Zili Cultural Center: Dialogue Between Wind and Earth

Zili Cultural Center / Dialogue of Wind & Earth proposes an architecture of interface that merges east/west, past/present, and urban/rural, by piggy-backing local community program (library) on top of high-revenue tourism program, a visitor’s center and museum for the famed Diaolou of Kaiping, structures built by Chinese, who a century ago, went West and returned with fortunes. In late 2016, the project won the international ideas competition, and was subsequently selected for funding and slated for construction because local officials felt that the proposal was direly needed and viable as a tangible part of the community.

Conceptually, the project employed the metaphor of earth and wind to describe both the lives of Overseas Chinese, but also to evoke the current interplay of earth (locals) and wind (tourists) that are now critical to the local economy. At the urban scale, the proposal is an urban village, acting as a shortcut/ waypoint between villages. Architecturally, this design hybridizes the two prevalent vernacular typologies, utilizes a vertical tower unit (Diaolou) and a horizontal, courtyard housing group. Woven together to generate a nuanced spatial framework, the library and museum superimpose, resulting in a multipurpose space of exchange that can be used for various markets and events and for mixing locals and tourists. Through a simple floor plan, the modulation of spatial cells results in variations that echo the traditional Lingnan grid. A continuous, pitched roof is constantly cut by courtyards and light wells, and rainwater collection tanks are integrated into biofiltration pools.

The programmatic form of the towers (Diaolou) reproduces their historical memory and but also becomes symbolic. Across historical and present time dimensions – as well as between the cultural and natural character of architecture – the project aims to create an organic joint, and a rich translation across two worlds.