It is inconceivable that a church could be born within the residential area constructed in full speed and large scale in China today. Yes, that is exactly what happened.
The“ town-built plan”developed by Vantone started in 1999. At that time, Mr Yaopeng, one of the managers of Vantone drove us around Huairou County. He is the top student graduated from Shanghai Fudan University School of Philosophy. We went there to see a hilly area that is suitable for villa construction beside Huairou Reservoir. Owing to the land problem, the plan became a deadlock. But the residential area constructed in another area of Huairou by Vanstone was promoted by this thing.
As the entrance from Beijing to Huairou, Longshan Xinxin Town covers an area about 67hectare. It locates in Huairou County and neighbors the express way between Beijing and Miyun. Vantone has owned this plot for many year. Mr Yao has conceived many plans in his philosophic thinking pattern. At that time, European- based WSP has set its branch in China for a short time. We have the ambition and idea to show our capabilities here. The initial plan is achieved by brainstorming session between our client—representing the Erudite Confucian Chinese culture—and designer with western work experience and education background. Pastoral landscape described in Taoyuanming`s poem and traditional Chinese communities coexist with western squares, urban street fabric and experimental villas with steel structure. After the completion of second, third and fourth stage, you will find the mainline running through the whole process—humanity.
Our design seems common in the present moment that advertisements rush everywhere and the developers are keen on speculating concept. But at the end of 20th century, there are few companies that really build culture and life while building the houses. The unique combination between client and designers, and the pursuit for cultural towns foreshadow the emergence of the church planned in the fourth stage.
The building site was designed as the shopping center in the original plan. The scale expansion of the town promotes the humanity atmosphere. These factors make it necessary to build a church, though it is incidental. Here in modern China, it seems iconic and ironic to convert a culture building into a practical commercial building. If we do the opposition, more introspection and association could be arose by building a church among the Chinese style housing,
Le Corbusier has said that the design should not be affected by religionary requirements. The form is the reflection of spirit and psychological feeling. He treated church as the shelter for the pilgrim on the way to the pilgrimage. I want to set up a meditation space for the prayers and visitors. I want everyone be happy in this complicated and worldly town.
Beside the famous churches well-known to most architects, my design is also unconsciously affected by a village church in German. This Christian church is located in the hilly area near Munich and is built in 1972. I was touched by the spirit and gesture conveyed by this simple building. Horizontal lines, fair-faced concrete surface, simple geometrical volume, clear functional layout and modest character, these features gave me a deep impression. More coincidentally, Kurt Ackermann, the designer of the church is my partner in the first architects that I served in German. Through the subsequent work cooperation with him, I know more about the logic and the cause of the church’s formation.
The initial concept was based on the rational analysis on the condition and the surrounding construction of the existing plot. Most of the houses around the town are townhouse. The others are detached houses. They are two or three-storey house with pitched roof. These factors determine the volume of the church to some extent. In consideration to this environment factor, the church is designed as pitched-roof structure, which also echoes the shape of the Xishan Hill far away.
The bell tower and the cross set above it could be seen near the entrance to the town from a distance. We separate the bell tower from the church volume. Thanks to this modern method, we determine the exact position and set the proper height for the bell tower. Of course, the bell tower should be the central point, visual and auditory focus of the town. It is a challenge for us to design an outdoor square as the extension to the activity area in the church. Under the constraint of the site, the bell tower, the square, the volume before the church and the church form a sequence. The bell towers serves as the guidance and the start of the sequence. The square between the bell tower and the church is connected skillfully to the relatively independent waterscape greenbelt in the residential area. They form a separating but unceasingly landscape and a circulation system. The dimming ramp beside the church is long and narrow. The tall stone walls on both sides of the church lead people to the entrance in the main section of the church. The process from darkness to brightness has some symbolic and religionary meaning.
