogy to vinegar containers is mostly expressed as negative volumes inscribed within the depth of the new cladding added to the street-facing façade(s). 

Photo © Arch-Exist

Made of irregularly shaped prefabricated concrete of varying sizes, the cladding panels are mounted in front of the existing façade and assembled like a puzzle. Waste rock added to the concrete aggregate gives texture to the panels. At one corner the white tiles of the original facade remain visible. As in a geological excavation, the texture of the building’s façade suggests historical stories and thus attracts attention.

Photo © Arch-Exist

The reveals of the negative vinegar-bottle openings are partly faced with shards of ceramic containers. In this way, the architect points out the fragility of ceramics, and also calls to mind the ‘crackled porcelain’ from ancient pottery.

Photo © Arch-Exist

The circular dome-capped entrance hall, entirely constructed from red bricks, is similarly expressed in the façade, and acts as an eye-catcher from the adjacent public space. Inside the entrance hall, shadows created when light falls through the round opening/ dome, reproduce various shapes of the vinegar containers. Here, the visitor is welcomed with a virtual installation that already subtly prepares them for the exhibition. The remainder of the museum interior and the exhibition were designed by other architects, so that the two do not easily find a similar language together. 

Photo © Arch-Exist

With this façade conceived as a narrative about vinegar, architect Zhang Hua connects production and public space: this not only adds a new layer to the urban situation, but also offers the public a reference with which to consider anew the production history of an everyday foodstuff. Furthermore, the undoubted aesthetic upgrade within an otherwise rather harsh urban environment will help to sensitise people to the formal and material aspects of architecture.

Photo © Arch-Exist
Photo © Arch-Exist
Photo © Arch-Exist

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