A flexible education and entertainment space, the Gaochun County Aquaculture Museum and Environmental Center was commissioned by local officials to be an iconic tourist attraction that celebrates the over ten-thousand-year-old crab farming industry of the Gucheng Lake Region in China.
An Exotic Destination, A Celebrated Ancient Culture
Known as being the highest quality source of freshwater within China, the lake has developed an almost mythological presence within the collective memory and lexicon of the Chinese culture. For over ten thousand years, the people of Gaochun County, China—located eighty kilometers to the south of Nanjing city—have cultivated crab, fish, and lotus to provide not only for their immediate area but beyond, earning the reputation as the consummate producers of organic food in the country. The crab in particular are one of the most prized food sources in Asia, and along with their cultivation over millennia have come culturally rich traditions, ceremonies, rituals, and celebrations that are known throughout China.
“Build Us A Giant Crab”
After completing a master plan for Gaochun County, the Overland team was invited by the county mayor to design a building that would both educate and delight visitors as they learn about the area’s crab farming industry. Initially, city officials thought that the building should resemble a giant crab, which would easily identify it as a tourist attraction. But the Overland team recognized an approach that would be more suited to the environment needed to come into play. As Principal in Charge James Andrews recalls, “We knew that for the center to become the area’s primary, iconic tourist attraction, we needed to tell the story well.”
There’s More To The Story
Indeed, the narrative they were about to explore was not just about the crab. It was about farmers, harvesting, natural resources, and all of the environmental issues associated with crab farming, including the control of pollution and protection of wildlife. So, architectural details in the building design allude to the life of the crab as well forms and materials that reference the industry, such as bamboo and netting.
In terms of function, the space had to be flexible enough for varying installations and programming. To address this, Overland designed a welcoming open lobby with a central information desk and several areas for multimedia presentations, a number of permanent and temporary exhibitions spaces, and a 4D theater. To lend a sense of grandeur to the exterior of the structure, thereby giving it a unique iconic identity, the team enveloped it within a giant sculptural netting that visually increases its scale, connects it to the surrounding garden, plaza, and river, and provides shading for outdoor classrooms.
The Pride Of The District
With the design for the center, Overland succeeded in demonstrating how to integrate stewardship and innovation into the project. While the building will serve as a dynamic architectural backdrop for the annual crab festival, it is also a festive undertaking in its own right. As such, it will be the nexus for tourists and locals alike as they celebrate a distinctive age-old culture that continues to thrive and prosper.