- Project Name
- Chaoyang Park Plaza
- MAD Architects
- Smart-hero (HK) Investment Development
- Project Types
- Project Scope
- New Construction
- 2,368,000 sq. feet
- Year Completed
- Shared by
- Ayda Ayoubi
Bennet Hu Po-Kang
Wing Lung Peng
Gustaaf Alfred Van Staveren
Landscape Architect: Greentown Akin Landscape Architecture,Lighting Designer: M&W Lighting
- Project Status
For centuries, traditional shan shui landscape painting had a particular way of representing the rolling mountains of China’s hilly northern landscape: artists used snaking irregular lines, typically layered in semi-concentric loops one over the other. The technique helped convey the illusion of depth—rather in the way of a topographical map, only deployed as elevation rather than plan. More importantly, it captured the contours of the Chinese high country, full of meandering ridges vaulting to ever-more precarious heights, a piling-up of irregular masses topped by craggy crowns.
If all this sounds suspiciously architectural, it may be wondered why it’s taken so long for an architect to attempt to do something like it in built form. Under the leadership of founding principal Ma Yansong, Beijing-based MAD Architects has finally come close to translating some of that age-old artistry into a modern building: Chaoyang Park Plaza, a 1.3 million-square-foot mixed-use development in the firm’s hometown. “I think the most beautiful thing is to have man-made architecture comfortably mixed with nature,” says Yansong. In the midst of China’s bustling capital, in a district where ultra-modern, ultra-massive projects are everywhere on the rise, the architect means for his latest creation to be a kind of respite, a return to a distinctly Chinese sense of the organic.
The ensemble comprises six major buildings, all situated within a 300,000-square-foot mega-block on Beijing’s east side, not far from the thriving Sanlitun commercial quarter. Surrounding the structures is a lush landscape of curling paths and plantings, the procession flowing into and out of a grand entry hall as well as grotto-ish access points to an underground shopping concourse connecting several of the buildings. The residential component, with interiors by Armani Casa, occupies two towers at the southwest corner of the site, their floorplates extending beyond their darkened glass facades to form outdoor terraces; the commercial and office mid-rises volumes on the southern side are likewise highly sculptural, mound-like in silhouette and cut with sheltered outdoor walkways.
But the main attraction, and the most manifestly artistic in inspiration, is the twinned office towers on the northern perimeter, bracing between them the glassed-in, light-filled atrium. Standing fully 26 and 27-stories-tall, both skyscrapers are marked by a structural system of tall, slender piers that rise in successive rows, bending as they ascend until they reach their zenith and then plummeting back to the ground. The debt to landscape painting is obvious: The ribbed vertical elements correspond to the elegantly ridge lines so beloved of China’s old masters. Seen at a distance from central Beijing, the effect is remarkably picturesque, an eruption of improbable earthforms against a backdrop of boxy apartment blocks.
This is the problem that Yansong set out to tackle. “To me, there’s no debate about making an architecture that coexists with nature,” the principal says. “The problem is how to make it large scale and still have meaning.” The shan shui approach allowed Yansong to transpose a feature of the natural world into the built environment, and to do so in terms that would be immediately apprehensible to a Chinese audience. Ironically, there are hints of other, rather different traditions also evident in the design, especially as seen from the inside: in the uppermost floors of the office interiors, the steel members cross the windows in elaborate web-works, the glass sloping at an acute angle to the floor. The spectacle of structure, evident as well in the sharp finials of the exoskeleton, is reminiscent of nothing so much as the exaggerated, sinister deco of Gotham City in Tim Burton’s Batman. There’s even an echo of Antoni Gaudí about the place, with the Catalan legend’s beloved catenary arches appearing in the tops of the towers, in the vault of the atrium and elsewhere.
The sheer exuberance of it all does seem at odds with the mood of tranquil contemplation the ancient landscape painters sought to conjure in their work. But Yansong, whose office is presently engaged in a breathless global building spree (including his hotly-debated Lucas Museum in Los Angeles, as well as a new concert hall for Beijing) is not an architect known for visual quietude. Chaoyang Park Plaza is just further proof of his determination to think big. “Making a building that would be like a mountain has always been in my mind,” Yansong says.
