National Park

THAD is inspired by the contours of nearby mountains for a visitor center in China

Spiral tiled roofs inspired by the contours of the surrounding mountains cover the Jiuzhai Valley Visitor Center in Sichuan Province, China, designed by Tsinghua University’s Institute of Architectural Design and Research .

Located at the entrance to the UNESCO-listed Jiuzhai Valley National Park, the center offers new exhibition space, a visitor center and offices as part of the reopening of the area following the 2017 earthquake.

Jiuzhai Valley Visitor Center was designed by THAD

Designed to blend harmoniously into the landscape both in terms of earthquake resistance and visual appearance, Tsinghua University’s Institute of Architectural Design and Research (THAD) created a group of volumes stockings organized around a central square paved with an outline pattern.

“The project explores how man-made construction can be adapted into natural scenic spots,” the practice said.

Image of the Jiuzhai Valley Visitor Center between the foothills of the mountains
The building is nestled in a mountain valley

“The streamlined architectural language moves smoothly across the narrow site, concealing the visitor center with a sprawling, smooth curved form that echoes in space the surrounding mountains,” he continued.

Taking advantage of a difference of six meters between the level of the entrance and the park, the center has been divided to create separate access routes for vehicles and pedestrians, thus reducing the risk of traffic jams due to the large number tourists visiting the site.

Image of the Jiuzhai Valley Visitor Center and its swirling roof shapes
It has a plunging curved design

The pedestrian plaza is elevated atop 36 branching steel columns above the tourist transport hub, where a quick drop-off area leads to a brightly lit lobby and to park level via elevators and stairs.

On the ground floor, visitors enter under a slightly arched wooden walkway, through the curved Intelligence Management Center to reach the circular exhibition center, where an entrance hall and small exhibit provide an introduction at the park.

The landscaping leading to the park was inspired by the Tibetan concept of lingka – a tradition of camping in parks – with a winding path between existing pine trees leading to a bright red flag tent.

For structure and materials, THAD contrasted traditional finishes such as slate, wood and paving at ground level with more contemporary steel and stone for the spaces below.

Image of a curved wooden canopy at the Jiuzhai Valley Visitor Center
Parametrism was used to create his roof shapes

“Parametric design technology is applied for a combination of local characteristics and modern techniques,” the practice said.

“Tourists not only experience a smooth transition space before entering and exiting the national park, but also a distinctive space full of local culture,” he continued.

Interior image of a brightly lit space with steel columns at the visitor center
Branching steel columns line a pedestrian plaza

Previous THAD projects responding to an equally sensitive landscape include an undulating shelter designed by the firm to cover the historic Peking Man cave and protect the archaeological site from the elements.

In 2019, the design and research institute referenced cave dwellings and used stacked stones and concrete to build the campus of Yan’an University in China.