This past week I took a trip to Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Wuzhen in southern China. It was a great chance to see the city that Marco Polo called the most beautiful city in the world in the 13th Century. But, things have changed, and while the lakes, mountains, and gardens are as beautiful as ever, Hangzhou itself is not so great. Nevertheless, I did get a chance to see some interesting architecture which I will be sharing with you over a series of posts in the next few days.
To start, here is a slide show of I.M. Pei's Suzhou Museum in, you guessed it, Suzhou, which is in between Shanghai and Hangzhou. Suzhou is considered a water town, with canals and such, and known for its beautiful gardens, one of which will be celebrating it's 500 year birthday next year!
While not one of Pei's most exciting works, lacking the grandeur of the Louvre for example, it fits in quite well with the surrounding context of hutongs. This is achieved my submerging half of the museum's program below ground, meaning that half the galleries receive no natural light--probably a benefit knowing today's curatorial desires.
The project is quite humble and attempts to make reference to Suzhou's famous gardens, such as the Humble Administrator's Garden situated right next door, using characteristic Chinese features such as pagodas, courtyards, reflecting ponds, and a series of top lit pavilions connected by covered paths. These features are geometrically reconfigured, echoing the faceted forms of Pei's Hong Kong bank (the octagon being the shape of choice this time) and given the technical refinement and precision we typically associate with Pei.
One of the most interesting things about the museum is the relationship between the interior spaces and the courtyard. The courtyard has a variety of scales and materials--featuring a bamboo garden in one section and a larger open section with reflecting pond in another--so that alternating atmospheres of intimacy and collectivity emerge.