“In Mountains and Valleys” – The Practice of Mountain-Dwelling in Northern Naturalism by

2023 Residential Project / China / Built in 2022 /

We are fortunate to have opportunity to build a mountain residence in the hinterland of Xuzhou city. The existence of mountains is emphasized because for a typical plain city in the north, it has its own unique natural characteristics: literally, there are five mountain peaks around the site, which are long and thick, which makes a contrast to the flat cities. Because of this special experience, people who have come here many times are used to calling it “Wushan”.

Thanks to this original mountain feeling, the design task has a clear goal from beginning to end: to create a “natural mountain residence” in a northern city. And this kind of living experience should be relaxed and comfortable, free from artificial rituals and complicated decorations, people escape into the mountains and forests here. After all, the rebuilt Wushan also needs to become part of the mountain.


Since it is in the mountains, visitors can’t be too direct when they escape into it. After all, they still have to ask for directions and explore with respect. Therefore, it follows the ups and downs of the mountains, allowing people to travel up and down, in and out, and experience the extraordinary experience of the plain city while walking. In fact, nature is rich and interesting, but it has been smoothed out by modern and efficient cities.

“In Mountains and valleys” is the design strategy of the mountain sightseeing here. With the help of natural light, the mountain already exists, and the arrival of people makes the mountain more intimate. The humility of entering the mountain, the retreat of the valley, and the lingering view of the climb are all attempts to establish a small system of dialogue with the mountain, so that the “mountain people” can obtain small-scale suitability in the site.

In Valleys

Urban planning has clear restrictions on openings into the mountains. Respecting the objective conditions, the scale of a small distance can instead become a “mountain gate”, and a secret entrance to the mountain is built in space. The artificial required passages and rest platforms are controlled to the minimum scale, and let it float, light and clear, emphasizing the enclosure of the mountain. The spatial perception is close to the cliffs and streams down, and extends up to the tall and straight cedar forest, where you can touch water, wood, stone, soil…

In order to meet the needs of tourists who come here, a small-scale square is set up in the green forest package. The square is surrounded by a disc with a diameter of 7 meters to realize the function of carriage return, dispersing the traffic flow and reducing the impact on the natural mountain feeling. The complex elements of the landscape are removed, and blank is left for the ultimate presentation of natural mountains, rocks and water. The small world in the roulette wheel, the mountains are the screen, and the water reflects the mountains. There is a blank piece in the large monolithic material of the original mountain stone. Here, a “big tree at the entrance of the village” is transplanted according to the conditions.

At the turning point of the mountain, the mountain trail enters the valley, which is built into a quiet “northern garden”. Due to the geographical differences between the north and the south, the plants will behave differently, but the gardening techniques of ingenious craftsmen can be implemented in the north. Here, different from the lush and prosperous southern gardens, when the wind blows through the breathable birch forest, the upper birch shadows sway in the mountains, and the lower mountain leaves emerge from the stone crevices, spreading the stream formed by the barren rocks. Valley, this vibrant northern landscape is also unique.

In mountains

The top floor of the flowing water building has a wide view, which is the best place to communicate with the green mountains near and far. Not only the view from afar, visitors can also discover a historically preserved lime kiln, which stands mysteriously and tells the story of the mountain. Time endows the lime kiln with a natural energy field, of which the sense of richness is our most direct experience. An outdoor tea room is placed between the building and the lime kiln. It is the extension of the building to the outside, and it is also the connection between the lime kiln and the building. Other than that, our design at the top of the mountain is as restrained as possible. In awe of the high mountains and wide sky and stars, the sense of human existence is infinitely reduced, and the dialogue between tranquility and nature is the eternal theme of this field.

Building villas in the mountains is the consensus of landscape and architecture from beginning to end. Using the height difference, let the mountain landscape wander between the building and the interior, creating a life experience that blends in the site and the mountains without boundaries. We let natural green grow in patios, windows, balconies, and rooms. Light and shadow return to the building through the green, forming a natural cycle and symbiosis.

The surprise in exploration

We like to study the relationship between space and nature, because nature can bring many unexpected surprises. Several natural stone walls that appeared during the construction were almost dug up by the on-site workers. In the end, the stone wall was preserved as a treasure, and it was built into the Shibi Mountain Gate and the Shixi Platform. The earth and stone base under the lime kiln retains the natural texture, presenting a unique beauty of heavenly craftsmanship. Although it is different from the expected picture, we welcome this “error” in the design exploration process. A design that lands with complete precision from start to finish may be too rigid. Following the unexpected and taking advantage of the trend is also a design that is just right.

Creating a sense of mountain
The mountain residence is originally in the mountain, so it can become a part of the mountain. Therefore, the construction of the site and terrain following the mountain trend can create the ups and downs of “in mountains and valleys”. At the same time, the stones in the most important sites in the mountains and forests are borrowed from the nearby mountains. Xuzhou is known as the Millennium Stone City since ancient times. When the original clumsy stone is paired with modern craftsmanship, it is inadvertently reborn on the site to establish a microscopic emotional link and regional belonging. But we still need to run in with nature. Unfortunately, due to factors such as the leveling of the building and the construction of the basement, the original mountain forest tree species cannot be preserved, which is a long-term regret. Inviting our mountain buddies home is our way of making up for my mountain. Upright and upright cedar forests and river birch forests support the mountain’s momentum, the lush and delicate rocky ground is darned into the exposed mountain patches, and the moist moss also spreads over the creekside trails. These partners will become part of my mountain, take root here, and wait for everything to grow.

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, avoiding the timeliness of plants is not the true nature of the northern living environment. Even though there is a long way from a barren land to lush mountains and forests, creating a long-term design with a sense of time is still one of our philosophy. In the future, we will continue to pay attention to and track the growth of plants here, and present them again in a new form.

Architectural Design: ZEN Off  Office
Photography: E-ar x TARS
Project location: Beside Meihua Dock, Wushan Park, Xuzhou City, Zhejiang JiangsuProvince,China
Design year: 2021
Year Built: 2022


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