Text by Edward Keegan, AIA
The set of stone-and-concrete boxes carefully arrayed on a plinth in the midst of a wetland near Hangzhou, China, hew precisely to the crisp, minimalist aesthetic one would expect of David Chipperfield Architects. The landscape was created as a park more than a millennium ago by a forward-thinking Chinese emperor who seemingly foresaw what would be most attractive to 21st century ecotourists and residents.
The residential development, Xixi Wetland Estate, is located within the larger Xixi National Wetland Park, which encompasses 1,150 hectares (2,800 acres) a few miles west of Hangzhou’s city center. About 70 percent of the park is covered in water, but that hasn’t precluded its use for many different activities over the centuries. In recent years, developers have hired some well-known architects, including Arata Isozaki, Hon. FAIA, and Steven Holl, FAIA, to design an assortment of structures within a small corner of the park. Chipperfield’s contribution lies at the center of those modern interventions, but is largely protected from the growing visual cacophony by an inward-looking landscape design strategy that builds on the park’s historically manmade natural forms.
The complex is constructed of three materials—basalt stone, concrete, and dark timber, calibrated to the specific context. “We wanted a strong material presence,” says Mark Randel, a founding partner of the firm’s Shanghai office, which worked with the Berlin office on the project.
Xixi Wetland Estate comprises 20 two-story apartment buildings set on a concrete platform that masks an underground parking structure while evoking traditional stone plinths used for historic structures in the park. Entry to the complex is from the east, where a small communal structure offers a meeting room for residents and a station for the security guard.
The residential buildings are designed in two sizes, with each containing two single-floor apartment units. The larger offers two three-bedroom apartments, the smaller a pair of two-bedroom units. Living spaces are located on the buildings’ southern sides, according to prevailing feng shui practices. Bedrooms, kitchens, baths, elevators, and stairs all face north.
There’s a timelessness to Xixi Wetland Estate that reaches beyond its particular place in a quiet corner of a rapidly expanding city in the world’s most populous nation. Its elemental forms and simple, even ancient, materials set atop placid waters underscore relationships that exist across cultures. By creating buildings and spaces that are deeply entrenched in their unique landscape, the architects have poetically, and paradoxically, transcended cultural specificity.
Project: Xixi Wetland Estate, Hangzhou, China
Client: Hangzhou Westbrook Investment
Architect: David Chipperfield Architects, Berlin and Shanghai . Mark Randel (partner, design); Libin Chen (partner, project management); Ilona Priwitzer, Manh Kinh Tran, Sascha Jung, Samson Adjei (project architects); Maoxue Li, Mirjam von Busch, Jiacong Yang (project team)
Landscape Architect: Belt Collins
Structural Engineer/Services Engineer/Façade Consultant/Local Architect/Construction Documentation: East China Architectural Design & Research Institute
Lighting Consultant: Proteus Lighting
Project Management: Hangzhou Westbrook Investment
Size: 11,800 square meters (127,014 square feet)
This article appeared in the April 2016 issue of ARCHITECT magazine.
Project DescriptionFROM THE ARCHITECTS:
Xixi, a national wetland park located on the outskirts of Hangzhou, is a built landscape and an area of nature, which has been shaped by man for over a thousand years. The omnipresent relationship between landscape, architecture, and water is key to the atmosphere in Xixi. This atmosphere has been integrated into a new development of apartment buildings.
The apartment buildings are surrounded by a water garden, which, as a reference to the wetland park, is a mostly wild landscape. In contrast to these green surroundings, the buildings appear as dark stone volumes embedded in the water garden. They are, as is typical for villages in Xixi, placed on a stone plinth that sits in the water. This plinth forms the base of a village group with various levels, walls, and balustrades creating a sequence of exterior spaces, which enable access to the buildings. The interiors are characterised by floating spaces. Room height windows allow for natural light and views over the water garden.