Interior Space Design & Renewal for Xihe Cereals and Oils Museum
In April 2019, five years after the initial design project, the same designer team returned to Xihe village to launch an interior space upgrading project for Xihe Cereals and Oils Museum. The upgrading project is aimed at building the museum into a multi-functional institution that provides parenting activities, field education, tea seed oil production, and sales of agricultural products, based on the original exhibition design.
On 1 August 2013, a not-for-profit planning and designing campaign, entitled “Dream of Xinxian County, Dream of Heroes”, was officially kicked off in Xinxian county, Xinyang city, Henan province. This initiative brought a significant opportunity for Xihe village and enabled its collaboration with the designer team.
Xinxian county is located in the old revolutionary base area of the Dabie Mountain. It had been a national-level poverty-stricken county before 2017. Xihe is a mountainous village about 30 kilometers away from the county seat. On the one hand, the village enjoys rich natural and cultural landscapes, such as mountains and forests with geomantic features, historic houses built during the period from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, ancestral halls, ancient trees, rivers, rice fields and bamboo forests. On the other hand, it has extremely limited transport access to the outside and an underdeveloped economy, lacking vigor and vitality. Empty-nest families are quite common and most permanent village residents are the senior, children, and mentally disabled adults.
In 2013, the designer team launched the design project to remodel a group of granaries constructed in 1958. By re-constructing spaces and re-designing functions of the five buildings within the site, the designer team has successfully turned the 1950s Xihe Cereals and Oils Exchange into the 21st-century Xihe Cereals and Oils Museum & Village Activity Center. The remodeled building complex includes a small museum, a characteristic restaurant, and a multi-functional village activity center. The new construction establishes itself not only as a new public space for villages but also an engine to revitalize the village.
While remodeling buildings, the designer team also planned a new industry – production of tea seed oil, and designed the logo for relevant products – Quality Oil of Xihe. It is cross-over design attempt for the integrated development of space, products and industry. As a space to exhibit tea oil products and industry, Xihe Cereals and Oils Museum houses an old oil press machine which is not only an exhibit but also a production equipment in operation. On 25 November 2014, production of tea oil using traditional methods resumed after thirty years. The 300-year-old oil press machine was reemployed to produce tea soil, but with a modern brand name – Quality Oil of Xihe. Five years have passed and great changes have taken place. The ancient village has undergone comprehensive repairs and tourist service facilities such as B&B and tent camping have been added. Today, Xihe has become a model village of countryside revival that accommodates hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, attracting many young residents to return to the village to start up business.
Changes taking place in the village have posed new challenges and tasks on Xihe Cereals and Oils Museum. The designer team is faced with the challenging task to upgrade original spaces so as to enhance their effective, interactive and recreational uses and meet new needs of the village.
The redesign of interior spaces focuses on “cereals” and “oils”, in response to the name of the museum. The two spaces within the museum features the themes of “cereals” and “oils” respectively. The cereal space, with emphasis on children’s interactive experience, consists of four zones that respectively respond to four seasons – sowing in spring, growing in summer, harvesting in autumn and storing in winter. Space and furniture design highlight interaction, with the aim of enabling visitors, in particular child visitors, to enjoy interactive experience through touching, listening, operating and tasting, rather than simply viewing exhibits.
The “sowing in spring” section enables visitors to touch and understand crops. It is an enclosed lecture room where children can sit together and touch crops to be sowed in spring. This interactive approach is supported with lecture teaching so that visitors can start their museum tour to understand farming activities and seasons.
The “growing in summer” section enables visitors to listen to the sound of nature and perceive how things grow. Art installations collecting sounds are arranged in the section. Bamboo receivers in each installation enable visitors to listen to familiar countryside sounds in summer, such as insect chirping and treetop rustling.
The “harvesting in autumn” section provides visitors with milling experience. A millstone collected from a farmer household is installed in the center of the exhibition space. Under the guidance of museum staff, children and their parents can work together to operate the traditional millstone to grind crops harvested in autumn, such as rice, wheat and sorghum, learning such agricultural terms as hulling and milling through DIY activities.
The “storing in winter” section is the destination of the agricultural tour. Also called the “parents-children collaborative workshop”, this section enables visitors to taste delicious food processed from agricultural products and make simple models of agricultural tools. Many traditional food-making skills are still practiced in Xihe today. Using these traditional skills, children and their parents can enjoy chestnut cakes, dried kiwi fruits and rice cakes they make by themselves and gain knowledge about the whole process from seed sowing to food making.
Strip-shaped low tables are important elements in the museum’s interior space. Their height is adjustable, functioning either for children to do handwork or pastry or for adults to sit. These low tables can be also dissembled, moved or re-structured so as to enable different spatial divisions or variations.
The oil space has been upgraded on the basis of the original oil press workshop. The old oil press machine is retained in the original place, whose arrangement is related to traditions. The oil press machine is made from a 300-year-old trunk. The thicker end is called the “dragon head” which must face the water source – Xihe River winding through the village. The pole of the oil press should on the opposite direction from that of water flow. Hence the direction of the oil press machine. A semi-round platform is newly added around the oil press so that visitors can appreciate oil press performance in a comfortable way. The platform also enhances the domain effect of the space and the ceremonial effect of oil press performance. In eyes of the designers, this ceremonial production, or in other words, production ceremony, is the most valuable countryside heritage in China.
On the other side of the space are shelves selling tea oil products. In the first phase of the project conducted in 2013, the designer team planned and designed the brand name of “Quality Oil of Xihe”. Regrettably, however, villagers were not good at tea oil business at that time and the organic tea oil industry did not see satisfactory development. The new spatial upgrading project is aimed at further developing the industry by integrating space design with business operation and industrial production and implementing a development strategy integrating sightseeing, museum experience and product sales.