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Village Life
University of Southern California Dean Qinyun Ma envisions development in central China.
Conceptual rendering of some of the project's brick-clad buildings.
Courtesy Jade Valley

USC School of Architecture Dean Qinyun Ma likes to shoot for the stars. He is doing that now in China, where he is developing a community known as “Jade Mountain Village” around his vineyard near Xian. Focusing on wine and culture, and employing several West Coast architects for the design, Ma hopes to develop the “Aspen Institute of China,” a home for conferences and events.

The projected $10 to $15 million, 350,000-square-foot project will eventually include a boutique hotel, villas, and a clubhouse and conference center, which Ma says he is hoping will become a “platform for intellectual exchange,” hosting retreats, festivals, and symposia. Funding is still ongoing.


The first phase will include the clubhouse, designed by Ma, as well as libraries and event rooms. Ma will not yet reveal who else will be involved, but several architects from the West Coast, including some of Ma’s colleagues at USC, will likely design the second phase, including the villas and the hotel. In the future, Ma also hopes to incorporate markets, schools, and neighborhood-based buildings into the project.

Designs will in many cases utilize traditional materials, like brick, in contemporary and even sculptural ways. “We can combine contemporary with local; contemporary with craft,” said Ma. “Brick is like a pixel. You can form it and curve it.”

Overall view of the terraced, fertile site.

The layout of the project will draw from the form of a traditional Chinese village, added Ma. “It will be contemporary and futuristic, but also very connected to the local culture.” In many ways the project, said Ma, is an antidote to China’s rampant overdevelopment. He hopes the initiative will encourage the study and repair of the country’s tattered village life, and eventually spawn the creation of new, self-sustaining villages throughout the country. “The village is the first urban form,” said Ma. “This could be a template for how cities reform in the future.” Villagers will have a hand in building the development, incorporating local craft into the design. “Hand skills are still respected. There’s a dignity in it,” he added.

The winery, which Ma bought in 1998, produces 80 tons of wine a year. Besides symposia, Ma is also planning expos and a small music festival. He is already organizing symposia on the current site.

Sam Lubell