Architects and developers are used to categorising their projects into one type; the type that only serves the clients’ goals and their programs, either being “public” or “private”. The client and the design team of the Grand Milestone Art Centre , however, defied this redundant habit and reimagined a private development beyond its boundary. The result would successfully promote pedestrian accessibility for both the visitors and local communities.
The project boasts a sophisticated landscape that showers every visitor with wonders throughout their journey into each space. Designed with utmost intricacy, every garden and courtyard displays themselves as a well-composed painting while acting as a living backdrop for any artwork exhibited. However, these beautiful spaces would not be fully appreciated if people could not easily reach the site. Looking at the adjacent green corridor, the landscape team saw a great opportunity in creating the public “Ribbon Dance Park”, where a meandering ribbon-like boardwalk reconnects the existing but desolate footbridge with this new development and the city’s pavement network, enlivening the district once again.
Located in Qujiang new district, Xi’an, The Grand Milestone Art Centre was set to be the sales gallery and clubhouse for the future development within the same plot. The northern edge of the site lies the third South Highway sitting ten meters below the site’s level. With only a narrow and steeply sloping green corridor as the buffer, the abrupt level difference reduces both the project’s visibility from the road and the ease of the visitors accessing it. Slightly west to the site, an incomplete pedestrian footbridge crossing the highway forms another complete visual obstruction. Decapitated and desolate, the bridge hinders seamless pedestrian connection within the district, making it difficult for public commuters to cross the highway and rendering the project less inviting.
The landscape team acknowledges the positive impact excellent urban facilities have on the public well-being, and how they can add significant value to the adjacent private projects. It sees the empty green corridor bordering the northern edge as the opportune platform for this and managed to convince the client to invest in the new public park and pathways, in addition to the scope of work only within the site boundary.
Ribbon Dance Park
The long green corridor acts as the development’s front yard. Here, the landscape team envisions a transitional public park that slowly draws visitors into a fully immersive landscape experience, calming their senses before reaching the gallery. The designers proposed “The
Ribbon Boardwalk” as the vital landscape gesture in linking the existing footbridge with the new destinations. This boardwalk, extending above the new entry driveway and directing people to the nearby Xi’an botanical gardens, lightly touches the steeply sloping ground while meandering vigorously to create rooms and viewpoints of various sizes. The sinuosity adds a considerable length to the boardwalk, making it possible to descend to the roadside pavement ten meters below without the need of a single step, allowing full access and interaction for users of all age groups.
Even with its winding shape, the boardwalk maintains its simplistic design and appears all in white. The simplistic handrail detail, formed by a series of marching thin white balustrades, animates the entire journey with its constant visual transformation. A seemingly solid barrier on the first glance can turn into a totally transparent screen when observed from the side, creating an ever-changing scene of the landscape behind it. The result is an ethereal boardwalk that emerges from the various green shades of the surrounding landscape, similar to a curving white brush stroke on a lush green canvas.
Finally, the park would not be complete without the uncomplicated yet ingenious selection of native grasses and cedar trees. The plants, rustling and softly bleeding into the pathway through the gaps between each balustrade, creates a dynamic landscape which changes its forms and colours all year round.
The Gallery Arrival Court
The drop-off is where the gallery welcomes all the visitors travelling by car. To create a powerful sense of arrival, the landscape team reinvented this space, turning it into an extraordinary “Court of Light”. Instead of leaving the roundabout empty, tens of thousands of small shiny aluminium plates float together in the form of a conceptual cuboid room which wraps around four exposed columns. A direct visitor’s path from the sheltered parking area was added through the centre of the subtracted spheric space within this room, creating a vista into the inner Water Courtyard while the aluminium plates screening the visitors from the views of the driveways and roads.
Within the spheric extent lies a reflecting pool and stands a focal “Lonely Dancer” tree. In the daytime, the open roof above allows natural light to fill the space, creating an unending reflection involving the aluminium plates and water that shines onto the tree. At night, the lighting illuminates the spheric volume from below, producing an otherworldly stage that marks the great beginning of the visitors’ journey into the gallery.
