Five Days of Frame #115: Q&A with Penda’s Chris Precht

BEIJING – To kick-off the release of our March/April issue, we’ll be posting five days of web-exclusive content. Here, we hear more from Chris Precht of Penda, the firm whose Hongkun Art Auditorium features in the printed edition.

Chris Precht of Penda describes the scene around him. He’s high up in the mountains near Salzburg, worlds away from Frame’s office in the Dutch lowlands. We’re discussing Hongkun Art Auditorium, the studio’s recent project in Beijing, but today he’s surrounded by alps – or what he refers to as ‘different kinds of skyscrapers’. 

Tell me about Hongkun Art Auditorium.
The project is a meeting place. The whole area surrounding the Hongkun Museum of Fine Art [whose foyer Penda also designed] is very upcoming and artsy, but there’s no real meeting space for people to gather or to listen to a lecture. This was one function, but it’s a bit of a multipurpose space. It’s also used as a space for selling art. In the basement there are exhibitions of works of art that are then sold on the first floor. On the third floor there’s an office space. 

It’s hard to tell from the images because of the play of mirrors and reflection, but the auditorium accommodates 50-60 people. It’s quite small, but we tried to find a mechanism to make it feel as large as possible. Or at least since the space is not so large, you can extend your imagination when you’re in the space. We therefore used mirrors to make it seemingly endless. 

Do you think people might be too distracted by the art-like installation surrounding them to focus on the events taking place on stage?
You can direct people’s attention and focus with lighting for a lecture. And if there’s no event on, this space serves as an imaginative entrance to the exhibition. Or if the lecture is boring, you might need a distraction [laughs]. 

In the museum you used arches in the foyer to help guide visitors into the exhibition space. What is their role in the auditorium?
An arc is always a symbolic entrance, like the arc d’triomphe. The motif is used a lot in Chinese gardens to represent a way in. Here we also guide the visitors towards a central point. The walls around the structure are quite minimal; the wooden oak box at the centre stands out. 

If you’re using mirrors to extend and distort space, how do you make sure it doesn’t become disorienting?
It works here particular space because of the contrast. An art exhibition space always includes a backdrop for the art, usually a white or black box. But then there’s the space that’s oriented to the outside to draw in the public. Our central box attracts people from outside, but once you pass it and go to the gallery or selling space then it no longer plays a big role.

Your portfolio includes a lot of repetition in form, such as squares, boxes, triangles and arches. Why is that?
We’re always trying to find systems. Our bamboo project is a repetitive modular system to create structure. For the auditorium, the system of arches and counter arches forms one continuous ribbon to create space, not structure.

Read the article featuring the Hongkun Art Auditorium in Frame #115, available now.

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Frame 115

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