Du Song: Architectural language should be used to connect the past, present and future

By Chu Mengqi, Marian Rosenberg / HICN / Updated: 23:18,19-April-2021

Editor's note:

On April 18, 2021, this year’s annual Boao Forum for Asia began; and, once again, representatives from the world’s political, business and academic circles gathered in Hainan. 

Twenty years ago, Bo’ao was still a little-known fishing village. Now that 20 years have passed, Bo’ao has become a globally influential international exchange platform with Asian characteristics. Over this 20 year period the scale and influence of the Boao Forum for Asia has continued to expand and the Forum has played a unique role in both deepening regional cooperation and in solving issues (both Asian and global).

The New Hainan APP, Hainan International Media Center and Nanguo Think Tank collaborate to publish a series of top-level interviews: “New Hainan Ideas @ Big Name BFA Talks” which, as the name indicates, invites major players from various industries to talk with us about the historical and ongoing development of the Forum, general trends in the economies of Asia, and the changes going on in the world. Stay tuned to see and learn more about this important event and how it provides a breeding ground for ideas to bounce off of each other and grow.

Now that the phase three conference center of the permanent site of the Boao Forum for Asia has been completed, what interesting secrets should one look for in its design? Why is that we can say that the Boao Forum for Asia Park "crosses time and space” in its integration of ancient and modern design? A few days ago, Du Song (Head of the Beijing Institute of Architectual Design Division No.1)accepted an exclusive interview with our reporters and shared with us his deconstructed understanding of the meanings behind the architectural design of the BFA Park and the newly finished phase three conference center at the permanent venue of the Boao Forum for Asia as well as design concepts and highlights to look out for.

Green concepts such as respect for nature is deeply integrated into the design

"My very first project was done in Hainan. In fact, it was here in Boao.” Du Song’s personal history is inextricably tied to Hainan’s. In 1997, less than two years after he graduted, he came to China’s “treasure island” as one of the designers working on the the Boao Golden Coast Hot Spring Hotel. Later on, he became a key participant in the design and construction of phase one of the permanent venue of the Boao Forum for Asia, the BFA Hotel, the Boao State Guest House, phase two of the BFA Hotel’s construction, the BFA Park, and now, phase three of the permanent site. Over his 26 year long career, nearly a third of his time has been spent in Hainan Province. During the time that he has lived, worked, and traveled on the island, Boao is not the only town or city where he has left his mark in the form of major architectural works.

In architectural design Du Song's habit is to combine traditional style elements with modern ones. For him, its more than just lumping a bunch of traditional symbols together and calling it “art”. Instead, he tries hard to use modern design language and building materials to create works which respect the local environment, the local climate, and the local culture in a way which organically combines nature and tradition.

The recently finished phase three conference center of the permanent venue of the Forum manages to vividly embody this concept

“I think, in Hainan, architecture should be bright, natural, airy; and that one of the paramount things an architect designing buildings in Hainan must keep in mind is respect for the natural environment,” said Du Song. On the basis of this type of philosophy the design of the phase three conference center explicitly does not follow the traditional style of a hermetically sealed series of multifunction halls and breakout rooms. Instead, a creatively designed 8000 square meter indoor/outdoor exhibition hall was built. Taking advantage of natural shielding methods, it makes full use of natural ventilation and lighting, saves energy, is environmentally friendly, and reflects the characteristics of Hainan's fresh and sunny cimate.

Ingenuity in crafting lead to Hainanese elements throughout the site

The newly finished phase three conference center of the permanent venue of the Boao Forum for Asia is full of Hainan inspired elements of creativity.

“The international stage of the BFA is an important one not just for Asia or China, but also for Hainan. We hope to make use of this stage to showcase Hainan's amazing traditional culture such as the woven brocade and embroidery of the Li and Miao ethnicities. As a result, when deciding how to do the venue’s interior design, we used the different physical attributes of the various open spaces to marry modern design with the traditional culture of the Li and Miao,” said Du Song to reporters. Given the opportunity, one should pay careful attention to the design of the carpeting in the new conference center. It features a pattern of white horses. According to the Li, the white horse represents dignity, authority and good fortune. As carpets are not a traditional aspect of Li culture, the weaving was done with entirely modern methods. Because fish symbolize harmony in traditional Chinese culture (especially the harmony of fish and water), the carpet in the State Banquet Hall features a fish design which fully reflects the Forum's overarching theme of equal cooperation and mutual benefit; fish are also one of the lucky animals of the Li people and fish patterns are said to be intertwined with the representation of a wish for a better life. The Chinese style lounge is carpeted with a pattern of phoenixes; this sun bird worshipped by the Li people is simple and elegant in shape and represents both harmony and the meaning of honor.

Raising one's eyes from the floor coverings to the walls, one will notice that the design of the lamps are also quite ingenious. According to Du Song, the lampshades are made of a type of warm jade which shows off the natural characteristics of Hainan in the form of a carved pattern of coconut fronds and banana leaves.

Remembering History at the BFA Park

In Boao events such as international forums and investment promotions don’t need to limit themselves to taking place at the main venue. They can also take place in the beautiful surrounding countryside. Boao's “Beautiful Countryside Lobby” has, in recent years, become one of the most spoken about highlights of the annual Forum. The new BFA Park, which will debut at this year’s Forum is another masterpiece left by Du Song and his  team of architects. The BFA Park will not only showcase the 20 year history of the development of the Boao Forum for Asia, it will also take the path forged by the “Beautiful Countryside Lobby” in making informal, comfortable and harmonious atmosphere which is integrated with Boao's functional positioning as a political-business dialogue platform.

Built on the site of a ancient village on Dongyu Island, the BFA Park’s design adheres to the concept of repairing and respecting old things rather than razing them. Thus, the natural and simple form of the village has been preserved.

Du Song said: "In a traditional Chinese village, there is usually a public space where everyone gathers and discusses and gossips. It may be an ancestral hall or a family temple. It could also be an ancient tree or a well. Each village is different but, wherever that public space is, it is the spiritual core the village.” As part of incorporating the layout of the old village on Dongyu Island into their design, the team started with an existing well and surrounding ancient trees. They took the system of courtyards, alleys, and lanes of the original village and combined it with the public discussion space needed by a modern political and business dialogue and negotiation platform.

The BFA Park also makes extensive use of the original village’s old bricks and tiles. For those dilapidated village houses that could not be saved, Du Song took their bricks and, along with the cobblestones from the original alleys, built new walls and paved new roads. In this way, the people who come to the BFA Park can touch history one brick at a time.

“This used to be a small residential community. Now, it has evolved into a carrier of culture and commerce. In the future, I hope that the annual meeting of the forum as well as any other domestic or international political and economic exchanges will take the opportunity to leave the conference room for open outdoor spaces like the village; and, that they will use this place to have their discussions about the world, the future, and mankind’s destiny. We hope that designs such as this one will organically connect the past, present and future,” said Du Song.

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