by Jincy IypeSep 25, 2021
Swerving a touch away from the extroverted, ultra-developmental, and contemporary edifices defining the built landscape of China is the Restaurant of Metasequoia Grove conceived by the Group of Architects (GOA), a diligent one-storey architecture capped with a cluster of dynamically arranged latticed pyramids sliced flat at the top. The structure rises idyllically from a rural woodland in China, citing a direct influence on the site's terrain - the form of the conical metasequoia trees blessing the ground in abundance were abstracted and translated into pure geometries of pyramidal frustums, as a study into a "modular" architectural language for the project. The modules crowning the building rise and reach diverse heights, forming a continuous, choreographed canopy that traces and embodies an artificial forest profile growing amid nature.
The seemingly effortless yet compelling design of the restaurant looks to nature for its forward-looking aesthetic and uncluttered spatiality, its straightforward, nimble sensibility belying a profoundly ecological consciousness and elevated user experience. The form relays a simple yet elemental ethos, captured succinctly in the words of Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa – "architecture is essentially an extension of nature into the man-made realm, providing the ground for perception and the horizon of experiencing and understanding the world.”
A lakeside restaurant quite unlike any other, the Restaurant of Metasequoia Grove by GOA is located at the west end of Shanwan village in the Wujiang District of the Suzhou countryside. The typical waterside village is located on a vast swamp plain, with verdant vegetation and stretching green landscapes. Being the first constructed phase of a low-rise leisure-led complex development by the China-based practice, the composed restaurant's architecture functions as a dining space for visitors, apart from functioning as a small banquet hall for holding a variety of public events.
"Rather than being just an architectural construction, the project is more of a landscape that immerses into its natural context, eventually becoming part of nature. It delivers joyful moments by the water, and peaceful nature experiences where architecture enables new ways of seeing the landscape,” the Chinese architects share.
The local government launched the "Wujiang · Beautiful Village" rural revitalisation proposal back in 2020, where areas around the swamp would be the first launching zone of the program - this proposal aims to promote local agriculture, culture, and tourism as significant drives. This individual project aims to carry more employment opportunities and sustainable economic benefits for the area.
The vernacular architectural landscape of the region was built by the water – the water, sky, and the village constitute a "magnificent spectacle" that spreads itself out in serenity and grace. A calming stretch of existing villages ambles from the site’s east side, while vast tracts of farmlands and woods take over the west and north areas. "A grove of metasequoia trees quietly standing by an enormous expanse of water in the south becomes the only nature skyline in this plain terrain," shares Group of Architects.
The pyramidal frustum crowning the striking new local landmark becomes a consistent, recurring motif for the 416 sqm restaurant, where nature achieves intended "artificiality". The module of the roof frustums are realised across three sizes and forms (small-medium-large orders), "according to the mathematical relation of the square’s side length on the bottom of 2:3:4. Three different scales of modules mix and cluster together, forming a continuous canopy structure that traces an artificial forest profile within nature to simulate the natural substances’ generative process," they continue.
The strategised design of the canopy reaches an overall height of 12 metres, where each pyramidal frustum is topped by a glass-enclosed skylight, channelling natural light into the structure, albeit moderately. The roof system is divided into three layers - customised perforated aluminium panels as the outer layer, with textures created as the layering tops of the metasequoia trees; glass as the middle layer introducing greater luminosity and visual openness; and grilled, warm wooden panels making up the innermost, robust layer.
The contextual design is also conceived to offer its visitors fresher vistas and platforms to experience the prevailing natural landscape in all its fullness. The canopy’s eaves are lowered uniformly to 2.7m, framing a horizontal scroll of the wetland scenery, capturing its theatrical vastness and limpid repose, akin to the beauty of "a traditional Chinese painting", says GOA. Inside the low-corniced roof’s interior, air vents and outlets are set on the ground level alongside the restaurant’s windows, to mitigate and minimise visual interference. “Standing under the eaves and looking out, the vastness and tranquillity of the plain wetland seem to be captured in the picture," the design team reiterates.
The load-bearing columns of the Restaurant of Metasequoia Grove are minimised to just 10 in number, to accentuate the lightness of the fine latticed wooden canopy. These are organised around the interior edges of the restaurant’s insides, where each column is grouped by a cluster of three slender steel columns, with a diameter of 10 cm individually. Only 11 steel columns with a diameter of 15 cm are set along the edge of the exterior terrace under the eaves. Each cluster of columns aligns with a corresponding edge of the wooden ceiling structure and window frames, united in colour.
The interior design presents a striking lack of ornamentation, coming into its own with just wooden accents and sparse decor. The restaurant design also adopts an array of strategies that maximise the transparency between the interior and exterior, by erasing the boundaries between the two. For instance, the consistent paving material for the restaurant’s space to the under-eave terrace permits a sense of extended, expansive space that connects with a peripheral infinity waterscape. This water body integrates seamlessly with the existing one, to establish coherence between the architecture and the natural wetland. Customised single-bay floor-to-ceiling windows with a width of over 2m and narrow frames enhance the visual openness of the space, opening up the iridescent restaurant to the great outdoors.
“The Restaurant of Metasequoia Grove is an iconic small single- story project of the governmental rural revitalisation program. Although it is not yet officially open, visitors have come in flocks. By softly blending in the waterside landscape carrying a delicate rustic texture and thus enhancing the experience of the magnificent natural scenery with architecture, the project truly realises its design vision to construct a new landscape for the existing village,” shares GOA, who carry core values of contributing to society, endeavouring with their projects, to shape unparalleled spatial experiences for future cities, elevating the public experience.
Name: Restaurant of Metasequoia Grove
Location: Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, China
Area: 416 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Client: Bluetown Group
Architect: GOA (Group of Architects)
Landscape Architect: Zhejiang LEON Engineering Consulting
Interior Designer: Shanghai Yishantang Decoration Design
Operation Consultant: Suzhou Bluetown Cultural Tourism