MAD Architects build mountain village in UNESCO World Heritage Site

Huangshan Mountain Village from water
© Laurian Ghinitoiu via Archdaily

They call it "a new type of village landscape: one where architecture becomes nature, and nature dissolves into architecture."

I have long been mad for MAD Architects, who made their name outside of China with the shapely Absolute condos they built in Mississauga, Ontario but have been working everywhere since. They recently completed Huangshan Mountain Village in Huangshan National Park in China. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, up there with the Great Barrier Reef -- a site of "superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance." It also has cultural value and is a natural habitat.

UNESCO world heritage sites usually have to be preserved intact or risk losing their designation. So how did an apartment complex, as beautiful as it is, come to be placed in it? According to MAD, via ArchDaily,

MAD’s scheme is part of a larger tourism masterplan for Huangshan Taiping Lake. While providing the conveniences of modern living, the design affirms the significance of this culturally important mountain range. Composed in deference to the local topography, each of the buildings are diverse in height and appearance, and have been conceived to ensure that the original mountain levels are maintained. Organized in a link configuration across the southern slope of Taiping Lake, the dynamic relationship that is created among the ten buildings establishes a new type of village landscape: one where architecture becomes nature, and nature dissolves into architecture.

UNESCO discusses that master plan, noting that "objectives of this plan are to balance conservation of the property with tourism promotion, to ensure the safeguarding of the scenic area within a framework of sustainable development for the local community." They also note that "the pressure of visitors is the most obvious factor affecting the property. Mount Huangshan is one of the most popular scenic landscapes in China, with annual visitation at 2.74 million and increasing at 8.96% per annum. Visitor numbers need to be stabilised."

Ma Yansong of MAD describes his intentions:

The impression we have of Taiping Lake in Huangshan is vague: each visit to this place yields different views, different impressions. It is a bit mysterious, like ancient Shanshui landscape paintings that are never based on realism, but rather, the imagination. This inexplicable feeling is always poetic; it is obscure and indistinct. This is the basic idea: we hope that residents will not just look at the scenery, but see themselves in relation to this environment, attention that is brought inward. In observing oneself, one perhaps begins to notice a different self than the one present in the city.

Huangshan Mountain Village in trees© Laurian Ghinitoiu via Archdaily

They call it "a new type of vertical living that, while architecturally complementing the surrounding forest, also enhances the levels of comfort and well-being of its inhabitants, establishing a synergy between humans, nature, and the local culture."

man on balcony in village© Laurian Ghinitoiu via Archdaily

It is, like all of MAD's work, beautiful and imaginative and does appear to grow out of the landscape. I find it hard to understand how this meets the terms of the master plan as described by UNESCO, building that are essentially second homes in the country, or what makes it the sustainable development that UNESCO demands. But it is lovely to look at.

Lots more photos at Archdaily.

Ma Yansong© Ma Yansong in Beijing/ Lloyd Alter

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