Sitting in the mountains, the building is a rest station for bikers that is located at the highest spot of a cycle track. Towards the north there is potentially a broad, open view, which is currently blocked by trees at eye height, so we hoped to create a rest station that visitors could ascend and enjoy the vista. We have imagined how bikers will arrive at the rest station after a long ride: first they will enter a corridor, parking their bikes at the entrance, and taking a break. For those with more curiosity or finding the cycle track tedious, they can explore further into the corridor that spiralling up to the top of the mountain, where they can enjoy a splendid vista of the surrounding mountains.
A corridor can be a space for rest, and a tower will allow an ascending experience; accommodating to the semi-circular site, we combined the two elements in our proposal: the corridor encircles the tower, twisting and heaving up and down with the terrain, and connects with the tower after five turns.
To ensure such moving experience does not feel long and monotonous, we involved variations in the size, height, direction, and brightness of the space: each turn along the way indicates a shift in the space’s character: bikers mainly come from the south to the north, and hence the main entrance has been arranged in the south side of the building, with the walking path leading to the entrance forming a 23° angle with the cycle track; when a biker rides along the cycle track into the corridor, parks their bike, and climbs a few gentle steps, they entered an open, spacious rest area;
After the first turn, the space transforms into a narrow corridor that gently goes up with the terrain; Connecting to an intimate courtyard right after the second turn; Further up, the corridor leads the visitor to a dark, intriguing entrance that invites the visitor to the tower; What they will see next are the stairs that lead to the top of the seven-metre high tower, halfway the stairs is a tiny balcony which is just big enough for one person to stay – it lets in natural light and opens up a view towards the south; When the visitor reaches the top, the space opens up towards the best view.
Besides, we arranged two secondary entrances along the linear route, so that it branches and connects with a walking path on site and the north section of the cycle track respectively, offering visitors more options of how they would explore.
We inspected the lofty site on a gusty day, and our impression of it was a sense of aloofness. Hence, we intuitively arrived at the conclusion that we should build something solid as a rock that roots in the mountain top, and the texture and experiential quality of the internal space would remind visitors of a cave. Naturally, we decided to use textured concrete as the main material, and the choice of bamboo formwork was not only a result of the material’s easy availability and the client’s readiness to culturally identify with it, but also because the texture created by bamboo formwork is more random and obvious, - a truly raw effect.
Just as the traces of strokes render a painting more vivid, bamboo formwork concrete directly records and presents the process how wet concrete hardens with time; with the naturally staggered nodes and varied widths, bamboo’s effect bears traces of construction and displays varied texture, which is why many architects like it. For this project, bamboo formwork’s randomness, woven texture and imprinted grooves is consistent with our perception of rawness. But the result turned out to be way too rough rather than ‘raw’ as expected. It was challenging to achieve the rawness to a nicety.
Both the construction team and the site manager have put great effort into this small project, but some objective obstacles were just too challenging. For one thing, the road to the construction site was too narrow for either a concrete mixer truck or a pump truck, so mixing and casting concrete were both carried out manually; for another, the original plan was to complete casting in three sections, while in the end it was conducted in two sections due to limited time and budget. Inevitably, localised puffing and incomplete texture occurred after the casting was done. The construction company decided to fix these ‘flaws’ with cement, resulting in some ‘scars’ on the exterior walls, which was a little disappointing to us because we preferred defects that truthfully reflected the construction process to covering them up. We planted some Boston ivy vines around the building and hopefully they will climb up the wall in the near future – with such a green coat the building will be more like a mountain rock emerging from the site.
We specifically designed three big openings to give the solid, raw building a sense of lightness and breathing quality: the first one is on the rest pavilion at the main entrance, which completely opens up towards the bamboo grove; the second one is a narrow, horizontal window on the wall of the rest area in the courtyard, corresponding to the intimate and quiet atmosphere; the last one is whole-wall-size opening facing the surrounding mountains. On top of these, we introduced a continuous system of round openings, which we carefully arranged in varied density according to each space’s unique character and people’s eye height. During the day, those who have an eye for detail will recognise that those round openings frame different views that we hope to show the visitors. In the night, with lights on, the rest station becomes a glowing tower.
Above is a recall of how we conceived the proposal from perspectives of function and use, experience, material and details, and views etc. The design also reflects our appreciation of the Chinese garden. If we could abstract the essence of all existing Chinese gardens, it would be a journey, a winding journey, a journey of constantly changing views, a journey on which people experience distinctive spaces and can enjoy rising clouds in the end. The Chinese garden weaves such journeys into tiny worlds. We tried to place such a zigzag fragment on the mountain top, waiting for people to come and experience the journey.