Grow with the Forest - Valley Villas at the foot of Changbai Mountain
Release Time:2017-12-05
    The Changbai Mountains is the tallest mountain range in eastern Eurasia, consisting of multiple fault mountains, basins and valleys. It is well-known far and near for Changbai Mountain, the major peak and the Heaven Lake (a huge dormant volcano and a crater lake). For the past millions of years, this area has had drastic crustal movements. Climate change, volcanic eruption and glacial movement made it what it is today. Magnificent volcanic landform, typical mountain forest eco system, various wild animals and plants, and widely distributed mineral spring, falls and rivers compose the magical and unsophisticated natural scenes here.
    Numerous rivers originate from the Changbai Mountain Range. Erdaobai River flows out of the Heaven Lake and it is the upper reach of Songhua River, one of China’s seven major river systems. The project is located in Erdaobai River Town, a town at the foot of Changbai Mountain, named after the river flowing through. Known as “the first town in the Changbai Mountain Range”, it is 35km away from central Changbai region. It is not only the gateway to the northern slope of Changbai Mountain, but also the frontier where urban development confronts nature.In the rapid urbanization of a small village, the original scenery is burdened with the demolition-construction model of contemporary urban development as well as reinforced concrete construction technologies. The aggressive city frontier is like a high wall. It oppresses the nature outwards, and stuffs stone squares and vast concrete buildings inside.
    Erdaobai River Town is under rapid development due to tourism. However, their biggest advantage and attraction is the maintenance of the beautiful natural environment. Here used to be thick forests and unique eco-resources. Are they really incompatible with the development of human society?
    Origin Architect seeks to explore the method to achieve symbiotic harmony between nature and human activities, and possibilities for border between nature and cities.

Growing landscape
    The project is situated at the south of Erdaobai River Town. Proprietors hope to build holiday cottages here as a westward extension to the seven-floor hotel nearby. The site itself is revealing typical condition of borderline in urban expansion, that a clear line divides the site into two halves, reflecting the confrontation between nature and cities. One side is a virgin forest river valley. Erdaobai River winds its way through the forest. On the other side, there is a huge scar from urban development—abandoned folk amusement park that has already shut down. There, nature met reckless destruction. The land lies desolate, piled with construction waste.
    In awe of nature, after reflecting on the common practice in urban construction in Erdaobai River Town, instead of jumping to construction, Origin Architect proposed a reverse goal at first: to restore the forest eco system as it was destructed by urban development, i.e. to restore an urban construction land to natural forest.
    The design team probed into the site and did meticulous survey and investigation on the entire river valley forest eco system, differentiate each geological landform by form and cause, explore hydrogeologic regimes and different vegetation and colonies on flood lands and hillsides. We preserved primeval river valleys, forests and geological landforms. We also mapped and measured each primeval tree and exposed stone respectively. Moreover, we proceeded ecological restoration to areas where construction of the amusement park had damaged. We removed construction waste, restored landforms and rainwater channels according to the vein, dredged choked rivers and cultivated vegetation to encourage ecological redevelopment of this area, so that the separated waste land could be embraced by nature again, and the vast primeval river valley forest could break down the barriers caused by urban development and extend citywards.

Grow in the landscape
    Restoration of natural ecology changed the relationship between architecture and landscape: they embrace instead of gazing at each other. Buildings are like collectors on the slopes, taking in light and view. Despite partial contact with the land, each building softly floats above the surface of earth or rivers, minimizing their interference with the land. The buildings do not have predetermined shapes. They just carefully avoid every primeval tree and grow freely towards the sun and landscapes. Living rooms face the mountains; dining rooms stand out in forests; bedrooms overlook the creeks. Every stick-out window is a tranquil corner for man to feel nature by himself. Unobstructed interior design forms a channel that turns everyday life into shuttling between landscapes in different directions. When you look around, you can see the forest, river, mountain and sunshine interweaving in front of you. Landscapes change and seasons pass before you realize them.
    Different original environments make the buildings that follow the threads of which to be formed in great diversity. Buildings are different from each other, and the ways they get along with nature are unique. For instance, one of the buildings has a living room suspending above a creek. One can overlook the creek gurgling beneath the glass floor, or touch the water if go down the spiral staircase. As for another building, its entry has to be accessed through a lane between a tall old poplar and a group of birches. Buildings and the environment blend with each other and establish a continuous space sequence. With these two elements shifting, a new landscape is constructed.
    It is intended to be an urban development project with certain density and intensity, not an isolated house in vast nature by itself. Nature and architecture embrace and conceal each other, thanks to the forming strategy of interweaving and growing. People are connected yet they won’t bother each other. As the saying goes, “There’s no loneliness when you sequester yourself in the nature. There’s no chaos when you sequester yourself in the crowd.”
    “Architecture does not damage nature. Instead, they embrace each other.”
    “Architecture does not isolate man from nature; it is the window leading to nature.”

Protogenesis and symbiosis
    In order to achieve the goal of symbiosis between architecture and the environment, Origin Architect employs a symbiotic construction method that combines modern technology and material advantage with local technology and primitive materials, and uses high-strength steel structure for the general frame, thus build a suspended structure relying on minimum pillars. The outer structure is made of local vesuvianite blocks in order to keep the cold out and enhance fireproof capacity of the entire structure. The inner layer is built up with pinewood, giving tender care to people in the harsh winter. As for the midst, we set up profiled steel sheet and a foaming thermal insulation filler layer to enhance waterproof and thermal insulation properties and firmly connect the outer and inner layers. Sections of this sandwich-like composition are exposed at every end of the building, showing the sophisticated layers against its simple exterior.
    The steel products are recyclable and environmental friendly. All component parts have been pre-processed at factories, so as to minimize the harm to nature from onsite construction work. Multiple spots of steel cylinder pile foundation were piled into vacant places among the trees, and crane towers concentrated in the center of the site. All the follow-up works were done in the air. Workers stepped on suspending steel beams, shuttled among leaves and operated. Watching the steel structure gradually develop and interweave with the trees, they all felt these were completely different from their previous experiences.
    Native vesuvianite blocks were called “red earth blocks” by the local people. They were formed by geological effects through millions of years. It has long been crushed and then used as substitute additive for cheap concrete because of its unique property. Origin Architect uses unprocessed blocks for wall-laying, as to simulate the modesty and toughness of the vast earth, and blend in with the timeless geological forms in the remote future.
    All the landscape designs are focusing on restoring the original forest eco-system. We did not take the normal practices of urban landscapes design. Instead, we restore local vegetation, encourage wild flowers and grasses to grow freely, allow fallen leaves to pile, and only lay stones on paths for man and vehicles. There is no fence or wall between the community and the forest or the river valley. People can walk into the forest, so can wildlife enter deep into the community. It is said that the stretch of forest around the upper reaches of the rapid river is a breeding ground for Chinese mergansers, a rare species survived the Tertiary Period ice age. Nowadays it is known as the Merganser river valley. Spaces under the buildings are free for passing through of light, wind and rainwater. Plants grow luxuriantly. Small wild animals move and migrate freely. Chinese mergansers also have an ideal place for reproduction as they have more shelter.
    This is a town, but also an expanse of forest. It is a community of man, but also a paradise for wild plants, small animals and Chinese mergansers. We hope that here will be no more confrontation or barrier, and that borderless cities and boundless nature can grow together and share prosperity.
    Thanks to support and cooperation from multiple parties, this project has been gradually implemented. Proprietors adhere to the idea of eco development, support the design and undertake a number of invisible works that ordinary projects do not include. Concerned with this project, the urban planning department also offers specific guidance on local circumstances.