Visitor Center, Xingxi Park, Kunshan
A Gate That Seduces
The city of Kunshan lies to the west of Shanghai and to the east of Lake Yangcheng. Since the 1990s, it has transformed rapidly from a 2,000-year-old town into a modern manufacturing center. The city has expanded in the process. Even on the lake shore, nine kilometers west of the central city, one can see luxury single-family home developments. It was July 2010 when the head of Kunshan City Construction, Investment and Development Co., Ltd. invited me to the Lake. He explained his plan to create a series of public leisure spaces along the waterfront, before more private home developments would be built. Two roughly parallel, high-speed railways run east-west between the central city and the Lake. He planned to build a three-kilometer-long linear park on the strip of land between the two railways (300-500 meters wide and about 140 hectares total). The west end of this Xingxi Park would merge with the Lakeshore Park, and its east end would be next to the Lake Yangcheng railway station. At this east end, I was invited to design the Visitor Center of the Park.
Instead of grabbing attention to its own architectural form, an ideal visitor center should first highlight the contents of the destination to entice visitors into continuing their exploration of the site. Xingxi Park is based on a rational strategy that converts a wasteland, merely glanced over by passersby, into a weekend leisure space for urban residents. If the former is common along highways in the land-rich US, the latter represents a pragmatic solution to the scarcity of land in high-density cities of the Yangtze River delta. The Park also has a straightforward landscape design. Rather than mimicking the Suzhou classical garden style or relying on amusement park rides, the design simply connects the many existing fish ponds and rivers to form a strip of wetland with plants typical of local rural areas. The three-kilometer-long linear plan fittingly accommodates several slow traffic systems, including hiking, biking (7 kilometers long), boating, and a planned horse carriage route. These inexpensive facilities support favorite activities of the majority of residents in today’s Chinese industrial cities.
How should the Center present such a simple landscape to the visitors? The site offered an opportunity. The sunken Xincheng Road separates the site from the railway station plaza to its east. An existing footbridge connects these two, with the bridge floor 4.45 meters above the site. Because the railway station plaza has barrier-free connections to the surrounding sidewalks, bike paths, and several bus routes, we placed the entrance to the Center at the footbridge rather than on the ground of the site. Visitors enter the building via the second floor, affording them an overlook of the Park. Three “suspenseful” techniques further enhance the experience. First, the 73-meter-long footbridge is prolonged by an 18.7-meter-long extension, with façade module, floor material and railing matching that of the bridge. Once stepping on the bridge, people’s curiosity is aroused by a glimpse of the distant Center. But only after they pass through the 92-meter-long “corridor”, will they arrive at a second-floor plaza. Perforated aluminum panels and concrete wall of 3-5 meters high surround the plaza, with trellises floating 6-7 meters above the floor, making the plaza a semi-outdoor “hall”. Within it, people cannot see much of the surrounding landscape except through a huge semicircular gate, nine meters in diameter, in the middle of the western wall. Only within this unique framing the Park finally reveals itself. With these two preludes, it is hoped that the ordinary local landscape will appear extraordinary in visitors’ eyes. A shallow pool lies in front of the gate, seeming to lay an illusory path into the Park. But in reality people have to turn right and descend through a grand outdoor stair to the first floor where real paths into the Park begin. The temporary delay produces yet another suspense to strengthen one’s desire to explore.
Most part of the building is lifted on stilts to allow maintenance vehicles to pass the first floor. All utilitarian functions are accommodated here. A glass cylinder stands at the west end of the first floor, to be used for tourist orientation and a gift shop. Here people will find that the semicircular gate seen on the second floor is really the upper half of a circular opening, which echoes with the round plan of the shop. The east end of the first floor will be used for bicycle rental, with its own entry and exit. Public bathrooms with wood siding are nested in the middle of the first floor. They appear as an object detached from the building above, stressing the floating feel of the second floor. The west end of the building cantilevers over the river outside, flanked by boat piers on its south and north sides. The open ground to the south of the building will be used as a boarding area for the future horse carriage service. Lastly, both of the south and north sides of the Center are connected to the pedestrian/biking path system of the Park, making the Center a hub of the multiple tourist routes in the Park.
The two floors of the Center have completely different programs, above a mystical journey and below the pragmatic utilities. It is hoped that the design can offer the public some spiritual enjoyment in addition to the satisfaction of routine functions. Many recently completed visitor centers have ended up as mini malls or restaurants. I trust that the maturing Chinese urban middle class will demand public spaces to offer enjoyments beyond the level of eating, drinking and sensual stimulation. In its trial opening during recent years, many weddings were seen to take place in this Visitor Center. And people used the space in a similar pattern: they started from the footbridge, the couple were taken photographs in front of the gate and the pool, and descended through the grand stair. Such events affirms that the public knows how to create the best uses of a public space, as long as we do a good job in design and management.
