Alpine Garden and Amphitheater: Preserve Indigenous Culture and Native Plants

Within Pan-Himalaya Region, Alpine Garden is situated on hillside of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Lijiang, Yunnan province, China, at an altitude of 2560 meters high. The design effort draws upon the site, establishing a distinct closeness with indigenous Naxi culture and alpine nature in creating a place of comfort, solitude and peace.

To restore historic characteristics into the contemporary design, it hired local Naxi stonemasons and carpenters with excellent inherited craftmanship to carry out all stone and wood related works. The inspiring use of native plants, melt snow water, local stones and ethnic textures not only creates a variety of spaces and views but also draws visitors in to explore the rich local culture.

In southeast part of the site, the first low irrigation and low maintenance wilderness garden in Lijiang is experimentally created and successful so far. The artful amphitheater providing immersive and interactive space for Naxi traditional festivals and outdoor art exhibitions becomes culturally important for local community.

Site Introduction

Within Pan-Himalaya Region, Alpine Garden is situated on hillside of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Lijiang, Yunnan province, China, at an altitude of 2560 meters high. The 6-hectare site sits close to UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Yuhu historic village in north and Baisha historic town in east which can be overlooked from alpine garden. It is created from an ancient Naxi village, which has been abandoned for several decades. This new garden is to showcase the long history of Naxi culture and significant native alpine plants.


A slice of modernism in a rustic environment, Alpine Garden challenges the notion of contemporary design in a rugged alpine site with grand landscape surrounded. Respect for the natural and cultural landscape is evident through the recreation of the derelict site, encouraging the visitors to fully immerse in the humbly designed environment with melt snow water, native vegetation and rich habitat.

By preserving onsite heritage, landscape architects were on a mission to redefine visitor experience to attract more people to fund the project to make it economically sustainable. By blending old Naxi and contemporary design, it serves as a strong educational and interactive landscape place to demonstrate importance of Naxi garden tradition, native plants, rich local stone materials and new spatial experience. It is also the best garden in Lijiang to enjoy the snowcapped glacier and overlook Baisha historic town.

Preserve Cultural and Native Plants

In both natural and cultural aspects, Xupai tree is the key element to evoke spirit of Naxi. Naxi people always surround an evergreen tree which is called Xupai to build their homes and create their village. Xupai is also an important public open space where Naxi people hold community events and celebrate traditional festivals.

The spiritual Xupai of alpine garden is a large, aged oak tree with 8 thick branches that resides at the center of the site for hundreds of years. The team carefully kept it untouched and used it as a visual focal point to create culturally sensitive landscape which blends together new and old seamlessly. Visitors start their walk from a long white stone wall, then step down on a long meandering black boardwalk to interact with Xupai in the majestic beauty and tranquility. In respond to the surrounding farmland context, the meandering wooden boardwalk leaded visitors through a characteristic alpine lawn which mixed with shamrocks to symbolize linear ridges of wheat field. It provides the best vantage point to appreciate grand Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and overlook Baisha historic town.

The site was surrounded by a large forest consisting of mature stand of oak, Paulownia fortune, Toxicodendron verniciflum, Pinus yunnanensis that was beautifully wild. The team adopted comprehensively approaches to avoid any heavy machinery to carefully preserve every indigenous tree and groundcover. Landscape design details sneak through natural environment, with walls separating spaces and footpaths connecting beautiful scenes.

To soften edges of historic stone buildings, comprehensive planting palette consisting of indigenous alpine plants and new ornamental plants is used to improve ecosystem and enhance landscape richness. Careful attention was paid to re-establish alpine plants that provide wildlife habitat and culturally connect Naxi people. Alpine plants such as Rhododendron decorum Franch, Iris bulleyana Dykes, Euphorbia stracheyi, etc. were selected to highlight particularity of alpine ecology of Pan-Himalaya region while providing great aesthetic interest to visitors.

Preserve Local Stone and Craftsmanship

Lijiang is an ancient city built with stones, therefor stone is one of the most important cultural elements embedded in Naxi spirit. Sourced within 50 km, local stones are wildly used in landscape walls, water features and paving. Yellow sandstones are used on walls adjacent to building, white glacier stones are constructed on freestanding landscape walls, Guifeng red stones are paved on bottom of water features, colorful Wuhua stones are laid on some footpaths, and black Heishan stones are used on the wall of art center.

With uncompromising craftsmanship, local stonemasons and carpenters carried out all stone and wood related works. By using traditional technics to carve and stack, they deliberately remain all subtle texture details on every stone while the design form is contemporary and simple. It sends visitors a clear message that alpine garden is strongly connected to Naxi culture in Lijiang and has its own uniqueness.

