Ma'er Shan village is 25 minutes’ drive from the major town area of Zhangjiajie. Compared to the astounding cliffs and valleys of Zhangjiajie scenic area, the mountains in Ma'er Shan village are not as exquisite yet still inherit a strong scent of rural joys through its lush green environment and scattering country houses. The site used to possess two wood-structured barbecue pavilions surrounded by pines, China-berry trees, ginkgo trees, and a bamboo copse. Gazing towards the north, the visitor will receive an expansive vision of continuous mountains, as seeing a panoramic landscape painting unfolding itself. The environment and the atmosphere thoroughly inspired us during the design of Woodsy Whisper residence.
Ma'er Shan village provides decent conditions for construction; meanwhile, as an example of Zhangjiajie's "Construction of Beautiful Villages" campaign, the village also has a stable tourism demand from local tourists, especially during weekends. The estate owner has a deep reminiscence towards the village as the birthplace; therefore, the project was asked to facilitate the owner's need for comfortable stays during home returns and maintain the spiritual importance defined by its rural characteristics.
The construction site, consisting of three homestead areas, has a narrow shape and a 3-meter height difference from east to west. Two homestead areas located at west combined, with the lower one located at the east, together established bases of two main structures of the entire residence: the upper-wide section and the lower-narrow section, connected through a half-transparent sky bridge. The field's height difference between north and south was utilized to create an underground section used for maintenance storage and equipment closets; the east side vacant space caused by the height difference between east and west was used to create an opened-up gray space that serves as a multipurpose semi-outdoor area for residents' various needs. The landscape water system in the field follows the path of outdoor steps, forming multiple mini waterfalls, enriching the walking experience with a continuous audio presence of water streams.
The residence boundary is far beyond the perimeter of the building itself; the surrounding woods, neighboring country houses, distant mountains, nearby farmland, and bamboo copses all serve as a vital part that together assembled the residence's vibrant environment. With visitors immersed within, such an environment also centered at all residence's spacing and scenic designs.
Distant mountains and neighboring woods compose the most distinctive viewing experience gained at the center of the field; therefore, surrounding woods were preserved mainly to continue the field's sense of space. The residence is sheltered by woods, while the residence shelters the people within; such a charming paralleled relationship not only retained the mysteriousness of this half-hidden space but also elevated the ground-level walking experiences. Changes in plantations' posture during four seasons can also impose influences in surrounding opacity, as the residence will get a different look during the lush greens of summer than the baldness of winter.
As a significant scenic element, the view of distant mountains was thoughtfully placed throughout various spaces, hoping to be seen through different manners. While the shape of distant mountains remains half-hidden by surrounding woods in the lower section of the residence, as people going upwards, with their field of view expanding, the expansive landscape of continuous mountains will also gradually unfolds itself. The way distant mountains have been introduced into interior designs of guest rooms also varies through different windowing designs, including long scroll landscape, framed scene, and continuous segmented frames, each of them, contemplates with different types and sizes of interior spaces.
The reception lobby on the first floor is an expansive yet vertically contracted space, compressing its visual volume and physical perception. Few steps downwards to the right, a sunken lounge area is located, equipped with continuous horizontal windows allowing a relatively expensive view. Lower level vegetation's lush leaves and branches create a half opaque screen with shapes of mountains looming in the distance. The breakfast room with a wet bar, which has an ever-changing natural background formed by mottled shadows of bamboos, is located further into the left.
Through the reception hall and bamboo fenced corridor, two guest rooms were placed. The guest room at the northeast side has a capacious sight, covering views from close by farm fields to mountains in the distance. Colors and crops of farmland change throughout seasons, giving an ever-changing stay experience across the year. The interior has a simple design, with the space layout focused on views from two directions: the bed is directed towards distant mountains at north; he tea nook, on the other hand, is directed towards farmlands at east. An L-shaped balcony is placed outdoor. The spacious semi-opened-up lavatory equips separate dry and wet areas; the bathtub is placed beside the glass windows to create a bathing experience more closed up to nature.