During the construction, people asked why a vase containing a few plants was designed in the pool. My intention is that, even though the view in the gate and pool looks magnificent, its scale may be too big to be related to a person. It is hoped that a few weeds will assure the tiny individual to find his/her self in the greater world.
Location Xingxi Park, Xincheng Road, Kunshan, Jiangsu Province, China
Project Period 2011-2017
Floor Area 500 square meters
Client Kunshan City Construction, Investment and Development Co., Ltd.
Architecture: Miao Design Studio (Design Architect), Pu Miao; Shanghai Far East Architectural Design Institute (Architect of Record)
Structure: Shanghai Yuangui Structural Design Inc., Zhang Yewei, Miao Jianbo
Engineering: Shanghai Far East Architectural Design Institute, Song Yongchang, Wu Jun
Photographer Pu Miao
archdaily.com, New Architecture (China, 2/2018)
昆山市西邻阳澄湖，东与上海接界。从1990年代开始, 她从一个有两千多年历史的古城快速转化为一个现代化工业制造中心。在这个过程中, 城市也向周边不断扩大。就是在远离中心城区西面9公里的阳澄湖畔，也可以看见成片的小别墅住宅区。记得那是2010年的7月底, 昆山城投的负责人把我找到湖边, 向我描述了他要赶在私人住宅占满水边之前，在湖畔建设一系列公共休闲空间的计划。从昆山中心城区到阳澄湖有两条东西走向，大致平行的高速铁路通过（北为京沪高铁，南为沪宁城际铁路）。他提出要在这两条高铁之间约300-500米宽的空地上建设一个长约3公里，面积约140公顷的线型公园。星溪公园在西端最终与阳澄湖湖畔公园汇合，在东端则到高铁阳澄湖站为止。就在这个东端点上，城投邀请我设计公园的游客中心。
我觉得一个理想的游客中心首先应凸显该地的景观，让人对进一步探索产生兴趣。而不是用奇巧的外形来表现建筑自己。星溪公园的基本概念很有逻辑，就是把原来只能从列车上扫瞄一下的所谓“绿地”废物利用, 转化为城市居民周末的休闲健身场所。如果说前者是在地广人稀的美国大量高速公路旁常见的做法，后者则是对长江三角洲高密度城市寸土如金现状的创造性对策。星溪公园的景观设计也很朴素, 不搞苏州园林或人工娱乐设施，而是简单地将基地上原来就星罗棋布的鱼塘，河道连接起来，形成一条以江南农村乡土植物为特色的湿地带。然后充分利用公园3公里长的线型平面，在其中布置了多个成本低廉的慢行锻炼系统, 包括步行道, 约7公里长的自行车道, 游艇航道, 计划中还考虑了马车游览。这是非常切合中国现代工业化城市居民主体的需要的。
游客中心如何来向公众呈现这一片貌不惊人的乡土风景呢? 基地现状为建筑设计提供了一个极好的条件。基地东面是沪宁城际铁路阳澄湖车站广场，两者之间被下沉的南北走向新城路所分隔。其上建有一座步行桥, 桥面离基地地面约4.45米。由于车站广场已经与附近主要道路的人行道，自行车道，及多个公交系统有无障碍连接，我们因此将游客中心的主入口定在车站广场侧的步行桥头，而不是传统的基地周边地面上。这样游客进入中心时是在二层，正好为人们提供了一个居高临下，俯瞰公园的好机会。并采用了三个先抑后扬的”悬念”处理来加强访客的感受。首先，73米长的步行桥西端又增加了一条18.7米的延伸段, 采用与步行桥相同的立面模数，地面材料及栏杆。人们在上桥前只能一暼远处的游客中心，会产生某种好奇心。但他们必须走完这段92米长“走廊”后才能进入一个二层广场。广场周边用3-5米高的穿孔铝板及清水混凝土墙环绕。上空6-7米高处并覆盖花架, 使广场成为一个半室外的“大厅”，游客暂时看不清楚周边环境。只在正对公园的西墙上开有一扇近9米直径的半圆洞门, 公园内的景观到这里终于向游客展现自己。相信通过这两个前奏，即使是朴素的乡土景观，也会在游客眼中格外夺目。在洞门前是一个浅水池, 它的反射水面好像铺就一条幻想中的入园道路。但游客实际上必须向右转, 通过一个室外大楼梯下到一层，那里才是多条入园道路的真正起点。这一短暂的等待，相信会在游客心中第三次产生悬念，增强他们对公园景观的向往。
建筑的一层大部架空，以方便公园保养车辆穿过建筑。游客中心的所有常规功能均在这里解决。一层西端为一玻璃圆柱体，内将用做导游展示及纪念品销售。 在这里游客会发现刚才在二层看到的半圆洞门，其实是一个正圆形开口的上半。它与导游的圆形平面形成了有趣的呼应。一层东端（步行桥延伸段的下面）将用作出租自行车的停车场，它有自己的借还车出入口。一层的中部则是木板墙面的公共厕所，被做成一个上部与二层楼板脱开, 嵌套在一层空间中的独立体块, 以强调二层的悬浮感。建筑西端悬挑在公园水面上, 其南北两处水岸各设一游艇码头。建筑南面的地面广场则将用做未来的游览马车候车处。最后, 建筑南北两边各与公园的步行/自行车环道相接。使中心成为线型公园中多条慢行锻炼系统的总出发点。
建筑两层的内容大不相同, 是希望在满足功能需要的前提下, 能为公众提供一点精神上的享受。近年来建成的不少游客中心把自己降低到商场,饭馆的层面。相信日益成熟的我国城市中产阶级对公共空间的要求将会很快超越吃喝或肉体刺激的层面。本工程在试开放的几年中, 看到有好多场婚礼自发地在此举行。而且其对空间的使用都采用同一顺序：新人从步行桥过来，在二层广场的水池前拍照留念, 然后从大楼梯下去。这说明只要我们把从设计到管理的工作做到家, 公众完全知道如何创造公共空间的最好使用方式。
