Calligraphic Gesture

A cultural centre in Jiangsu Province pays architectural homage to the traditional Chinese art form

Located in the birthplace of calligraphy in coastal China’s Jiangsu Province, the Shuyang Art Gallery first opened to the public in 2014. Designed by The Architectural Design & Research Institute of ZheJiang University, the gallery showcases works of cultural heritage in the form of calligraphy artworks, including distinctive regional styles.

Using the three fundamental colours of Chinese calligraphy — black, white and red — the gallery seeks to embody qualities of purity and refinement in its form. Inspired by legendary Jiangsu painter Zheng Banqiao, its aesthetic draws on the incongruities of ‘ideological and practical work, the light and heavy, and the opening and closing of calligraphy’ through spatial proportions and materiality, according to the designers.   

The largest exhibition hall stands out for its Yixing red-bricked clay, inviting visitors to take note of its unique texture and arched surface, while an adjacent building that suspends from the water that surrounds the entrance reflects what the designers describe as the ‘unconfined and detached spirit of calligraphy’. The cumulative effect allows for visitors to compose their minds quickly before entering.

Just like the organic strokes of a calligraphic brush on paper, visitors flow freely through the gallery’s indoor and outdoor spaces. The transition of space is ethereal, guided by walkways that lead between pure black and white structures that mirror inkstones and calligraphy scrolls.

From overhead, the gallery’s grayscale paved road and roofed courtyards mimic the abstract pattern of ink spreading across parchment. As the buildings blend, one into the next, an ink painting is formed — paying homage in architectural form to the legacy of China’s master calligraphers.

Text / Isabella Chon
Images / Courtesy of The Architectural Design & Research Institute Of ZheJiang University Co.