The second-floor guest room gives a pleasant surprise through great family suite experiences. The vertical space is divided into two levels, with an in-room staircase connecting each other. The interior floor is covered with a variety of materials with high differences due to different area usages. With one double bed placed on the lower floor and two beds each placed on the north and the south side of the upper floor, the family suite could sufficiently accommodate the stay of a whole family. Building's wooden roof structure is exposed to the suite's loft; a narrow landscape window opened on the north side of the loft introduces a scroll view of distant mountains.
The top floor is a grand suite with expansive horizontal space. After entering through the porch, the residents will be embraced with a distant continuous mountain view, forming a layered view together with several popped-up tree branches close by. Resting on the balcony with a gentle breeze and a pot of tea, visitors will enjoy a tranquil experience with the view of mountains. The suite's layout is divided into two sections by the bathtub and the interior patio. The first section accommodates sleeping and tea drinking, while the second section serves as a leisure space with a wet bar. The uninterrupted flow of space and exposed wood roof structure makes the relationship between the structure and space conspicuous to the observer. Early in the morning, with birds twittering, visitors can experience the refreshment simply by opening up the curtain.
We hope the material selection of the residence's facade to inherit a sense of locality, to support the relationship between construction and nature, and to utilize locally sourced materials and local craftsman that lowers not only construction expanses but also reduces logistical costs. Materials like rubbles, mud bricks, washed granolithic, terrazzo, gray bricks, and little blue tiles are all commonly used by locals; they are easy to source, craft, and make the construction accuracy easily manageable.
In terms of structural design, we hope the structure is expressive, serve as an integral part of the building's space and wall system, and be sensed directly. Using the wooden mold cast-in-place concrete structure, the framework serves as the shear force structure while becoming surfaces of interior and exterior walls, with textured wooden finishes and concrete casted finishes that feel pure and welcoming to touch. The wooden mold cast-in-place concrete structure creates a column-free large-bay structure, allowing interior spacing without constraints.
Wood structure, being widely utilized by local houses, is used at the upper section of the residence, interdigitating with the shear force structure. Wooden structural beams are exposed within interior spaces without any other decorative surface, as the wooden structure itself serves as the interior surface material. All electric wiring is concealed within the thermal insulation located at the roof to integrate the building structure and the interior design optimally.
We are always perplexed by concerns like, "how to resolve the inherent contradiction between traditional construction and modern design"; or "how to form space with materials seemingly fragmented?" Our answer is the importance of accuracy control. Accuracy is not equivalent to delicateness, as accuracy can be perceived as a sensation, an inherent logic of control. Accuracy as a concept can be delivered through language and enhanced through training. However, it may not be fully expressed through construction drawings. Accuracy can be seen as an abstract concept. During construction processes, the feeling and understanding of accuracy should be seen with a high priority.
As an example, I will inform stone stacking craftsman that: "during the stone stacking process, make sure always to expose unprocessed sides of stone chunks, no filling up gaps with cement, the cement mortar retreats three centimeters into the rubble wall, maintain the bottom heavy shape of the stone wall, intersperse large and small stones during the stacking, no need to choose the color, use hook to tie with the inner wall for evert 1.5 meter square of area, and stones used for constructing landscape wall should be larger than 1/3 the size of stones used for structural wall construction." If the construction workers could fulfill those requirements mentioned, they would have successfully met the accuracy requirement.
This project is a comprehensive experiment of an integrated end to end design, consisting of project positioning and planning, site planning, architecture design, interior design, decorative design, landscape design, lighting design, structural design, piping and electric system design, smart furniture integration, visual guide system design. It is a project that requires cross-professional, cross-system, and end-to-end integrated design. With such a level of vertical integration, the coherence between the exterior design and the interior design, the unity of building structure and decorative designs, the continuity of the building design and the landscape design, and the conformity of structure and construction materials can all be guaranteed.
Different fields of the project were being coordinated swiftly during the practice, hence reduced possible conflicts and clashes between different types of works during the construction, abled interior and landscape construction to have a smooth transition, significantly saved the construction cost, and shortened the overall construction periods. Meanwhile, the integrated design process also ensures consistent design language and material usage throughout every aspect of the project, making sure the natural transition from interior space to outdoor space creates a coherent and immersive environmental experience.