“Potala at the Sea”

Mount Putuo Wharf 



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Total land Area:1.142 hectare

Construction Area:6,543 sqm

Gross Floor Area:17,605 sqm


This project restored the enormous barren cliffs located in front of the Mount Putuo dock into a functioning transition center and a a gathering place for the general public, including millions of visitors going to Mount Putuo, one of the most sacred places of pilgrimage in Buddhism in Asia, every year. The site hosts about 7 million visitors every year since its completion.


The local government had sought Zhu out after rounds of desperate search for solutions in vein, hoping for these barren cliffs to become a lush greenbelt as they’d seen Zhu had done on barren cliffs on highways and bridges before. The dock as a transition center for one of the most visited place of Buddhist Pilgrimage—Mount Putuo—would also provide a gathering space for the millions of people who come to worship Guanyin every year.  However, due to the severe devastation of the cliffs, they cannot withstand any landscaping, sculpting, or other such processes. To make it more challenging, the maximum height from ground to top was only 25 meters, hardly enough to provide room to create functional space.


Zhu Renmin proposed to use historically coherent architectural materials that would connect and weave together art structures with the barren cliffs. This would give the bare cliffs a new look and a new function.



Original Site Condition: Huge Cliff Destroyed by Human Activities

Zhu Renmin is examining the original appearance of the ruined bare cliff. There is only a width of 25 meters below the steep wall for building construction


Again, using Chinese painting creative envisioning process to “see” the completed project, Zhu Renmin approached this enormous, barren cliff many architects had previously shunned. He reconstructed the elements of previous dwellings and reorganized them into functional, linear, colorful sequential structures that harmoniously marry local culture and modern language. The area became a tourist spot on its own where over 7 million people visit every year, turning a RMB 60+ mln (~USD 10mln) investment into a sustaining landmark achieving economic development and ecological restoration, while reviving cultural heritage of the area. Once again, Zhu Renmin used artistic creation and the smallest possible amount of funding to save the site from further ecological deterioration by creating an unconventional architecture landmark that presents and preserves local cultural heritages.


In his career Zhu had always tried to carry out restoration and conservation work suited to the local conditions, in this case particular mountains. He believes that using architecture to dispel the ugliness caused by human destruction is also a way to use art to save ecology.  Even when it was impossible to restore the vegetation, create sculptures, or use other technological means of repair, Zhu Renmin employed protective construction, using lost stylistic elements of the island’s local homes. This not only helped preserve thousands of years of local architectural context, but also served to shield the cliffs from human destruction. Ultimately, this achieved astonishing visual and economic effects.

Zhu Renmin uses Chinese painting techniques to create a bare cliff restoration program


The completion of this architecture—just like “Potala Palace” on the Lotus Sea—significantly impeded the further destruction of the barren cliffs by humans. The entire structure alternates between the distinct colors of white, black and gray. This pairs together the illusory with the real, the emptiness of the void with the concreteness of the tangible. The interspersing of these symbolic colors is meticulous. From an aerial perspective, the skyline is varied, first winding like a mountain ridge. The myriad changes are unlike anything else. Thousands of houses suddenly come into view. This mix of local dwellings is filled with faintly discernible patios, fences, ancestral shrines, Buddhist temples, turrets, vestibules, backyards, meeting halls, sheds. Generally speaking, here one can find practically all the architectural characteristics of the islands of the coastal Zhejiang Province. 

A View of the completed “Potala at the Sea”

Bird’s eye View of “Potala Palace”

“Potala Palace” after cliff restoration

Main Entrance and Plaza Area

Architectural façade





The island’s stone houses originally lacked any connection to the cliffs. However, Zhu Renmin used vernacular architectural elements of the island’s stone houses to deconstruct and reorganize it. He employed artistic methods to make it serialized and textured. Applying the six principles of Chinese painting, along with the traditional methods of construction described in “The Garden Treatise” (a monograph written during the Ming Dynasty)-- “airtight yet with room for a horse to move” (balanced composition, space, and depth); “the skill’s bearer leads the way” (practice one’s own ideas); Lady Gongsun’s sword dance (rhythmic vitality)-- Zhu built a seaside architectural complex rich in traditional culture. Authorities in the international design community have hailed it as “the most culturally representative and artistic Chinese building.”

Vernacular Architectural Elements

Stairs Leading to Another Level of Buildings and Plazas




When Giovanni Cutolo, Chair of the ADI Compasso D’ORO (Golden Compass Award), visited Potala at the Sea in 2014, he marveled, “The Pritzker Prize is not enough to recognize the work of Zhu Renmin. He ought to have an international prize named after himself.”  While when Bruno Mancuso, Chair of the Italian National Parliament’s Environment Committee, visited the site, he remarked excitedly, “We thought before that the buildings in China were all skyscrapers, glass and steel. Zhu Renmin’s works amazed us. He has created works of art as great as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci."

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