施工中有人问我, 为什么要在二层广场的水池中设计一个内栽少许水生植物的花盆？我的意图是洞门及水池中的景观虽然好看，但尺度太大, 与个体观众缺少联系。希望这几棵水草能让渺小的个人在这个宏大世界中也能找到他/她自己的位置。
地点 江苏省昆山市新城路, 星溪公园
建筑面积 500 平方米
建筑：缪朴设计工作室 缪朴; 上海远东建筑设计院
Click on an image to enlarge it 欲放大图像请点击画面
Looking west from the railway station plaza through the footbridge, with a glimpse of the semicircular gate of the Visitor Center.
From the existing footbridge looking west. The footbridge and its extension share the same paving and railing. The second-floor plaza is partially hidden behind the concrete wall.
Southeast view as seen from the bicycle ramp. To the right is the extension of existing footbridge, connecting to the second-floor plaza behind the green perforated aluminum wall.
From the extension of the existing footbridge looking west toward the second-floor plaza. 从现有步行桥延伸段西望二层广场。
Second-floor plaza and the pool, the perforated wall highlights the ambiguity of grey space and a delicacy of the form.
The round opening of the second-floor plaza presents a commanding view of the Park, the pool seems to lay an illusory path into the Park.
A steel and wood trellis structure hovers above the second-floor plaza, the distant opening leads to the grand stair.
From the plaza on the second floor looking toward the grand stair and trellises
Northwest view of grand stair under trellises three stories high.
From the grand stair looking toward the west part of the north elevation. Behind the concrete wall are the second-floor plaza and the pool. Nested inside the stilted first floor are wood-sided public bathrooms.
Northwest view of the building, along the waterfront are boat piers.
West view of the building 建筑西立面
Southwest view of the building 建筑西南面外观
The elevator tower on the southern flank of the building.
The west part of the south elevation. Behind the green perforated aluminum wall are the second-floor plaza and the pool. The open ground in front of the building will be used for boarding horse carriages. Public bathrooms with wood siding are nested in the stilted first floor.
The west end of the south elevation. To the left is the glass cylinder of the shop, to be used for tourist orientation and retail. To the right are public bathrooms.
The cylindrical shop echoes the round opening on the west facade, the space will be used for tourist orientation and retail.
The open first floor, in the distance is the grand stair leading to the plaza on the second-floor. To the left are public bathrooms.
From the east end of the first floor looking west. The roof is the extension of the footbridge, connecting to the second-floor plaza. The space under the roof will be used for bicycle rental.
Second-floor plaza and the pool, the perforated wall allows an elusive view of the landscape outside.
Site Plan 总平面
First Floor Plan 一层平面
Second Floor Plan 二层平面