Frame of Absence

Frame of Absence
A cultural center for the returnees in Kashgar, China
“Where are we really going? Always home.” Novalis

From the very beginning, the city of Kashgar has occupied a significant place in my thoughts. It exists in a delicate balance between two contrasting states: its glorious past, rich in tradition and history, and a promising future characterized by rapid growth and prosperity. In this ambiguous duality of remembering the past and embracing the future, the city of Kashgar continually needs to redefine its identity, adapting to the ever-changing demands of contemporary life.

Who knows how many different versions of Kashgar have been forgotten and will be forgotten over the centuries? Perhaps in a thousand years, Kashgar will resemble the imaginary city of Calvino’s “Clarise,” where the monuments of the city’s long history, oscillating between prosperity and decline, will lose their authenticity and origin. Perhaps, like Clarise, Kashgar will exist as nothing more than a perpetual interplay between memory and oblivion.

What could transform a vast desert into a home for those who return? In this architectural proposal, four simple and clear gestures come together to shape and define a cultural center that holds significance for those who return. The foundation of this design is a strict and rigid square boundary, positioned at the base of a hill. However, this boundary is more than just a physical barrier; it serves as an introspective space within the vastness of the desert, a place specifically designated for those who seek a sense of belonging.

Within this defined boundary, all the functional needs of a cultural center are carefully situated. These facilities are thoughtfully designed to cater to the returnees and the surrounding communities, acknowledging their specific requirements and desires. It is a space that not only provides essential services but also fosters a sense of connection and cultural exchange.

What sets this proposal apart is that the boundary transcends the conventional concept of a wall. It aspires to be a synthetic element, serving as a catalyst for the unfolding of all essential aspects of the
cultural center. Rather than imposing itself on the ground, the cultural center seeks integration by incorporating itself into the natural landscape. Its dynamic and absolute geometry is not a forceful imposition, but rather an organic extension of the terrain.

The sloping nature of the ground is respected and seamlessly carried forward within the framework of the design, leading to a large central courtyard. This courtyard becomes the core of the composition, where the roofs of the surrounding structures face inward, emphasizing the sense of unity and community within the cultural center. As one gazes towards the horizon, the visual perspective becomes
more intense, enhancing the overall experience.

Despite its expansive nature, the cultural center maintains an introverted character. Within the boundaries, the vastness of the desert is transformed into a familiar and serene place. It becomes a sanctuary, inviting returnees to reconnect with their roots and find solace in the embrace of their cultural heritage.

In summary, this architectural proposal embodies four fundamental gestures that intertwine to create a cultural center. It establishes a square boundary that defines an interlocution within the desert, housing all necessary amenities while surpassing the concept of a mere wall. The cultural center harmoniously integrates into the surrounding environment, respecting the natural landscape. The central courtyard serves as the heart of the composition, drawing the community together, and the overall design exudes an aura of tranquility amidst the vastness of the desert.

Location: Kashgar, China

Architect: Alkiviadis Pyliotis, 

Studio Instructor: Zhang Ke

Project Year: 2019  

Project Type: Academic (Harvard GSD)