Ma Yansong on buildings of freedom that rethink our fellowship with nature
by Jincy IypeMar 24, 2023
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Jul 05, 2021
At Taiyuan Botanical Garden, completed this year in the capital of Shanxi province in northern China, nature merges with architecture in a fluid landscape of green lawns, lakes, and hills leading into bermed terrains, gigantic glass domes, and concrete walkways. On the site of a former coal mining zone within the Jinyuan district of Taiyuan, the development was conceptualised and built by Vienna-based Delugan Meissl Associated Architects (DMAA) over a six-year period that commenced in 2015.
Aside from the ecological revitalisation of an extensive tract of land - once exploited as a source of fossil fuels - the project also bore additional responsibilities of creating outdoor recreational spaces hosting research areas along with subsidiary facilities to share information about natural ecosystems with the general public. After DMAA's transformation of the site, its now verdant landscape blends organically with the context, despite many of the features such as water bodies, grassy knolls, and tree cover being the result of human interventions.
From the bustling lanes of a highway nearby, visitors first encounter the central entrance building, sporting a colossal, jagged form clad in grey geometric concrete tiles. The cantilevered portal looms over an elevated circular void that forms the main entryway to the development. The architects share, “We wanted to have an entryway with a circular opening, as local traditions dictated that such a feature would ward off evil spirits, and our idea was to slant the door to create a scenic point of admission into the park."
A travelator ushers guests upwards to a viewing deck - in form of a projected concrete platform - rising over the lake and revealing panoramic views of the park in its entirety. This section of the entrance building functions as an interface between the architecture and the landscape, while the structure below it houses a nature museum, administrative spaces, and a lobby.
A series of three domed greenhouses skirting the shores of the lake is the central focus of the development. The result of pooled efforts combining technical skills related to the domains of energy-conscious design, thermal performance, structural engineering, climatic design, carbon footprint reduction, and glazing systems, the greenhouses are supported by latticed timber frames - a departure from steel predominantly used in such situations.
Delugan Meissl Associated Architects made this decision quite early due to timber's capacity for use in high-quality prefabrication, as well as its historical and cultural associations with the region's traditional architecture. "In our case,” the Austrian firm adds, “transportation was also a significant reason. The wood used was shipped from Europe, and containers travelling from Europe to China are mostly empty since the quantity of goods imported from China is much larger than shipments travelling the other way around. So we also saw it as an opportunity to reduce costs."
Assembled in hemispherical lattices that intersect over two or three layers, double-curved, laminated timber beams support the greenhouses. These members are packed tightly towards the structures' northern face but spread out more on moving southwards. Double curved glass panes, including openable units, envelop the timber frameworks that resemble shells when viewed directly from above.
The broadest of the three domes spans nearly 90 metres and is among the largest such structures in the world. All three greenhouses are linked by curved concrete pathways that run beneath the timber slatted overhanging slab of the upper floor. While the two land-based greenhouses contain pavilions with tropical and desert vegetation, the third is a stand-alone feature settled on the lake to house aquatic plants.
Extending this widespread use of timber, a restaurant and tea house situated on an island within the lake reinterpret the geometries of timber roof structures drawing from Chinese architecture. While designing this structure, the architects were influenced by traditional wood joinery, commonly found in the region's temples. Under this premise, interwoven piles of load-bearing timber members are stacked and layered in diagonal intersections to play with notions of hierarchy and scale, crafting a true structural and sculptural marvel.
Towards the water body's opposing shore, concentric curved terraces in concrete line the rotated bowl of the garden's bonsai museum. Articulated as a path through a domesticated natural landscape, the design of this space reflects Far Eastern garden art traditions, with concrete ramps and stairways interjected by trees and patches of grass. "We wanted to present the bonsai trees in an artificial environment as a means of underlining the tradition of this art form," share the architects. Integrated as a circular depression drilled into the park's topography, it complements the landscape as a picturesque exhibit of the botanical garden's biodiversity.
Housing office buildings, lecture and meeting rooms, laboratories, studios, workshops, and a library, the development's research centre occupies an adjacent edge of the site, with program areas connected by a block at the ground level, segregated into pavilions of varying sizes.
The harmonious blend of architecture and landscape design exhibited at Taiyuan Botanical Garden forges a dialogue between man and nature, responding to the need for quality outdoor leisure spaces in Chinese cities. Marrying precise efficient planning with awe-inspiring structural design, the intervention has brought a renewed sense of purpose to a site that was once an ecologically barren graveyard for the extraction of fuel, reseeding it with life and vigour in a manner that epitomises design's potential to build a more sustainable world.
Name: Taiyuan Botanical Garden
Location: Jinyuan District, Taiyuan City, China
Site Area: 182 hectares
Gross Surface Area: 54.600 sq m
Client: Botanical Garden Taiyuan
Architect: Delugan Meissl Associated Architects
Project Manager: Sebastian Brunke, Diogo Teixeira
Project Team: Maria Dirnberger, Volker Gessendorfer, Bernd Heger, Tom Peter-Hindelang, Klara Jörg, Rangel Karaivanov, Leonard Kern, Kinga Kwasny, Toni Nachev, Martin Schneider, Petras Vestartas
Executive Planning: Institute of Shanghai Architectural Design & Research (Co.,Ltd.)
Coordination: Yiju Ding
Structural Engineers: Bollinger + Grohmann Ingenieure
Timber Structures: StructureCraft
Façade: Bollinger + Grohmann Ingenieure
HVACR/ Electrics: Cody Energy Design
Landscape Architecture: Beijing BLDJ Landscape Architecture Insitute Co.,Ltd.
Landscape Design, Greenhouses: Valentien+Valentien, Landschaftsarchitekten, und Stadtplaner SRL
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