There are multiple tourist destinations around the project site. We witnessed remains of ancient villages, stone ducts, and old trees in a temple during our site visits. People and buildings co-exist within the woods. While the residents take what’s necessary for them to live from nature, they have not damaged nature’s original beauty and mystery. However, infrastructure lags the site’s function as tourist destination. Hence moderate development can be justified. We hope to fulfill the project’s development goals while maintain our reverence of nature. By minimising construction impact on the land and balancing traces of human interference, we preserved nature fully. Under the backdrop of high-speed urban development, we have reserved this land of peace and shelter to the lake and the forests.
Ningbo has several lakes in the city. Jiulong Lake is one of the smaller ones. Walking along the lake bank, one wouldn’t see endless vast lake surface, but little hills of varying heights in the lake. People are surrounded by nature here. The short distance between nature and people makes the lake and hills more intimate. The project is by the Jiulong Lake. Extending into nature makes the project unique. We visited the site many times as the project progressed, experiencing its four seasons, hills and lake shore, century-old forests, sunrise and sunset. All made us respecting the land more.
Landscape designers were involved early at the start of the project. The aspiration of a complete growing organic village cluster came about during discussions with architects. We tried to segregate buildings into clusters, breaking their original layout. Separately we arranged views of the village along the natural streams flowing from the deep mountain to the lake, implanting the various required functions in the original forest. This enabled the project’s future living space part of the Jiulong Lake destination. We hope the newly-developed living town could be accepted by the land, and that the town could have its own square, market, canteen, pier, and station. Visitors and residents alike would be able to utilise these scattered public functions, opening the possibilities of life among islands and bay.
The canteen sits at the north bay and forms part of the organic village cluster. It serves future residents but is also open to visitors. It becomes an epitome of the village, at the forefront of future living at the bay. The Canteen is the first stop when one arrives the village, serving as reception and start of visit. It’s connected with the forest in the north island and the southern bank of the lake. It’s even a public station of the Jiulong Lake destination. Lively atmosphere is first experienced here. We separated different functions into various smaller constructions and minimised their height, blending into the original nature with a humble heart. Even though the buildings are scattered, they are effectively connected with visiting path. Staggered heights also made each corner of the building unique in space, creating full experience of natural village during visit.
We utilised an opening along the road in future city planning as one of the entrances to the Village, which can be permanently preserved. We maintained and included surrounding original woods as part of the entrance, establishing a small platform where one can view the village down. The way down is built to the east of the platform, making sure minimum impact on the environment while fulfilling the function and size of an entrance.
Walking down the floating platforms to the lower part of the woods creates strong contrast against the upper space. The change in height also signals transition of scene and mood. The inner workings of the village expands from here, where view is broader. Looking out through a plot of newly-planted trees, one can see the glittering lake surface, hence preserving the wilderness of the original nature.
A natural stream flows down from the mountains, whose water volume changes with season. As important as an element in Chinese landscaping, the stream brings huge challenge in designing. The sedimentation and purification of the stream need to be natural and original. We laid small stones at the stream bed big stones acting as structural enforcement, as if they naturally rolled down, creating the iconic view of this part of the village. Once crossing the stream, it’s the Village territory. To ensure the vitality of plants on the stone surface, the designers collaborated with local construction team to find a indigenous moss to be planted in the gaps of the stones. The original trees on the site were also kept and given new meaning in the design, becoming a unique and spirited icon. Assortment of trees came back to life after winter, and the moss in the shadow grows together with the trees into a beautiful picture. Moss continues to grow in with the enrichment of March and April rain, gradually covering the shore stones. It’s as if the stones have found their destination after settling here. The village is also reborn and starts to grow with the raw vitality of the moss.
Before entering the village, we want more than just crossing a stream over stones, and we hope the buildings do not suddenly appear in sight. Instead, have nature linger around. This is because a marvelous glimpse across the bushes when we first visited the site, where the mountains were reflected in the lake, and the setting sun rising from the lake. The coincidental dialogue with nature made us decide to install a storied scene on the side of the stream. It demands enough steps along the intentionally low roof to compress and stretch one’s sight to the far away, with a calm mood. If nature misunderstands the intention, lake view would become forest view, and the original forest become the most beautify mistake. All these are full of life. As one walks, an sloped stone wall controls light and view. Before the buildings can be seen, natural scenery demands attention. As traditional as our spatial story-telling is, it highlighted the important sequence of views. The village is eventually shown.
The central courtyard behind the corridor is separated by high walls, but we want continuous flow of nature and the spirit of the mountain. We designed several mountain-shaped islands at the core of the courtyard, as if the mountain was washed into them. Viewing from certain angles, the courtyard becomes an extension of the mountains far away. A thin long water system flows from the main building to the core of the courtyard, separating the building clusters, disappearing in the Water Plate. The Water Plate is designed to have stable water level with drainage system. Our message here is the circulation of water enriches the land and forest.
In front of the Courtyard we receded one floor of the building to nature. Looking out from the viewing frame on the first floor, the grass by the lake bank is the best intimacy with nature we present to the locals. Large spaces are intentionally empty, serving as a drawing board for nature. As season changes, the mountains far away and the lake are always the only lead actors of the show. The project started in 2019 and was suspended and adjusted for various reasons. Covid added another layer of the presentation of the site – the lake and mountain became the refuge when people want to escape into nature. There are so many stories and incidents in the progress of the project – changes and suspense throughout. The good thing was we always practiced restrain and let nature thrive in our design. We hope the village would continue to grow as developments progress, extending our conceptual exploration of an organic village.
Between the mountains and the lake, we have been exploring the blend of future living and nature. This includes way of life, material, and construction. Whether to develop or protect, raw or fine, heavy or light, all these balances and tradeoffs are in our thoughts when living with nature. We used locally-sourced stones to connect the project with nature, with unique handcraft that brings out its dignified nature. They become the base of buildings. We utilised light wooden materials where human activity touches, including parts of walls and floors.
Forest and lake are where nature is. This project is a demonstration of Change Studio’s long tradition of utilisation of plants. We explored using young trees from the original forest as a medium between nature and people. The soft and light branches and leaves balances the hard roads, walls, and stones. Examples include the garden of stone and flowers in front of the separation wall, the rosemary garden between wooden platforms, and the leaves grown out from the gaps of the stream bed stones. Empty spaces intentionally left between planting plots leaves future space for them to grow, and time will surprise. Now these new residents will sprout and grow into part of the nature they share with the original forest and the lake.
Architectural Design: HHD-sz
Photography: Ning Wang
Project location: Jiulong Lake, Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province,China
Design year: 2020