The 250-year-old retirement digs of an 18th-century Chinese emperor are getting a face-lift.
The World Monuments Fund announced Monday that the New York-based architect Annabelle Selldorf and her firm, Selldorf Architects, will design an interpretation center at the Qianlong Garden in the Forbidden City in Beijing. The center will be built as part of an ongoing conservation effort by the World Monuments Fund and the Palace Museum to restore the site, which has four courtyards and was constructed in the late 18th century as a retirement retreat for the Qianlong Emperor. The garden has not previously been accessible to the public.
“It was understood that it would always be very limited access, just because of the sizes of the space and the fragility of the buildings and their contents,” Lisa Ackerman, the interim chief executive officer of the World Monuments Fund, said in a phone interview. “The idea of the visitor center was to find a way to give a lot of information to people who might only get to be in that first courtyard.”
The plan they’ve ended up with, Ms. Ackerman said, is “specifically designed to be low-tech.” She said that the interpretation center is meant to evoke the tranquillity of the gardens themselves, adding, “There aren’t going to be flat-panel screens.”
The center will be built in an existing, restored structure in the garden. There are plans for an exhibition space with information on the garden’s origins, an area showcasing the restoration process and an open space with views of the rockeries in one of the garden’s courtyards.
The World Monuments Fund has been working on the Qianlong Garden since 2004, when it first partnered with the Palace Museum to plan conservation efforts. Those efforts are set to be completed in 2020, when the interpretation center and the interior and exterior restorations of several other buildings are finished.
“I feel that our involvement is in equal parts an arbiter and a student,” Ms. Selldorf said in an interview, speaking to her own admiration for the craftsmanship of the extravagant structures of Imperial China. “It’s totally intimidating,” she added.