THAD CHCC : Experimental structure

In central China, in Sichuan Province, the cliffs of Qianfoya contain a national treasure dating from 1 700 years: some 400 caves carved in the rock and their 1 700 statues of Buddhas. To protect this exceptional heritage, a transdisciplinary team of the Institute of Research and Architectural Design of the University of Tsinghua has developed an experimental structure designed to minimize its footprint on this fragile site.

To preserve the cliffs of Qianfoya from a certain erosion, the National Administration of Cultural Heritage decided in 2014 to classify the whole of this site and to protect the northern zone by an experimental project, rewriting the vernacular dwellings in tiles arranged On the hillside. The result is a contemporary shelter perched at 36 meters high above the river. For a better landscape integration, this dressing that takes up the hues of the rock is destined to be colonized by the foam.

The set of 410 square meters consists of a porous envelope open to the outside, housing two longitudinal trays accessible at both ends, north and south, divided by a central fault and connected by stairs. Above these spaces of circulation and observation stretching on 45 meters is a cubic volume offering an unobstructed view of the millennium works carved in the rock.
The choice of a breathable skin, used both in roofing and in wall cladding, is surprising for the protection of a heritage site. It is, however, the fruit of long phases of experimentation and observations initiated in the 1980 years, in order to find the most appropriate means of conservation for the site.


The THAD CHCC (Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University, which specializes in rehabilitation and design of exhibition sites, both traditional and contemporary) has come to the conclusion that the best way to Preserving frescoes and reliefs consisted in limiting the influence of the wind and the sun, without blocking them totally, unlike the rain of course. All that remained was to find the best form of expression, subtly combining opening and closing on the outside. After a study of the site, it was decided to install a perforated cover punctually. According to the calculation models, the western façade is therefore covered with local gray tiles which act as sunscreens, while mitigating the negative effects of the harsh climate of northern Sichuan characterized by heavy summer rains and heavy gusts of wind. Wind in winter.


In order to minimize the damage to the cliff, this openwork skin rests on five metallic porticos arranged in cantilever and which touch the rocky relief only in the lower part of the mountain, devoid of works to protect. All of this is based on 18 depth foundation depths digging by hand during construction to minimize vibration. The waterproofing between the rock and the tile cladding is then ensured by a translucent covert simply placed on the rock.

If he were a figure of style, this work of protection and cultural mediation would be a euphemism. From the foundations to the roof, it consists in a mitigation of the natural elements, all in a delicate project.

Photographs: Wu Ji

To learn more, visit The site of Tsinghua University

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