FROM THE ARCHITECTS:
MAD Architects, led by Ma Yansong, has completed “Chaoyang Park Plaza”, which includes the Armani apartment complex. Positioned on the southern edge of Beijing’s Chaoyang Park ─ the largest remaining park in Beijing’s central business district area ─ the 220,000 sqm complex includes 10 buildings which unfold as a classic Shanshui painting on an urban scale. Having a similar position and function as Central Park in Manhattan, but unlike the modern box-like buildings that only create a separation between the park and the city, “Chaoyang Park Plaza” instead is an expansion of nature. It is an extension of the park into the city, naturalizing the CBD’s strong artificial skyline, borrowing scenery from a distant landscape ─ a classical approach to Chinese garden architecture, where nature and architecture blend into one another.
“In modern cities, architecture as an artificial creation is seen more as a symbol of capital, power or technological development; while nature exists independently. It is different from traditional Eastern cities where architecture and nature are designed as a whole, creating an atmosphere that serves to fulfill one’s spiritual pursuits,” said architect Ma Yansong. “We want to blur the boundary between nature and the artificial, and make it so that both are designed with the other in mind. Then, the argument in the modern logic of humans to protect or to destroy nature will no longer exist if we understand and see humans and nature as co-existing. Human behavior and emotion is part of nature, and nature is where that originates and ends.”
Inspired by traditional Chinese landscape paintings, the design remodels the relationship of large-scale architecture within our urban centers. It introduces natural forms and spaces ─ “mountain, brook, creek, rocks, valley and forest” ─ into the city. The asymmetrical twin tower office buildings on the north side of the site, sit at the base of the park’s lake and are like two mountain peaks growing out of the water. The transparent and bright atrium acts like a “drawstring” that pulls the two towers together by a connecting glass rooftop structure.
The small-scale, low-rise commercial buildings appear as mountain rocks that have endured long-term erosion. They seem to be randomly placed, but their strategic relationship to one another forms a secluded, but open urban garden, offering a place where people can meet within nature in the middle of the city.
The two multi-story Armani apartments to the southwest continue this concept of “open air living” with their staggered balconies, offering each residential unit more opportunities to be exposed to natural sunlight, and ultimately feel a particular closeness to nature.
The overall environment is shaped by smooth, curved surfaces of black and white, creating a quiet and mysterious atmosphere. It is one that evokes the emotion and aesthetic resonance of a traditional Chinese ink painting, creating a tranquil escape from the surrounding, bustling urban environment. The landscape that weaves itself in between the buildings incorporates pine trees, bamboo, rocks and ponds ─ all traditional eastern landscape elements that imply a deeper connection between the architecture and classical space. Japanese graphic artist Kenya Hara led the design of the “simple” and “refined” signage system for the project.
The project has been awarded the LEED Gold Certification by the US Green Building Council, as the ideal of “nature” is not only embodied in the design concept, but in the innovation and integration of green technology as well. The vertical fins seen on the exterior glass façade emphasize the smoothness and verticality of the towers. They also function as the energy efficient ventilation and filtration system, drawing fresh air indoors. At the base of the towers, there is a pond, that while making them appear as if they are going into infinity, works as an air cooling system in the summer, decreasing the overall temperature of the interior.
“Chaoyang Park Plaza” completely transforms the model of building found in our cities’ central business districts. But even though it is located in the center of Beijing’s CBD, the intention is for it to have a dialogue with the traditional and classical city of Beijing – reflecting the interdependence between man and nature, both in urban planning, and the large-scale presentation of the Shanshui garden. In the painting of Wang Mingxian, an architectural historian, he juxtaposed “Chaoyang Park Plaza” into a classical landscape painting. The architecture and the natural scenery seemed harmonious together, unlike how some might think the buildings do not fit into their urban context. Commenting on this contrast, Ma Yansong said: “I don’t think that’s our problem. The real question is when did the original cultural context of this city disappear? We have the opportunity to try and create a different kind of city, that on a spiritual and cultural level, can be compared to the classical cities of Eastern philosophy and wisdom.