Aurelien Chen is a French architect and building engineer, with 15 years of experience in China. .An installation by Aurelien Chen recreating an ethereal and abstract version of a traditional Chinese landscape. Above all else, this installation is a landmark placed by the roadside to draw the attention to the entrance of the Dragon Mountain Natural site (Zhulong Shan), a typical example of « Shanshui » traditional Chinese landscape composed by mountains, forest, clouds and water. There are three different sequences of approach and just as many levels of perception in this installation. While approaching the site from the street, a vibrant mountain composed by 200 inox poles subtly appears in the distance. With speed, the poles become a single surface and the effects created by the different materials composing the poles reveal the shape of a new mountain.
How would you evaluate Dragon Mountain landmark pavilion in the context of art and public architecture? Can you describe your design as ‘sculptural’ ?
As an architect with 15 years of experience in China, I had the opportunity to design and work on many “public buildings” (museums, theaters, etc.)
Architectural design answers to specific functions, it is a design of space(s) that people will use and in which people will move. We create a space for people.
I was asked to design a landmark: clients were expecting a sculpture, something static that visitors would just look at in a passive way. But my experience as an architect has taught me to push the limits of the clients’ requests. The landmark becomes an installation, a space in which the visitors can live not only a unique architectural experience, but also an artistic and a landscape one.
I think that in general architectural design is somehow sculptural. I would say especially in the case of China, not only because the architectural design is often based on an architectural gesture, but also because there is a different approach to mass, in contrast to Western architecture which tends to be as lighter as possible, minimal and above else functional.
I consider this project as sculpture, architecture and landscape at the same time. These three aspects can be more or less dominant according to the different scales of perception. From afar, the viewer percieves a sculpture vibrant with light; while approaching we start to percieve a place, an architectural space integrated in the landscape; and finally he/she discovers and experiences a miniature landscape.
What is the context between your project’s choice of materials and its location in the Dragon Mountain Natural area?
I had previously designed the main gate and tourist center at the South entrance of the Dragon Mountain Natural Site. It was delicately integrated in the surrounding natural site using traditional and local materials (stone, wood, bamboo, concrete).
One year after, I was asked to design a landmark for the North gate, the client asked for something radically different, definitely contemporary. However its design should still evoke the elements of the traditional Chinese mountain landscape: mountain, water, clouds, trees.
There is a dialogue between these two projects, they are opposite and yet they complete each other, just like the unity of opposites of Yin and Yang.
In these two projects, mass answers to lightness. Stones are cemented together, poles are separated one from another. The general shape, a mountain, is identical for both projects and it is clearly traced and easily guessed by the viewer.
Stones keep men with their feet on the ground, poles rise up towards the sky.
Pure and light white answers to the mass of yellow stones.
Stainless steel, polished or mirrored, reflects the movements around.
What is the effect you wanted to make on urban life with the artistic miniature you created?
It’s a contrast with the adjacent road. To speed, to the pragmatism of fast movement, I counterpoise a poetic experience, a temporal and spatial pause. A moment of calm and reflection on the elements composing chinese traditional landscape.
How did you interpret the concept of ‘time’ that you included in your design for different periods of a day?
The site is located in a non urbanized area, with almost no density, just beside a road. The images of cars passing by are reflected over the poles, they disappear behind the poles and reappear between the gaps. Inside the installation there is an opposite temporality. A slow temporality marked by the shadows of the poles, aligned like in a solar clock, and also by the lighting effects created by the rays of sunlight passing through the perforations of the artificial clouds placed on top of the poles.
At night there is no street light in the surrounding area. Instead of illuminating the installation in a passive way, I preferred to create a luminous object that glows of its own accord. The top part of the poles is perforated, the source of light is placed right inside the poles. This vibrant light outlines the shape of a mountain, the randomized perforations create thousands of stars matching the stars in the night sky over Zhulongshan.
Interview: Özlem Kan