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MOCA[PE] Museum of Contemporary Art
September 10th, 2007

Location: Shenzhen, China

Awards: Competition Finalist (First of four/initial competition)

AIA Merit award for unbuit architecture

Principals in charge: el-Khoury, Levit, Fong

Landscape Architects: Alissa + Peter North, NDO

Team: Talal Rahmeh, Shan Li, Raj Patel, Adrian Phiffer, Luke Stern, Azia Dhamani, Yusef Frasier, Mike Fung, Nick Maroulis

This project for a 75,000 square meter museum of contemporary art and exhibition hall for planning for the city of Shenzhen was one of four finalists in a combined open and invited international competition.  The project has since received an AIA merit award for unbuilt architecture.  CRYSTAL GARDEN presents itself in the city as a monumental contemporary structure that evokes a geological formation in the landscape: transposed to the city, it is an urban sublime. Like a rocky landscape, CYRSTAL GARDEN’S ensemble of dramatic black crystalline volumes are spanned by verdant tree-like bridges ringing the perimeter of the site. The building’s major volumes, translucent black crystals, collect between them, like moss caught in the crags of rocks, twelve courtyards with cool scented gardens and sparkling waters. The imbrications of interior and exterior spaces resonate with the familiar courtyard house model, and the intricate pleasures of Yu Yang Garden translated here into a contemporary idiom and at a vast urban scale. Intricately layered spaces within and constantly shifting planes in the adjoining courtyards inspire the awe of the sublime.

Restrained in its contour, precise in geometry, sublime in its laconic presence, CRYSTAL GARDEN takes its place amongst Shenzhen’s cultural institutions. It is linked to the Youth Activity Hall by a broad concourse that draws the volumes of the CRYSTAL GARDEN across the street to present a unified civic façade to the mall.

Porous on three sides, inviting passage into the museums, passage through, and passage over the street to the Youth Palace, CRYSTAL GARDEN breaks down the scale of the block into a finer grain, while maintaining a monumental presence in the institutional quarter.

Given the culture and history of the site, in the context of a city that has come of age as a confident player in the global arena, we choose mature sophistication over youthful exuberance. We deliberately avoided compositional bombast and structural heroics in favor of a more subtle and image-driven formality whose complexity lies in finely tuned surface patterns and complex geometric figures. Within the block, the building offers dramatically sculpted spaces. It presents a more restrained figure to the outside, in a dignified and finely tailored suit.For a 21st-century institution that is presenting Chinese art in an international context, CRYSTAL GARDEN invites the discovery of its resonant contemporaneity over time, in the complex and precisely composed patterns, startling angles and irregular volumes. For an institution that tells the story of the Shenzhen’s rapid growth, CRYSTAL GARDEN refers both to its most remote past as a fishing village, invoking the Goddess of Mercy and to the Sea in a shimmering pool within, and offers itself up as this history’s latest invention.