by Jerry ElengicalMar 02, 2022
Ecosystem restoration has found a new avenue to attain greater prominence in the design world through its inclusion as a component of architecture and design projects located in sites whose ecosystems have been tarnished by the effects of human activity. In China, particularly, projects such as the Taiyuan Botanical Garden by Delugan Meissl Associated Architects, exemplify the potential held by this approach to transform exploited landscapes, breathing new life into them through regreening and astute design interventions. “With the sun rising, mists clearing, mountains growing and water dropping, every interaction between man and nature leaves marks, some of which become evidence for the existence of great civilisations while others may become 'scars' on the land that cannot be ignored,” mentions Hong Kong-based Cheng Chung Design (CCD) in an official release, while reflecting on the origins of their latest hospitality design project: Banyan Tree Nanjing Garden Expo in Nanjing, Jiangsu, China.
The firm reveals, "Banyan Tree Nanjing Garden Expo is a luxury hotel located on Tangshan Mountain, which was once a paradise dense with clouds and mists. However, exploitation and destruction caused by human actions have stripped its vegetation, changed the geography, eroded the soil, and damaged the landscape, turning Tangshan Mountain into a devastated assortment of industrial ruins.” They add, “It became imperative to beautify and restore the site in order to enable the symbiosis of humanity and nature.”
Situated within the cavity of an abandoned limestone quarry, the project is said to be the first resort managed by the Singapore-based hospitality group Banyan Tree in the Tangshan region of Jiangsu. The hotel’s architectural expression upon the landscape - developed by the China Architecture Design & Research Group - has been configured as a series of terraces that merge with the bounding road at the structure's peak and cascade down along the slope of the quarry, towards a water body that occupies the valley’s trough. Facing a stratified cliff edge along the mountain’s face, the structure’s layout flows along the undulating profiles of the former quarry’s stepped slopes, with extensive glazed openings that offer panoramic views of the rock faces, as well as the mountainous landscape that surrounds it. By virtue of its natural curves and overarching feel of openness, the structure’s appearance was intended to evoke a pair of widespread arms, embracing and welcoming visitors to the premises. Landscape design along the fringes of the stepped form bring back the flashes of verdant green that had once dotted the valley prior to its use as a quarry, breathing new life into it.
In devising the interior design scheme for the complex, CCD derived their initial concept from the notion of rebirth - envisioning the hotel’s realisation as a metamorphic new dawn for the site, that would finally put an end to its history of degradation. “CCD compared the space in this context to a ‘cocoon’ that nurtures new life, and presented the vitality and tension of cocoons and rebirth with a minimalist, modern design language. Cocoons symbolise the end of a prior state, and also the origin of a new life,” the designers relay. They continue, “From outside to inside, the cocoon is about accumulation; from inside to outside, it is about breaking, rebirth and sublimation. Space design is the process of breaking the cocoon and being reborn, to let imagination metamorphose into the art of living.” Composed of innumerable glowing tiles coloured in earthy tones and fixed to a frame, an immersive design element brings this imbues warmth and a sense of refuge to the space’s character. Bestowing an enchanting rhythm upon the space, its enclosure visually extends the concept of a ‘cocoon’ to this area.
While conceptualising methods to relate the interior of the hotel to its immediate context, the designers settled upon an approach that would echo the flow of the cliff face, and even made their material selections based on their desire to establish these visual and spatial relationships. “The limestone cliff of the quarry appears bleak and broken, but its magnificent scale is astonishing. Through the years, plants have quietly grown between the rock layers, and formed a beautiful texture on the stone cliff in the quarry. The entire quarry cliff looks like a natural landscape painting, which inspired the design team,” notes CCD. A palette composed primarily of natural materials, particularly bamboo, and natural stone like the quarry was adopted for this very purpose, bringing the exterior materiality of the cliff inwards; bridging the rift between the natural and man-made.
Mimicking the trajectory of the terraces, the internal layout of the structure also features a stepped configuration, seen in the swerving balconies that project into the vast volume of the all-day dining area on the basement floor. The combination of an open layout coupled with interspersed pockets of landscaping, overlooking large floor-to-ceiling glazing, generates a play of light and shadows along the space’s floor and sculpted walls, guiding visitors through the zone. CCD mentions: “As the guests walk through the greenery, a whole fascinating world comes into sight. Time is slowed down here, every detail is sculpted without artifice, and there are surprises waiting to be discovered. Sunlight and bright colour tones highlight the warmth of wooden materials, portraying a picture of a cosy life. This space is full of poetry, presenting a harmonious coexistence with the outdoor environment.” When viewed from the inside, the billowing white forms of upper floor balconies channel an image of clouds gently stretching out towards the valley outside.
On the first floor above, weathered, rock and wood-textured art installations in the lobby bar weave together a journey through the mountainous terrain, “making guests feel as if they are surrounded by a natural canyon.” Curves and incisions in the layout and volume, warp the sense of perspective felt while moving through the space - described by the designers as a 'valley of light' - with natural forms that enrich the atmosphere and encourage exploration. The design team explains, "Walking along the mountain trail to explore further and further, guests will feel like they are standing on a cliff against the backdrop of the sunset.” Minimalist wooden furniture designs decorate the space, subtly complementing the space’s highlight elements.
Nearby, in the Chinese restaurant, CCD explains that "the design extracts mysterious forest elements of Tangshan Mountain, and transforms them into the patterns of screens, which separate and connect different areas. Black and white, hardness and softness, implicit charm and noticeable strength, delicate grain and rough textures, are all balanced in harmony.” The design team describes this space as a ‘valley of fireflies', awash with artwork and intriguing details.
Rock-textured walls are not solely a feature of the dining areas, as a number of hallways and auxiliary spaces have been dressed with their materiality. CCD shares, “The designers brought the natural rocks of Tangshan Mountain into the interior. Eroded by winds and rain, the rocks show traces of nature and enable the interior space to fully blend with the natural world. They also echo the spirit of the site while carrying memories. Poetic scenes, rustic textures, and contemporary art blend in a sophisticated yet moderate manner. The artwork titled Eye of Tangshan Mountain triggers the site’s memory while connecting the design with art and its cultural context.”
Among the 115 guest rooms within the hotel, each hosts a hot spring bath with scenic views of the cliff and valley. “The architectural structure and interior furnishings here create a natural ambience that subtly resonates with the mysterious atmosphere of the quarry valley. Presenting forms with scenes and expressing emotions through forms is a core idea that we intended to convey,” says CCD. They add, “This is a place where imagination starts and expands. The natural space breeds infinite vitality, leading to the far-reaching future. Strolling through the space reboots the consciousness of both individuals and nature, from art to reality, from body to mind.”
Name: Banyan Tree Nanjing Garden Expo
Location: Nanjing Garden Expo, Jiangsu, China
Area: 35,000 sqm
Year of Completion: 2021
Client: Nanjing Garden Expo
Interior Design: CCD / Cheng Chung Design (HK)
Architecture Design: China Architecture Design & Research Group
Art Consulting: CCD · WOWU Art Consultancy