Beijing Guang’anmennei Community Cultural Activity Center / MAT Office
Photographs: Kangshuo Tang
Site and strategy
The site is located in the Huaxing Building, Guangyi Street, Xicheng District of Beijing. It used to be that the ground floor was rented out as ballrooms, which downstairs is a small hotel. During the new cycle of regeneration of alleys and liberation of urban space, the government leased the space and invested in the modernization of the function. The “last ballroom” was reinvigorated as a center of cultural activities serving the local community.
Before the regeneration, the ground floor could not be connected to the basement due to the different programs. In addition, the high density beam frame hampered the use of activity space. Thus, connectivity, accessibility and spatial improvement under the demand of the original structure emphasize this project.
In accordance with the functional requirements of the community organizer and the inhabitants, we have concluded twelve “space name card” to generate a community cultural activity space based on a sharing mode and a low cost objective. The ground floor had a larger open area; it was therefore oriented as a community cultural space; the basement has been adapted as an entertainment space for the local community due to its flexible unit sizes. We have individually inserted “geometries” and a “continuous ceiling” to adjust the transformation for the upper and lower floor. In addition, we have treated the emergency staircase on both sides as a unique element that has built tonal and visual continuity between the two levels and also complements each other in terms of spatial scale and use.
Community culture and service space
As a cultural and service center, the ground floor contains a residence committee, a small theater, an exhibition space and a small library. “Insertion of geometries” is the main gesture for the aerial area, the T-shaped volume, cylinder, cuboid as well as some pure geometries are integrated as community theater, community reading tower and other programs. The other voids are malleable public spaces that could be reading, entertainment or exhibition oriented in terms of requirements and capabilities.
Community theater is the program that requires the largest area in this project, which generally requires long-term space. However, the current structural system could not meet the size and general conditions of a standard theater. Thus, we were inspired by the layout of the amphitheater, by inserting a T-shaped platform in an existing column frame: the three stands are arranged around the central stage which transfers the binary opposition between stage and audience to a flexible relationship with diversification that could satisfy the conditions of performance, presentation, meeting, education and other diverse scenarios.
The cloakroom and the various additional functions are under the bleachers. In the three angles of the T-structure tower towards the circulation space, we took advantage of their height to design the reception, the café and the children’s presentation area. In the composition of these three corner programs, the calm and oppressive atmosphere of the volume of the theater is transferred to an enrichment of the space of the ground floor.
Community Book Tour
Community reading is another important program downstairs. As a result of the previous program – ballroom, the original windows were sealed so that the interior space did not have natural lighting and ventilation. When investigating the site, we demonstrated the need to import sunlight and fresh air. The light reading area is linearly arranged with the windows on the south and east sides which could maximize sunlight and create a calm reading atmosphere.
Instead of using the general bar shelves, we arranged a full-height cylindrical book tower at the powerless lighting center to provide inside and out – two different interfaces. The outer tower is plateau and empty; on the interior interface, we combined shelves and seating on the elevation, using light panels to stimulate the skylight to design various reading possibilities.
Community support and activities
The basement is designed as a space for community support and activity that requires units of flexible size. In allusion to the rules of safe evacuation and the continuity of the underground area, we have built a continuous green path to connect in series the exhibition space, the multimedia room, the community workshop, the rehearsal room, the community living room and the activity space of minors, and emphasized its spatial horizontality rhythm through disparate scale units.
The underground space has a larger beam frame; the one meter deep beam condensed the usable height to about two meters. To avoid a comfortable floor height, we have tried to keep the space dimensions of the original structure and only insert the concept of “continuous ceiling” at the level of the main equipment and the piping area. on the green lane to create demands for space and transformations. To strive for sufficient height, the “continuous ceiling” is inverted in the shape of a trapezoid, the top of each trapezoid has light panels to simulate an outdoor natural environment for the inhabitants.
Like the open space with the associated closet on the ground floor among the community infrastructure in the basement, the community lounge contains daily entertainment, talks, residence reunions, temporary events and other programs. So, we used mobile furniture modules to divide the areas based on disparate community activities.
The main hallway of the community lounge connects the large and small rehearsal rooms, as well as the community workshop. The rehearsal room is open to locals to register with the programming system, and the community workshop is a separate office for volunteers and community organizations.
Activity area for minors
Initially, the room next to the emergency exit is in the basement was a low-key area; we have oriented it as the activity space for children. Different from the general family room which requires the accompaniment of parents, we have integrated a reading and drawing booth for children to enjoy independently. The cabin is painted yellow and also uses the arched entrance to create a cool and playful atmosphere. The exterior of the reading room is a drawable wall with open vision and natural lights. Parents can choose to play with their children or leave the room to themselves, enjoying the possibility of the space in which parents and children can depend on and be independent from each other.
From the urban inventory to the ideal community
After a year of design and countless meetings with residences, and another year of construction, Beijing’s Guang’anmennei Community Cultural Activity Center was finally completed. Project led by the government, designed by architects, executed by a few teams, the exploitation process is a paragon of the passage from the urban inventory to the ideal community in modern cities. The community center of cultural activities and the multimedia theater, the rehearsal rooms, the library, the space for minors as well as all the other programs that the center contains offer to the local population a space of cultural and entertaining activities, this which also improved the perception and participation of the community.
For a community design, the regeneration of a physical space is a clear ambition. However, day-to-day operations and a series of adaptation processes are what people might encounter after completion. For architects, we should not only focus on everyday life and the graphic scene in designing a community space, but also on other social goals. Within the framework of a multi-stakeholder cooperation, we must design community spaces in an open and systematic way, consequently giving back the right to space to the inhabitants and achieving the additional ambition of creating the feeling of belonging to the community.