he International Interior Design Association (IIDA) recently announced Beijing Newsdays Architectural Design Co.
's Nanjing Community Center as a winner of the 40th Annual Interior Design Competition in the Hospitality Category.
“Old architecture should gain new life, not just go into a museum,” Cai Wenqi says. And the peripatetic associate chief designer of Beijing Newsdays Architectural Design Co. means that literally. He makes a point of recycling antique salvage from all over rural China—architectural elements too significant to throw away if not being preserved in situ. We’re not talking just a door here, a lantern there. Major interventions play the rich texture of built history against a minimalist envelope.
For a Nanjing community center on the banks of the storied Qinhuai River
, Cai took timeworn columns and beams from a substantial village house and reassembled them, sans walls. “Like an installation in a contemporary box,” he explains. The surrounding 13,000-square-foot interior is also imbued with subtle references to ancient Chinese culture. Suspended over the reception desk, featherweight cloud sculptures in metal mesh give a nod to classical landscape painting. Behind the desk, a wall of glass faces a wall of traditional pale gray brick.
The gloss on history continues with the timeless “cracked ice” pattern more commonly found in wooden fretwork. Here, the motif appears on glass walls in a courtyard. Walls in a skylit vestibule, what’s known in Chinese architecture as a “daylight room,” are upholstered in white silk, and one of them is punctuated by a vertical row of small niches, nine to be precise. “A very respectable number in China,” Cai says. They display the personal seals of ancestral warriors.