Hangzhou as we know it today has a history that goes back to 2200 BC. It's importance raised as the Grand Canal was built, linking Beijing to Hangzhou.

the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907-970), Hangzhou was established as the capital of the Wuyue Kingdom. Later, during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), Hangzhou was the national capital.

As we entered the city I noticed a great restrain in noise, very careful driving, again highly civic behaviour.   
We stayed at the West Lake Hotel and we started our stay by dinning out at a wonderfully modern setting Chinese restaurant that served excellent food. The service was attentive and discreet.

The next morning we headed for our visiting tour of Art Academies of National level.


National Art Academy of Hangzhou - SENSE


The visit begun with the traditional formalities in a most friendly way in which the Chinese excel. There were exchange of gifts and an overall explanation from the Vice-Director of the Academy, in the absence of the Director. However, to me, it was the Academy architecture that touched me deeply. Architecture is a public art, belongs to everyone therefore its importance, impact and responsibility is enormous.

This is a most splendid case of cultural identity statement, combination of contemporary vocabulary with tradition by the recurrent use of transformed elements.
As we enter the Academy, 4 squares display bamboos, the symbol of scholarship and of the superior man who is straight and abundand in his wisdom and knowledge. It is a school, so it acts as a reminder. Then we move into the high ceiling main building with high pillars and a contemporary roof that covers a mushroom shaped piece, like a lens. As we move further in, just right after the high pillars, we are in the center of the main building. A symbolic octogonal shaped portal rises like a sculpture. The octagon reminded me of the Ba Gua while the four entrances represented the four main directions, making the octogan into a symbolic square. It is the Earth. And inside, a stone cilynder, like a drum, reminded that there are many doors to heavenly knowledge, the aim of all schools; to provide good teaching.

As we mode to another pavillion the other end of the main building becomes visible.  Then it is the side façade with shades that remind of ancient scrolls hung in the windows and references of elements of ancient architecture that are so visible.  In another angle my eyes view a kind of a amphitheater.

Then again my eyes are drawn to a kind of a moat, in the shape of a modern canal. Perhaps a reference to the ancient Grand Canal? Most of the five elements are present. Metal, earth, water and the wood of trees. Only fire cannot be present. Such is the reading of this magnificent piece of architecture whose roots are based on traditional Chinese Architecture.

As we move around I cannot but notice a sculpture in the ground in the shape of an axe. Past and present in perfect harmony in this rainy day of January 2006

These photographs show different aspects of some classrooms where discipline is voluntary and the technology available is most up to date, both on the fundamentals of photography to computer movie editing.


Design Academy of Hangzhou - SENSIBILITY


The Design Academy is around 10 km outside of Hangzhou. The school purchased the land, many acres, and started to build a school that could, by itself another example of cultural identity in the rural area. We saw the school still with the grounds unfinished, but already active. We had lunch at the Academy's restaurant private room, and all the sensibility of the architecture unfolded in front of my eyes. Rural rough tiles produced nearby were used to separate the floors of the Academy buildings, fully reminding the connection with the environment, while the contemporary structure laid behind quietly in a perfect symbiosis.

The first detail shows how evident that Chinese culture was the Mother Culture in the Far East, while in the second picture one can witness the glass pannels living together with the rural rough tiles. Then, again, the same symbol that bamboos represent. And finally, in a steel structure, the beautiful contemporary rendering of ancient wood pillars of a bridge. The rythm is a lesson in design and architecture.

Details of the bridge pillars,the tiles and the woven bamboo strypes as architectural elements combined with steel structures. I could see what I myself believe in: the combination of ancient and contemporary elements.

The buildings are all interconnected with bridges. Then a yard can be seen with the walls of the building made of local wood. Most of the walls are doors that open and close allowing different lighting moods. Outside... the myst after the rain.

Chinese ancient schollars believed that living in simplicity would allow them to better perceive things. In front of the school lies a mountain, half-hidden by the myst. Words cannot define visions, inner or outer ones. Such is the case of the West Lake, also half visible through the myst, reminds us that Natiure is the great teacher. Everything is transient, even the lakeside tree or its reflection in the water. Nothing but illusions. What cannot be named is what really exists and is permanent. Only by realizing this, by understanding the laws of Nature can one aspire to begin to see through the illusion of the myst.


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