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Jiangnan is a general geographical
term in that its scope and definition are different under various circumstances.
In a broader sense, Jiangnan refers to
the region towards the south side of the Yangtze River, which is the land along
the middle and lower reaches of the river. This area of Jiangnan encompasses parts of Shanghai, Jiangsu, Anhui, Jiangxi,
and Zhejiang.

From ancient times to the present, the saying of Jiangnan has been an ever-changing and flexible regional concept.
Yet, the region’s charming and rich water scenery, along with distinctive architecture style, make Jiangnan continue
to be as delightful as when the poet Bai Juyi, from Tang Dynasty, wrote his poem Recalling Memories of Jiangnan.
He described the experience as, “The beauties of Jiangnan; How I deeply appreciated it. Flowers blooming on the
riverbanks red as the fire at sunrise, Water waves darker than sapphire in spring. Which I cannot but admire;
How can I ever forget Jiangnan?”


Residences of Jiangnan, especially those of the prehistoric water
towns toward the south of the Yangtze River, are the point of convergence for Chinese "water" and "traditional" culture. These
types of architecture are also said to be the “soul” of Jiangnan,
in which its history could be traced back to the Neolithic Hemudu culture from 7000 years ago. 


Most Jiangnan dwellings are built facing the street with the river
in the back. It is as the Tang poet Du Xunhe, who lived surrounded
by the rivers, said, “Upon arriving at Suzhou, you will first notice
that the locals are pillowed by the river. The historical relics of Wu Palace are lacking in open spaces, but full of residence and densely populated with rivers and drains, and wooden bridges are erected omnipresence.” Furthermore, due to the abundance of rainfall in
the area, the houses are primarily built in two stories, with the living room located on the second floor to avoid humidity. 


Unlike the relatively independent residences found in northern China, the residences in the Jiangnan region are compacted in the hall-well style due to the higher price and limited amount of available land since the Ming and Qing dynasties. The long and narrow sequences
of the Jiangnan dwellings’ arrangement also set aside a pathway for traffic, fire prevention, patrol, and ventilation. 

Although as residences, both the Siheyuan and Jiangnan dwellings contain courtyard space in the center, the width of the Jiangnan dwellings is only about half of the width of the Beijing Siheyuan.
Yet, the depth is similar to that of Siheyuan. Consequently, the
entire design of the dwellings is narrower and longer than that
ofthe Siheyuan. Therefore, the layout forms a closer connection between the neighbors, which makes an open spatial interconnection thatnaturally creates the layering of cascading roofs from the exterior and the complex space from the interior.


Historical Residency Architecture in Jiangsu



When standing in the courtyard and looking at Jiangnan’s architecture from the bottom up, it is as if one is standing
in a square shallow well. As a result, the Jiangnan dwellings received its name as one of the hall-well style residences.


The function of the patio in Jiangnan dwellings is to collect natural light rather than for outdoor activities. Thus its
patios occupy only a quarter to one-twelfth of the floor plan, which is way smaller than the proportions of a Shiheyuan.
These patios also help avoid solar radiation while getting a direct source of natural light. Furthermore, the beams and columns of the architecture are also beautifully carved for visual pleasure.


The patio in Jiangnan residence also plays an essential role as an internal drainage system. This is crucial because
due to the architecture’s compact layout and tall walls, it is difficult to create a system that can easily drain rainwater.
Therefore, the patio is designed to gather rainwater from the eaves and then discharges from the ditch under the patio.

Such a design of the patios and water drainage is also known as “Si Shui Gui Tang”, meaning that water from all sides
gathers at the eaves and falls into the core of the hall. In Feng Shui, “Si Shui Gui Tang” conveys the idea of “Shui Ju Tian Xin”, where water congregates in the “heart of the sky”. The “heart of the sky” means that water converges into the center,
with the implication that wealth also comes from all directions. It is just like water from the sky, and it also flows into
the heart of the architecture, which is the courtyard.

Historical Residency Architecture in Jiangsu



The eaves of Jiangnan residence distinctly vary from the eaves of the Siheyuan. Since most of the architecture from the southern part of China applies overhanging roofs, as a result the eaves of the Jiangnan residence also extend out from
the walls on both sides of the house, hanging solely in the air. 


Since the Jiangnan region is primarily humid and rainy all year round, the design of the eaves can draw rainwater out of
the roof to avoid seepage and, in turn, form a charming drop curtain at the edge of the eaves. 


In contrast, the hard roof that can be found in northern China is different. The hard roof style is two walls on each side that are either flush with the roof wall or higher than the roof wall, so the eaves are leveled and do not rise much above the walls.  


This is because the weather condition in the north is mostly dry and prone to fires. Therefore, architecture with such a roof design can effectively avoid fire spreading during a disaster.


However, both Jiangnan dwellings and Beijing’s Siheyuan are similar in their structural features. Such as how their central
axis is distributed, the combination of the courtyard’s patio and dwellings and the use of wooden bonding structures and brick walls. But, these two types of architecture are still distinct from one another. They represent two completely different landscape features under the influence of climate and the human environment.

The Jiangnan residences that are based on Siheyuan’s courtyard layout apply small differences to better adapt to the different climates and environment, and such differences fully reflect the flexibility and versatility of ancient Chinese architecture to suit local conditions.

Ningbo Museum, also known as the Yinzhou Museum or the Ningbo Historical Museum, is a museum in the city of Ningbo
in Zhejiang Province, China. It was open to the public on the 5th of December, 2008. The museum is surrounded by ponds, which were inspired by the local landscape, especially the East China Sea. This represents the critical role of the water and ocean culture in the history of Ningbo. The museum has permanent exhibitions on Ningbo history and Ningbo folklore, as well as special exhibitions in cooperation with other museums.


Ningbo Museum is not only a national-level museum in China but also a national 4A-level tourist attraction and a patriotic education base in Zhejiang Province.


The surface concrete wall of the building’s exterior has a particular pattern that is of the Ming and Qing dynasty’s recycled bricks, tiles, and bamboo collected from traditional Chinese architecture. Throughout history, the ancient buildings were either demolished or maintained in their original state. The Ningbo Museum architecture itself, on the other hand, is not
only symbolizing ancient Chinese history and culture but also looks to the future.

Ningbo Historical Museum
Photo: Vivi Shen

The architect, Wang Shu, brought humanistic care into the museum’s design. He recast the old-age bricks and tiles of
the ancient architecture into the new-age building that is surrounded by concrete skyscrapers. What he brings into the design of the museum is not only pieces of old-time tiles, but also a memory from history. These millions of tiles and bamboo collected in the local areas further portrays the primitive economical residence in Ningbo when cement hadn't
been introduced to the area. Wang Shu has given a new life to the materials of historical relics while preserving them.


Therefore, the first exhibition of this museum does not start from the interior nor the entrance, but the piece of bricks and tiles from the architecture’s exterior. 


While embodying humanistic care and the heritage of historical and cultural heritage, the Ningbo Historic Museum expresses the concept of environmental and sustainable development through the constant use of materials.


As an architecture designer, the design of space and structure is only a part of it. The usage of materials and their impact
are equally important on the surrounding environment. Thus, a well-designed architectural project should not only address the present and past issues but also take into consideration the impact on the future and the cultural heritage. 


In no doubt, the design of the Ningbo Museum is a piece of modern architecture that symbolically links past and future. 


Alejandro Aravena, a Pritzker Prize Jury, praised the Ningbo Museum, “It is so powerful, so overwhelming that it deserves
to be called a masterpiece. You don’t visit the building; you are hit by the building.”

Ningbo Historical Museum
Photo: Vivi Shen

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