Life & Culture

In China, a New Distillery Blends Whisky, Arts, and Culture

A meandering creek anchors the 79,115-square-foot site on three sides and overlooks Mount Emi. The summit is the highest sacred Buddhist mountain in China and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

The industrial buildings serve as a modern interpretation of traditional Chinese design. The two centers of the visitor’s experience are the basic geometry of the terrestrial elements in the terrain: the circle and the square, which represent heaven and earth in Chinese philosophy.

The circular experience center is located in the center of the site and partially submerged in the ground, transporting visitors to another world. Five underground tasting rooms surround a vaulted courtyard with a gushing water feature in the middle. The top of the dome reveals itself slightly from the ground, and with three concentric rings of bricks perched above it, it mirrors the silhouette of Mount Emei.

The courtyard house is a crowd pleaser on traditional Chinese architecture and features a restaurant and bar.

The courtyard house has a restaurant and bar. It serves as a threshold between two worlds as the cantilevered corner hovers over the river below. Meticulously calibrated structure orientation establishes the walls of the courtyard to perfectly frame the summit of the sacred mountain.

While Chinese philosophy lends flavor to delicate architecture, local building codes and fire safety ratings have added complexity and challenged adaptation to indigenous whiskey-making traditions.

Neri & Hu used these constraints to shape the structural design by physically separating the distillation process into three buildings in the northern part of the site. They are parallel in composition and tucked into the gentle natural slope of the earth. Reclaimed terracotta tiles interpret the vernacular roots and give texture to pitched roofs on a modern concrete structure.

“Making whiskey is like making architecture in many ways,” Neri sums up and is the project.

Aging whiskey in wooden barrels with opp bar.  It is located in an underground vault.
An underground cellar and tasting room will open when the visitor center opens to the public in 2023.

“It requires respect for traditional crafts, it takes time and patience, and it is about turning something raw into something polished.”

To show their craftsmanship, skilled builders applied intricate techniques to turn tacky materials into hand-carved materials, walls with inlaid stone, and wooden imprints in concrete.

The site will also be home to a permanent art program, beginning with the installation of Zhan Wang, one of China’s most famous contemporary artists. The statue was created from the natural elements of the distillery site, in honor of the environment.

Chuan is the first fully operational distillery in China by an international company. Neri Hu said creating an original Chinese icon based on Scottish traditions requires cultural sensitivity.

Architects delved into deconstructing cultural tourism after appointing Design Critics for Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design last fall. By adding Neri & Hu’s distinctive design note, the opening of the distillery’s visitor center in 2023 will enhance the cultural influence of Sichuan, which is characterized by its customs, cuisine, and dialects.

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