DLC: On the banks of Yangcheng Lake, near the 1,500-year-old Chongyuan Temple in Suzhou, China is the health-and-wellness retreat and resort Sangha by Octave. Declared the world’s fastest-growing city with 5 million people, Suzhou is also a UNESCO World Heritage site long renowned as the ‘Venice of the East’ for its abundant gardens, bridges and pagodas dotting the Yangtze River delta about an hour’s drive inland from Shanghai.
Beginning in 2007 through the National Code of Urban Planning, the government began to establish a more harmonious urban-rural relationship by restructuring land use, reforming property rights and promoting ecological restoration of the gradually polluted environment. The movement was aimed to socially and physically improve the rural environment within the Yangtze Delta, one of the most developed and increasingly rapid growing regions in China. With land costs rising and fewer plots available for new development, municipal real-estate developers have started gradually transforming their capital and various resources from the crowded overbuilt cities to rural areas. As a result, numerous changes to the rural environment ranging from tourism facilities to green life recreation have formed with a newly designed countryside reflecting the demands and tastes of citizens who want increased food safety and improvement in the air and water quality that threaten cities. A ‘slow lifestyle’ has become more attractive to urban inhabitants who are gradually interested in traditional life experiences away from intense pressures found in city life.
Sangha by Octave, a wellness center for the body and mind is part of this shift away from the bustling cities. The resort places emphasis on liberal arts and character cultivation with studios that offer instruction in visual arts, ceramics, theater and music. Food hall stations catered and dedicated to individual cooking methods buoyed by the community vegetable garden support concerts, movies and lectures through journeys of self-discovery. A crescent-shaped swimming pool formed to fit a natural cove permit relaxing views of Yangcheng Lake; a protected habitat for the popular delicacy Shanghai hairy crab.
Sangha was built in cooperation with the Chinese government who are increasingly recognizing social versus economic value. The ‘land fingers’ penetrating into the water are a result from a previous failed development which, due to site sensitivity, would never have been allowed today. ‘Starting over’ and removing them would be more ecologically damaging; leaving the man-made landfill in the water was environmentally cleaner and a more cost effective construction solution that left minimal ecological impact.
The challenge for the DLC team was to soften the development’s intrusion into Yangcheng Lake. Water edge strategies of riprap stones and native lakeside vegetation are designed to help prevent erosion and naturally fuse the line between water and land. Various edge conditions help create design opportunities in certain areas; for example the organic riprap edge at the clubhouse complements the sensual white smooth curves of the swimming pools crescent shape. At the pool deck in specific areas near the lake’s edge, water flows naturally from small cleansing biotopes through permeable walls drained from channeled rain gardens.
The leftover hardcore, brick, stone, tiles, etc. from the previous development are reused in various ways within the new development. The community vegetable garden, paving textures in specific areas, garden walls and parts of the water edge are constructed using these recycled materials. Natural round river-wash stones, instead of excavated granite, are used for walls as a measure to minimize destruction caused by quarries.
Planting to soften the development’s visual impact on Yangcheng Lake was carefully designed to create a native natural environment found on the lake’s edge. Contextual landscaping using local vegetation creates important viewing corridors into the lake from the development and also importantly conceals development’s visual impact on Yangcheng Lake.
Grounded by using local materials following local traditions of craft, texture and detail, Sangha at Yangcheng Lake has become a mental refuge for citizens escaping the bustling cities.
Name of the project: Sangha by Octave
Short Office name: DLC
Role of the Office in the Project: Landscape Architect
Architects: TsAO and Mcknown; Atelier FCJZ; Neri & Hu Design and Research Office
Client: Suzhou IMC Property Development Co., Ltd
Project location: 199 Yang Cheng Ring Road, Suzhou Industrial Park, Jiangsu Province, China