by Jerry ElengicalApr 23, 2022
Flooded farmlands for paddy cultivation have been a rather distinctly entrenched part of eastern imagery in pop culture with their extensive network of canals, wooden bridges and alleyways between the foot-high crop. However, more than their visually serene character, there is an intrinsic architectural sense to these water networks, and their resultant linkages and crossovers, that is at once complex yet idyllic. Serving as nostalgic inspiration for the designers of An Villa, with a dash of remembrance lent by the curved-eaves of traditional Chinese residences, the water network and all its sensory channels manifest into a zen microcosm beside a residential block, firmly modernistic in its sensibilities.
An Villa develops as a succinct collaboration between architecture and landscape design; between Allied Architects International, and TROP Landscape - the latter an apt acronym for terrains + open space. In fact, considering the conceptualisation of the house around natural elements and even by the sheer surface area this sculpture-like intervention occupies of the total site, the landscape often upstages, rather animates the very linear edifice of the main residential structure, lending it the scale and character of a whole settlement. This sense of induced zen through a literal deluge of memories is wholly owed to the water village of Jiangnan in Shaoxing, towards the south of the Yangtze river.
Jiangnan is now regarded as one of the most prosperous regions in all of China, owing to its rich heritage and culture, along with a high agrarian yield due to the river’s fertile southern delta. Following research on the ancient watertown of Shaoxing and the architectural typology and features of its residential landscape, the designers place the ancient house roof and water networks at the centre of the villa’s design development process. Overlapping roof tiles, Imbrex and Tegula, adorn the cantilevered edifice of the house, apart from formulating a water feature at the arrival court and a similar cascading avenue facing the house’s sit-out. Apart from being a nod to the architectural heritage of Shaoxing, the comprehensive, tiled network drains water efficiently and keeps out excess rainwater by allowing it a ‘natural’ channel.
The design also spares a thought for the essence of a roof as a protector, and water-management systems in the old town an essential mechanism, much like our internal circulation systems. By manifesting the sloped roof at an accessible level for patrons, and merging it with the sloping landscape architecture, the introverted nature of the mini-settlement is declared imperative.
The foliage dotting this landscape comprises mainly ecological, natural planting, combined with exquisite spherical shrubs imparting a sense of sculpture to the space, akin to a lush exhibition on display. The sunken courtyard beside the house is ensconced within an array of tall trees that conversely impart a sense of spatial volume to the microcosm, such that a bird’s eye view of the “natural village” exudes richness, exquisiteness, and vibrancy. The green islands alternating within the shingled slopes are also punctuated with slender, narrow trees, creating a rhythmic pattern of sorts.
The designers equate walking through the An Villa with walking along the ancient Jiangnan settlement, highlighted by the eaves and ridges of the packed houses, and the waterscape of the farms and landscape. A peculiar memory, that of the roof pouring on people walking beneath, standing in stark contrast to the steel gutter lined eaves of American residences, seems to inform it all and to tie it all together. The somewhat melancholic, olden visual and aural memory of the stream of rain ricocheting off the eaves’ edges is something that every Jiangnanese child would fondly remember, state the designers, and that reminiscence is what the project seeks to evoke.
Name: An Villa
Location: Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, China
Landscape Architects: TROP : terrains + open space
Architects: Allied Architects International
Gross Built Area: 6,600㎡
Lead Landscape Architects: Pok Kobkongsanti, Jayda Zhu
Team: Yuting Lu, Yiping Liu, Huamei Yin, Pengtao Sang, Ke Ma