Álvaro Siza and Carlos Castanheira’s China Design Museum: Form, Contemporary City and Design Method


Portuguese architects, Álvaro Siza and Carlos Castanheira’s China Design Museum of the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou (2012-2018) calls for a problematization of the theme of the “boundary” at different levels. In this essay the project is compared with other relevant works in regards to form, the contemporary city and design method. Formed by two bars and a partly sunken volume enclosing a triangular courtyard, the building is immediately reminiscent of other L and U plans by Siza that question private/public and interior/exterior relationships. After Rem Koolhaas published “The Generic City” in 1994, the Chinese city became the epitome of the contemporary city. Since Siza’s architecture has been discussed in terms of its continuity with the city and tradition, the project of the China Design Museum raises the question: How does Siza work in the Chinese city? Siza and Castanheira’s building is at the same time part of a large campus planned by the well-known local architects Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu/Amateur Architecture, whose experimental approach to drawing and craft skills suggests yet another set of comparisons. To sum up, Siza and Castanheira avoid easy solutions: the siting and massing, scale, spatial organization and material expression of the China Design Museum provide a measure between realities – open/closed, traditional/contemporary, local/universal – that first appeared incommensurable.

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