Although a new building, the Gaoligong Museum of Handcraft Paper is about keeping certain traditions alive. So you could call it a preservation project—one that skillfully merges old ways of doing things with new expertise and uses. How to make design respond to local history and conditions has always been an interesting topic for architects to address.
Located in a beautiful landscape next to Xinzhuang village at the foot of Gaoligong Mountain, a world ecological preserve in Yunan Province, the project exhibits the history, techniques, and products of paper making as a cultural heritage and a contributor to the community's economic development.
To make the building responsive to the local climate and environmentally friendly, Trace Architecture Office (TAO) used mostly local materials, construction methods and craftsmen. The architects at the firm specified local materials such as wood for the building's exterior, bamboo for the roof, handcrafted paper for the interior walls, and volcanic stone for the floors. At the same time, though, they did take advantage of some new materials and techniques—for example, adding modern detailing to the old-fashion nail-less tenon (SunMao) connection. So, to some extent, the project is an architectural attempt to combine modern quality with regional character in the rural context of contemporary China.
To fit in with the adjacent village the museum takes visitors through a sequence of spatial experiences alternating between exhibition rooms inside and landscape outside. In the process, the museum provokes an awareness in the minds of visitors of the inseparable relationship between paper making and the environment, between what is man-made and what is natural. Exhibition galleries occupy the first floor, while an open work space and a meeting room fill the second floor. An outdoor stair takes visitors up to a roof terrace with a view of the bamboo roofs of the galleries below. A veranda facing east offers a panoramic view to Gaoligong mountain.
On the ground floor, six galleries corresponding to different papermaking methods take visitors on a circulation loop around a central courtyard. Porous stone footings at the base of the building's exterior walls provide natural ventilation. High windows on some walls of the galleries introduce daylight into the exhibition spaces while avoiding glare at eye level. Handcrafted paper applied to the underside of a glass roof between galleries creates diffused light from above, while the white paper used on wall in the galleries establishes a soft and warm atmosphere and keeps the exhibit spaces abstract.
Placed on the main road entering the village, the museum also functions as an introduction to the village itself. The building along with the vernacular structures in the village form a bigger museum, in the sense that each house showcases local papermaking. And by designing the museum as a cluster of small buildings, the architects conceived of it as a micro-village of its own.