14 November 2019

The new Beijing’s Guardian Art Center

The Beijing practice designed the Guardian Art Center – opening in May – as the new headquarters of China Guardian Auctions, which specialises in Chinese art and antiques. As well as accommodating the company’s auction rooms, the building houses a range of spaces that are open to the public, including galleries, restaurants, a hotel and flexible events rooms. Why an auction house? Since an auction house is a hybrid between museum, gallery, market – culture and trading. An auction house links past, present, and future. Ultimately, an auction house celebrates and passes on awareness of history and traditions; it provides a stage for cultural values: respect and responsibility, valuation and prediction, beauty and meaning. An auction house attracts and gathers people and auctions are social events for the appreciation of art and culture. Therefore, the building acts as a social catalyst for cultural exchange and imagines a home for the arts in a broader sense – a home for its makers (the artists) and its keepers (the collectors).

Thus, the Guardian Art Center represents a new hybrid concept for a cultural institution that transcends the traditional definitions of a contemporary art space. At the centre of the building, a 1,700 square meter column-free exhibition space allows for maximum flexibility and versatility, while expansive exhibition areas on the second floor further extend the museum. Two large auction and exhibition halls in the basement provide a more specific and formal setting, completing the typological variety of spaces. The surrounding matrix of smaller, interconnected rooms of the architectural pixels accommodates support functions and liberates the building’s central halls from secondary obligations. The seamless integration of several restaurants and a 116-room hotel in the building with views to the Forbidden City creates an encompassing lifestyle concept centred on the experience of art and culture. Through the addition of educational facilities in its central ‘club tower’ and art conservation departments in its basements, the Guardian Art Center further manifests its position as the world’s first custom-designed auction house headquarters.

How to resolve the everlasting tension between the old and the new, the historic and the modern, the contrast of architectural scales and languages? This project is centred on the question of how to synthesize the presence and values of the past with the potentials and realities of the contemporary. The design carefully inscribes the building into its surrounding context, in a sensitive architectural interpretation that fuses history and tradition with a contemporary vision for the future of a cultural art space. The ‘pixelated’ volumes of the lower portion of the building subtly refer to the adjacent historic urban fabric, echoing the grain, colour and intricate scale of Beijing’s hutongs, building upon its surroundings and ‘layering’ into its base the sediments of history. The upper portion of the building responds to the larger scale of the surrounding contemporary city in the form of an oating ‘ring’ that creates an inner courtyard to the building and further resonates with the prevalent typology of the courtyard houses in Beijing. By combining both the intimate and the monumental and creating a diverse collection of spaces within this structure, the massing integrates itself into the sensitive historical and cultural environment and resonates with Beijing’s strength and imposing presence through an explicitly understated monumentality.

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