Illuminated steel pavilions mimic Chinese peaks.
The hillside site of Fengming Mountain Park, in Chongqing, China, presented Martha Schwartz Partners with both a practical challenge and a source of inspiration. Asked by Chinese developer Vanke to design a park adjacent to the sales office for a new housing development, the landscape architecture and urban planning firm quickly gravitated toward the metaphor of a mountain journey. “That’s why in the plans you see a zig zag pattern” to the path leading down to the sales center from the car park, said associate Ignacio López Busón. Steel pavilions scattered along the walkway pick up on the theme, taking the form of abstracted mountain peaks. “That’s something the client really liked,” said López Busón. “Once the idea was clear, it was all about developing the shape of them, and trying to make them look special.”
To refine the image of the pavilions, explained López Busón, “we first looked at the faceted nature of Chinese mountains. They aren’t smooth at all.” Fengming Mountain Park’s metal structures feature an aggressive geometry that twists and turns above chunky legs. The pavilions’ perforations and red and orange color scheme were inspired by a second cultural touchstone. “Martha was interested in the idea of the Chinese lantern,” said López Busón. “The lanterns are red; then you put a light inside, and they become a nice gradient of red and yellow.”
The Fengming Mountain Park team started work on the pavilions with hand sketches, then brought the concept design into Rhino. There they played with the shape, developing a system of triangular modules that again represented mountain peaks. Then they transferred the model to Grasshopper, where they focused on the perforations and color. “We made paper models, but not too many because we were quite happy with the result in Rhino,” said López Busón, who acknowledged that a compressed schedule was also a factor.
The most difficult aspect of fabrication, said López Busón, was adjusting the design of the pavilions to fit the size of the laser beds to which Third Chongqing Construction Engineering had access. “We made a Grasshopper definition to guarantee that every triangle fit the laser bed. However, the final outcome showed several scars, which tells us that the developer likely reused some leftovers to save on materials.” Both the panels and the supporting profile tubes were fabricated out of steel, to reduce costs.
Martha Schwartz Partners originally proposed painting individual panels after cutting, then assembling the finished panels on site. “The fabricators didn’t agree,” said López Busón. “They built the pavilions first, then spray painted them.” The result, he said, was favorable. “What you see is a smooth gradient from the bottom to the top.” The perforations, too, help negotiate the transition from ground to sky. “We came up with a pattern that changes from bottom to top, which sort of dissolves the pavilion,” said López Busón. “It’s quite nice at night. There’s also this nice merging between decoration and structure; you can’t tell what is what.”
The experience of designing a 16,000 square meter park on an abbreviated timeline “was intense, but fun,” said López Busón. “At the very beginning, we were following this traditional way of practicing architecture: Whatever we designed in three dimensions, we unrolled and put into AutoCAD.” But as the weeks flew by, the designers streamlined the process, sending 3D models directly to the client—a process, he explained, that allowed the designers to catch and immediately correct a problem with the perforation pattern. “Without the digital tools, it would have been impossible.”