Before beginning the design process, we proposed new uses for the site and developed its program: a multipurpose reception center and flexible exhibition space set within a larger museum compound. The spaces, circulation, lighting, and furnishings are designed to accommodate these uses.
Although the exteriors are faithful to archival images of the original buildings, the interiors presented opportunities to purposefully contrast contemporary and historical interventions. Present-day needs necessitated new uses and more flexible spatial planning. A key design intervention was the addition of a grand public staircase to the main pavilion’s upper levels, historically used for storage but now affording expansive views over the Forbidden City.
We celebrated the few remaining traces of the original complex in various ways such as creating a floating floor that preserves the ruined stonework below and reveals this historic layer through a series of reveals around columns and along the perimeters.
Neither mimicry nor differentiation is an appropriate methodology for interventions in this historical context. To produce a synergistic coexistence between old and new, traditional construction techniques are paired with material finishes that subtly contrast contemporary and historical elements. Woods chosen for the new floor and stairs are the same species as those of the hand-hewn traditional structure, but are planed smooth and given a light sheen. Unfamiliar colors complement the Chinese polychrome. Even ephemeral phenomena, such as shadows cast onto new surfaces by traditional fretworks, are engaged to weave the past and present into a comprehensive experience. Celebrating the structural ingenuity preserved in the Forbidden City – the largest collection of ancient wooden structures in the world – we intentionally exposed the complexes’ wooden beams, a design decision that also allows for an open and flexible floor plan in the public spaces. www