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After signing on to design the Aranya Art Center in the northeastern Chinese port of Qinhuangdao, Shanghai-based architects Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu were struck, they say, by the scenic coastal city’s stillness and spirituality, qualities that inspired this uniquely contemplative temple to the arts. The charcoal-toned building, made to resemble a rock weathered by water and time, exerts an almost gravitational pull.

The exterior is a masterful display of concrete and its possible textures, from a smooth form finish to a rough, rugged aggregate. Rows of geometrically faceted modular panels create an engaging pattern of light and shadow across the facade, occasionally interrupted by blackened bronze-framed windows with exaggerated sills. 

Behind the building’s heavy exterior, though, is a starkly different ambience. Inside, bright white curving walls surround a conical void in the palest concrete. Lined with circular stepped seating, the space is a piece of performance art in and of itself, inviting visitors to meet, sit and observe the natural rhythms of sky, sun and rain through the oculus that caps it. The nearby ocean is evoked through the central stage of this courtyard-cum-amphitheatre, which, when filled with water, transforms into a shallow pool. The core is also wrapped with a connective ramp linking five exhibition spaces (a café and a multi-purpose gallery are on the ground floor). Along the ascent are periodic glimpses into the atrium via narrow horizontal openings and balconies built for one, reinforcing the notion that art is both a collective and a deeply personal experience. 

“A stunning execution of space, material and form, collaborating to create a place of beauty and welcome.”
Marion Weiss, AZ Awards juror

Large bamboo doors with bronze pulls and warm cove lighting accent the monochromatic palette of the building, guiding movement from one space to the next. A 360-degree view of the central court is revealed at the very top of the ramp — a fitting conclusion to this community-minded art centre.  

Location Qinhuangdao, China Firm Neri&Hu Design and Research Office (Shanghai, China) Team Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu with Nellie Yang, Jerry Guo, Utsav Jain, Lili Cheng, Ellen Chen, Josh Murphy, Zoe Gao and Susana Sanglas

AZ Awards 2020 Winner: Aranya Art Centre

In Qinhuangdao, China, this stunning cultural centre by Neri&Hu is the winner in Architecture: Buildings Over 1,000 Square Metres.

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