Wilderness Garden: low Irrigation and low Maintenance Experiment

Initially, the team and the client embrace an eco-friendly goal to experimentally create a wilderness garden without any irrigation and maintenance. They worked closely with botanist and local villagers to identify existing plant species and study the feasibility. It finds out that all existing plants has formed a very steady-state ecosystem in Lijiang’s Pan-Himalaya climate.

It takes a series steps to preserve existing groundcover species and create a gentle landform: remove rubbles and plant debris, crush clay soil, remixed topsoil, refill topsoil and etc. Wild grass restores back to its original state in just 2 months, To strike a compelling dialogue, a zigzag boardwalk weave his way through the grassland to provide visitors extraordinary experience with dramatic and intimate overlooks. Rustic rocks are used as land art to interactive with boardwalk and grassland and become a spiritual symbol of wilderness garden. To prevent weeds turning into flammable fuel for wildfires, it introduces stone wall and open grass spaces to separate wilderness garden from tree grove and structures.

Providing critical habitat that offers rich nutritional value and shelter, wilderness garden is a heaven for wildlife. Existing walnut and pear trees offer food for birds, while a rectangular wildlife pond nearby provides drinking water and bath for birds and even for cattle. The boardwalk is lift 60cm up to make sure that animals and insects can move without disturbance. Stacked rocks not only acts as aesthetics element but also serve as shelter for small animals. The wilderness garden becomes an educational center focusing on the importance of indigenous vegetation and wildlife to the biodiversity of the Lijiang.

Amphitheater: Artful Space for Local Naxi Community

On account of existing sunken topography and good views to the snow mountain, the team artfully creates an amphitheater in the northeast part of the site. The ridges rise slowly from the ground and gently turn into platforms and slopes. Recycled old roof beams and timbers are embed in ground as stepping stone and interweaved on the ridge to outline a circular amphitheater as an elegant piece of land art.

Natural play opportunities are embedded in the landform where children are running, climbing, jumping, dancing or rolling. A series of long benches offer historic views to the snow mountain and best views to central performance lawn. It also accommodates great opportunities for local sculptors to exhibit their excellent works and becomes an welcoming outdoor social spaces for artists. When traditional torch festival is held every year, it transforms the whole alpine garden into an immersive and interactive environment to experience Naxi culture and craft.

Water Feature as Metaphor of Historic Water Elements

The water features are conceived as abstracted references to the historic Three Wells and irrigation canal. Comprehensive water network system has been running through Lijiang for more than a thousand years. Three Wells represents the wisdom of Naxi people to make good use of melted snow cascading down snow mountains and into the irrigation channels. The upper pool is drinking water for local residents, the middle pool is used to wash vegetables and fruits, the lower pool is used to wash clothes, then outflow water is to irrigate nearby farmland.

Colleting water from melt snow, the 35m long water channel wall is not only constructed as a retaining wall to sort out level difference between road and terrace, but also a metaphor for traditional irrigation channel, where water falls tree times. Red Guifeng stones are placed at the bottom of the pool, and black slates are used as the transition.

Hylla Group

Liangjun Zhou, Ting Zhou
Lead Designers

Hao Yu, Xueting Liu, Liping Chen, Weiguang Hou,Hongjie Shi,Junxing Lv, Pei Han, Fang Qin, Chang Sun, Huiting Shi, Yueheng Liu, Qiuyu Zhang,Jingzhi Du, Zijian Wang, Jiaqi Liu, Meng Zhang, Zilan Wang(intern), Wei Dong(intern), Xinhe Li(intern)
Landscape Designers
Qiujin Hu, Fei Yang,Qiaohou He
Client Coordinators

Lijiang Cairunhong Engineering Co., Ltd.
Local Naxi Stonemasons

Shangri-La Hongmutang Traditional Wood Structure Co., Ltd.
Local Naxi Carpenters

Zhou Hongliang Lighting Design Beijing Co., Ltd.
Lighting Consultant

Chengdu Shangye Horticulture Co., Ltd.
Planting Consultant

Beijing Guanhe Shifang Consulting Co., Ltd
Planning Consultant

Sichuan Xingli Garden Environment Engineering Co., Ltd.
Shangri-La Hongmutang Traditional Wood Structure Co., Ltd.
Landscape Contractor

Project location:
No.99 Yanjiao Village,Baisha Town, Yulong County,Lijiang,Yunnan Province, China

Design year: 2019

Year Built: 2021


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