project Standardarchitecture (Zhang Ke, Zhang Hong, Ru Lei, Claudia Tabora)
photos courtesy of Standardarchitecture
text Alessandro Rocca

At 2900 meters a.s.l., at the entrance to the town of Pai, in Tibet, it might not be easy to find the gauge a project for a contemporary art center.

The traditions are strong and alive, the landscape with its colors, materials and textures, the views, is a very stimulating but also rather cumbersome landscape. Add to this the fact that the designers come from Beijing and are therefore members of a ruling culture that has often been in conflict with the Tibetan minority, for many years now. Standardarchitecture is a young studio formed in 1999 by Zhang Ke, Zhang Hong, Ru Lei and Claudia Tabora, a combination of Chinese culture, studies in America and the Portuguese background of Claudia, who after taking a degree at Evora also studied at Harvard, like the founder Zhang Ke. Their project, in fact, seems to very naturally combine elements of different cultures. For example, we are inevitably tempted to see the almost landscape-like solution of simple stone volumes resting on a base as being somehow related to the stereometric inclinations of Portuguese architecture, and precisely to the project by Alvaro Siza at Evora. Freedom of invention and pragmatism in the organization of spaces and the shaping of the terrain are distinctive characteristics of Chinese architecture today. Just consider the work of Wang Shu, who has just received the Pritzker Prize 2011. His Amateur Architecture Studio has produced a series of works of great quality, all very different, each of them approaching the theme and the site with total freedom of action, without worrying about reproducing a stylistic signature. The portfolio of Standardarchitecture also stands out for the variety of its solutions. Observing the differences among the projects, one realizes that the team believes in the force of its ideas and understands that only by fully developing a courageous concept is it possible to obtain, in architecture and design, true innovation and originality. This high-altitude art center is also a project that approaches a complex theme with lightness and great authority. The sign is strong and precise, managing to communicate profound respect for the place and, at the same time, to impose the force of its own formal logic, materials and inventions in a new but not alien landscape. Outside the spaces are well balanced, with local stone that brings out the irregular geometric design of the volumes, blending walls and floors in an almost vernacular dimension, transforming the paved zone into a sort of abstract sculpture, a representation of a traditional village. The large windows and skylights construct a series of visual crossings between spaces, creating a sort of miniature urban landscape.