China Resources Land Archive Library, China

Pic: Su Shengliang, Studio Link-Arc

To the east of Shenzhen in Xiaojingwan, leaning against a mountain and facing the sea, sits the China Resources (CR) Land Archive Library, an exquisite new facility that houses archival storage, exhibition areas and office space, bringing a sense of culture and history to the surrounding coastal communities.

Designed by New York-based architects Studio Link-Arc, the library appears to lean against its surroundings, and features layers of platforms and long footsteps, based on the trend of its surrounding environment.

The building is covered in handmade grey bricks, which unify the structure and add texture to the exterior surfaces. These bricks are articulated in many different ways, bringing a sense of texture and calm to the building, while better expressing the flow of both natural and artificial light throughout.

Lighting design for the CR Land Archive Library came from Chinese firm Beijing Ning Field Lighting Design, the team behind last year’s IALD Radiance Award-winning Harbin Opera House.

Beijing Ning Field came on board with the project having met architects Yichen Lu and Qinwen Cai of Studio Link-Arc at the China Pavilion of the World Expo in Milan in 2015. Through conversations, the lighting designers learnt that Studio Link-Arc attach a great deal of importance to lighting design in their work, and when the CR Land Archive project came up, they recommended Beijing Ning Field for the job.

Dongning Wang, Director of Beijing Ning Field, explained the brief handed down by the architects: “The architect wanted the building to be elegantly lit with a balanced combination of natural and artificial light.”

This balanced lighting concept covers both the interior and exterior schemes, with a particular focus on “reducing the influence of outdoor lighting on the night sky”.

For the landscape and architectural lighting design, Beijing Ning Field mainly relied on internal transmitted light, supplemented with low-level ambient light, which minimises the negative effect of over-lighting at night. Hollowed-out brick walls bring daylight into the interior space at day time and extend the view of the space, while after dark, it adds a warm glow to the building outline, forming a contrast of light and dark and enriching the sense of the exterior space.

“With the lighting, we wanted to create a self-glowing building, which looks natural and in harmony with the surrounding environment,” Wang explained. “In Shenzhen, a city with great light pollution, we wanted to use light in a low brightness to create a peaceful and noble land at the top of the mountain.”

The idea of creating a self-glowing entity extended to the landscape design also, as Wang and his team utilised fibre optic fixtures to illuminate the plants and flowers on the path leading up to the building.

“The main purpose is not only to lower the illumination levels, but also to eliminate the inherent image of light fittings and create a romantic effect that the green plants and flowers are self glowing. The light from the fibre optics softly glows the plants nearby without polluting the quiet and dark night sky.”

As visitors approach the building, they are met with an entrance canopy of black steel. As part of its quest for a more subtle, hidden lighting scheme, Beijing Ning Field chose to use recessed downlights in black, concealing the light fittings in the daytime. These recessed lights are small in size, with a narrow beam angle to control glare.

Stepping inside to the lobby area, the design is implicit and steady. Light fittings from Erco and PAK are again all concealed to ensure the integrity of the interior design. Track lights are installed at the seams of the brick masonry walls below a large skylight, which keeps the aesthetic view of the surface while blending artificial and natural light.

The reception desk is softly illuminated by light fabrics, which help to create a welcoming atmosphere, while the warm glow from light coves on the ceiling outlines the perimeter of the interior space.

The idea of a subtle, hidden lighting scheme throughout the building is something that the architects and lighting designers worked on from the very start of the project, as Wang explained: “In the rendering images of the lobby submitted by the architects to the owner, you could feel the effective fusion of natural light and artificial light and the pursuit of the purity in the space.

“In the lighting proposal we submitted to the architect, the picture was even cleaner. There are hardly any exposed light fittings on the ceiling. Instead of having an even horizontal lighting in the space, we persuaded the architects to instead apply lighting by zones and emphasise ambient lighting, thus achieving a pure visual impression.”

Similarly in the lounge and exhibition areas, Geosheen strip lighting is installed with a perforated cover, intended to blend into the ceiling’s aluminium grilles.

“In order to conceal the light fittings and keep the ceiling clean, we communicated with the architects and decided to use an aluminium grille as a drop ceiling,” Wang elaborated. “The grilles are perforated where the light fittings are installed. The key was to find the optimal perforation rate for concealing the light fittings when the lights were off, while making sure that the light transmitted to the space evenly and without glare when the lights are on.”

To the rear of the lobby is a grand staircase glazed in a bright golden hue, which acts as a visual focal point for visitors entering the building. At the top of the staircase is a large skylight, filling the space with a natural light. However, to provide a shading element during the day, and an indirect light source at night, the lighting designers developed an electric ‘organ curtain’, following some natural light simulations carried out with the architects.

During the day, this organ curtain is fully opened, and natural light enters the space through the skylight, providing general lighting to the space. At night, the curtain is closed, and PAK spotlights mounted on either side are pointed up towards it. This light is then reflected and evenly scattered into the space, giving the appearance of daylight.

As with the architecture of the building, the lighting design remains very subtle and minimalist throughout, creating exactly the kind of gentle ambience that both architect and lighting designer strived for. “We want people not to focus on the techniques of the lighting design, but on the aesthetic atmosphere of the building itself,” Wang said.

“Lighting harmonises the relationship between natural light and artificial light, making people feel the beauty of the light.”

The harmonic relationship between natural and artificial light throughout the CR Land Archive Library is emblematic of the relationship between Beijing Ning Field and the architects at Studio Link-Arc, this despite the distance between the two firms.

“It was a challenge to communicate effectively with the design team over long distances,” Wang revealed. “The project is located on a mountain far away from downtown Shenzhen, while the architects are in New York, USA.

“However, we established several communication groups with the architects in WeChat. In these groups, we discussed the technical drawings and were able to solve problems by photos, voice messages, videos, etc.

“Despite the architects being far away in New York and the fact that we seldom communicated with each other in person, the trust and constant communication meant that we could achieve a good design result.”

Alongside the constant long-distance communication, Studio Link-Arc’s sound understanding of the importance of effective lighting design meant that the project was always going to be a success.

Wang continued: “Throughout this project, the architects had a better understanding of the process and function of lighting design. During the work, the architects communicated with us to make comments on the lighting designs several times, but they respected our professional opinions and rarely commented on technical aspects. From this point of view, we implemented our own lighting concept in a relatively complete way, and the architects and owners were both happy with it.”

With just reason, the lighting design seamlessly fits into the fabric of the building, providing a natural illumination inside, while casting a delicate glow on its exterior.

More than just providing an aesthetic detail, Wang believes that the lighting scheme brings an ethereal quality to the building.

“Lighting endows the building with a calm power, emanating from the inside of the building,” he said. “Light provides occupants with emotional power and the space with rhythmic change.

“Buildings are capable of moving the heart with the help of light. It is lighting that makes the CR Land Archive Library on the mountain more like a monument, depicting the enterprise’s glorious history.”

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