Many cities are defined by their lack of definition. As counter-intuitive as that may sound, it’s actually quite simple. As the city undergoes expansion and its limits creep further outward, distinct populations, each with distinctive identities, are swallowed whole by virtue of being next in the firing line.
To some this may seem like a shame, a loss of community spirit perhaps, but it doesn’t have to be. With the welcoming of each new village comes a new way of life, a new set of close neighbours and one more characteristic to a city’s vibrant makeup. This style of urban expansion decentralises the city, redistributing its “heart and soul” and effectively giving everyone a piece of the action. The Nanjing Zendai Himalayas Centre is a modern day take on this concept, an implantation of a village into an already sprawling metropolis.
Ma Yansong, founder of Beijing design firm MAD Studio, has certainly had a busy decade. He and his team have been undertaking ambitious projects worldwide, most notably Haerbin’s Grand Theatre or the Absolute Towers in Ontario, Canada, sweeping up awards and accolades in their stride.
These works follow Ma’s core design philosophy of the “Shanshui City”, literally “city of mountains and water”, seen by some as a criticism of modern Chinese urbanisation. His vision isn’t to provide just simple housing, he’s also crafting an environment to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of its residents.
The Nanjing Zendai Himalayas Centre is a 560,000 square metre complex next to Nanjing South Railway station, providing apartments, office space and hotels, as well as a busy selection of restaurants at ground-level. Light-filled, low-rise buildings are dotted about the walking space; currently empty but waiting to be populated with boutique shops and community spaces. Sleek, glassy contours decorate the skyline, resembling the mountain range after which the towers were named.
It is, in effect, a small village within the city, and MAD hopes it will function exactly as that, bringing with it all of the charm and warmth of small-town life.
Ma and his team are well aware of the power of green spaces and their ability to breathe life into a community, encouraging people to spend time outdoors. With designs carefully weaving greenery in amongst public spaces, the Shanshui City principle of “harmony between nature and the urban environment” is evident throughout. At one end, an interesting plant-covered mound, a Himalayan foothill perhaps, straddles a stylish elevated walkway, while an enormous waterfall fountain provides background ambience at another, all of which helping to give this space its unique identity.
With full completion of the project set for 2020, only time will tell what will become of all the interesting spaces. But there’s a real hope that this project can pave the way for a new style of self-contained villages, providing a welcome break from some of the less desirable aspects of urban living.