The Grand Canyon Art Centre is located at an altitude of 2,900 metres, at the entrance to Pai Town in Nyingchi Province, Tibet. The site overlooks Duoxiongla mountain to the south and the Yarluntzangbu River to the north; Namcha Barwa is visible to the east, while a neighbouring stream to the west flows down from the snow-capped mountains.
In Tibet, landscapes and buildings are one. The design by standardarchitecture for the Grand Canyon Art Centre is no exception, as our design aimed to reinforce the integration of the art centre into the landscape. The design idea is based on a free grid of polygonal blocks. The structure and spatial organization are defined by imposing this irregular grid system onto the whole building site. This interesting grid also gave the architectural space many irregularities: unexpected masses, lanes, spatial sequences, windows, and viewing platforms. Viewed from a distance, the building might be mistaken for boulders, randomly scattered across the mountainside.
The building has many different functions and is split into top and bottom sections according to the natural height difference of the site. When viewed from the road, the building is a single-storey exhibition space with a total area of 1,180 m2. When viewed from the parking lot, however, it is a two-storey building with a surface area of 2,750 m2, including office spaces, coach dispatch centre, main restaurant, kitchen, and toilet facilities. The two parts are connected by a great staircase near the centre of the building that is the most convenient route for tourists moving between reception, exhibition and coach terminal.
The size and position of the windows inside the exhibition space are the result of careful research. Each space has a few openings consistent with the precondition of a continuous exhibition surface. Some of the windows form a series, occasionally offering visitors three to four consecutive views of the village in the distance, the Yarluntzangbu River, and the surrounding mountain chain. When weather conditions are clear, they may even catch a glimpse of the Namcha Barwa and Gyala Peri mountain peaks.
Daylighting is an important consideration in the design of the Art Centre. In every exhibition space, skylights are placed in the gaps between the gallery wall and the building structure, creating excellent lighting conditions even without artificial lighting. Most of the building’s spaces are underground, which, along with large stretches of thick masonry and stone walls, ensures good insulation. Even in the hot summer weather, the interior maintains a comfortable temperature without air-conditioning.
The building’s form strived for simplicity in a way that allows the local and the contemporary to co-exist. Local masonry was used for the construction, while the window details showcase the contemporariness of the exhibits. The seamless and frameless connection of glass to wall further abstracts the building within its colourful surroundings.
In its approach to building, standardarchitecture underlines its equality with Tibetan culture. Contemporary buildings in Tibet should never be copies or repetitions of superficial Tibetan ornaments and forms, as this would imply a hypocritical respect for its culture. True respect exists only in an unbiased view of another’s culture. Only with this equality in mind can contemporary Chinese architecture truly exist and be built in Tibet.