The main section of the church is divided into two parts, the lower of which is the hall used to hold non-religious activity. An almost still pool lies quietly under the pyramid-formed top light above the hall. The purpose of this design is to settle one’s mind as still water when they pass through the hall. The closed corridor consisted of eight columns suggests the human atmosphere. The top light and the water surface is originated from nature and is blended into the nature. It is almost within the scope of pan-apotheosis but also represents oneself. In the initial plan, the hall was designed as an out-door courtyard surrounded by the closed corridor. It was supposed to be paved in rough rock stone, the sense of originality of which and unreality guides person into the Humanistic world. To satisfy the client’s wish to expand the usable area of the church, we changed the courtyard into a hall by adding a glazing roof above it. Although the originality and extremes in the original plan are weakened, the human atmosphere is promoted by adding raw wood floor and water element in the modified plan. The main section of the church is a hall whose height is twice as the front hall. Compared to the front hall, the main hall is a high-quality religionary space giving out calm and pure sense.
Depending on my design experience for so many years, I draw a conclusion — uniqueness is brittle. It is only a part of the imaginary ideal. The more reliable design should be flexible and strong, light and solid. We use modular system to achieve this goal. The church takes 4.2m as its modular. There are 4×4 modulars in the front and main hall, and the number in the colonnade is 2×2. Thanks to the modular system, the design and construction process could be carried out more systematic and scientific. The non-unique spaces created by modular system blur the gradability among the spaces. The lounge for the clergy could be changed into Reception Room and meeting room in normal time, for example. The front hall could also hold exhibition or party.
The front and main hall could purify one’s soul and they are treated as “spiritual spaces”. Other “physical spaces”, such as manager room, service room and multi-functional rooms are placed in the basement. The long entrance ramp and the stairs to the basement form the descended courtyard of the basement. This courtyard also contributes to the ventilation and day lighting of the basement.
The two-storey space above the front hall and the roofs declined at 45°enclose a triangular space. Read area is arranged along the skylight of the front hall. The only meaning of religion is the culture. The meaning contained in this limit space is the infinite possibility of sprit traveling.
The light-treatment on the surface also uses the modular system. According to visual habit, the vertical division of façades and windows changes their height from quinquesection and quartering to trisection and halving step by step. The horizontal division is consisted of three different modular patterns that changed alternately. External narrow windows are 20cm in width and change their height according to the height of the modular. Ultimately, the façade is designed as windowing system with rhythm changes. The light condition in the front hall is bright and direct to emphasize the humanism and to communicate with the nature. On the contrary, the lighting in the main hall is rational, restrict and mysterious.
We choose blue-grey basalt stone as the material of the exterior elevation for two reasons. First, we have to respond to the cement bricks used in the residential buildings around the church. Second, we want the church to seem as a sculpture with solemn and modest feeling. The warm-colored malmstone joints used in interior make use of the same modular system as the façade. The rhythm division of interior pavement adopts the same principle as the facades. The white painting in the main hall contracts sharply with the deep color of the façade.
After the completion nearly a month ago, Longshan Church has hold several events, such as concert, child drama and meditation session. It is said that the town property will hold other amusements here. According to our wish, it is logical that the church could be managed by church organization and hold regular religious activities. We hope children could enjoy themselves when watching the child drama, employees can meditate and communicate with each other at the meeting held in church and people could relax their mood here. That is the religious meaning pursued here in China. And we think it is also the exact meaning of religious.
During the construction, as an architect, I have experienced the pure and solemn atmosphere after a snowfall and have seen the dim lighting penetrated through the narrow window in the twilight. I am touched by something sacred. If someone who has been in this church was moved by some feeling, no matter sacred or not, religious or unreligious, that will be the highest award for our architects.
. Edwin Heathcote, Church Architect, Edwin Heathcote and Lona Spens,1997. P45
张 瑛 维思平董事主设计师
Zhang Ying WSP Partner Design Principal
Dipl-Eng, Germany National First-Class Registered Architect