The Water Courtyard and Art Gallery
Leaving the Court of Light, visitors find themselves immersed in the sound of the waterfalls that awaited them. This fully-enclosed Water Courtyard displays a symmetrical arrangement of three landscape features; a straight path through the middle of a reflective pool, several groups of
trees in various locations, and a series of long, multi-levelled waterfalls on one side which houses the gallery within.
The indoor gallery initially lacked full integration with the landscape as it was clearly separated from the Water Courtyard by only one higher waterfall. To create an infinite continuity between indoors and outdoors, the landscape team proposed a modification to the gallery spaces by subtracting some exhibition area and replacing it with courtyards, permitting more natural light into the gallery. The single uninterrupted high waterfall was also transformed into a three-tiered cascading pool. Eighteen Sapium trees in total were planted throughout all six court gardens, creating a painting-like backdrop for various indoor exhibitions while complementing and softening the cascading waterfall structure seen from within the Water Courtyard.
The result is the totally seamless connection between the architecture, interior spaces, and landscape that are all specially made for one another.
The Magical Forest
In the centre of the rear garden lies another exhibit building. It is connected to the main gallery with an indoor walkway with floor-to-ceiling glass windows entirely opening up to the surrounding landscape. The garden ground is perceived as one giant canvas for an abstract painting – The Magical Forest.
Inspired by interconnected blobs of paint, the soft undulating mounds bleed into the entire space and display the tone of tranquillity. To maximise water retention in the dry climate of Xi’an, the landscape team filled the paths in between these mounds with gravels, creating an entirely porous garden. Deciduous trees with light foliages and sculptural forms disperse randomly within the area, creating a sparse forest but with almost consistent spacing. The forest animates the courtyards and adjacent interior spaces by filtering the sunlight with its ever-changing canopies through seasons, and it stands firm as a multi-dimensional artwork itself.
Rooftop Monet’s Garden
The gallery tower stands tallest above the rest of the Art Centre building. It overlooks the flat roof of the sheltered parking and the arrival court. The landscape team saw this roof as the perfect platform for an artistic garden inspired by the dappling of colours in Monet’s impressionist paintings. The roof garden, in addition to maximising building’s usage, helps to cool down the parking and rooms below, increasing more comfort for the users.
The meticulous planting design plays an essential role in the appearance of this garden. To display intricate contrasts of textures and colours all year round, a great variety of winter-tolerant ornamental grasses are carefully interspersed throughout the roof extent, with evergreen grasses, perennial shrubs and trees in selected places as the accents. The simplistic garden path forms a complete loop with smooth undulating curves resembling the design
language of the Ribbon Dance Boardwalk. At different points on the path, three circular seating spaces squeeze themselves into the grassy landscape, creating an outdoor room for the visitors to fully immerse in the field of various colours and textures around them.
Landscape Placemaking for Public
Today, the Ribbon Dance Park is widely used by the local communities across the highway. Many elders, adults, and children have come to stroll along the meandering paths and utilised this new public landscape as their jogging tracks, playgrounds, and outdoor living rooms. The close collaboration with the client and all design parties have successfully generated a meaningful project which many landscape architects aspire to be a part of.
The Grand Milestone Art Centre may not be the first in the world to achieve such a task. Still, it is a significant milestone in setting an example for many private landscape projects in Xi’an to come.
Location: Xian, China
Collaborated Local Landscape Architect: Weimar Group
Design Director: Pok Kobkongsanti
Project Designer: REN Fusang
Landscape Design Team: REN Fusang, YIN Huamei, TANG Yunya, Lhek Pitchayut
Client: Sunac Xi’an
Signage & Art Installation Design: To Three
Landscape Contractor: Sohan (within red line) + New Oasis (municipal green belt)
Interior Design: CCD (Art Centre) + SCDA (Mock-up Rooms)
Landscape Furniture: KUN