An Urban Design on the Mountaintop

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Chongqing, China, is one of the biggest cities in the world, and it is often called “Mountain City” and “City on Rivers.” Chongqing residents can enjoy sleek urban architecture and city life right alongside natural beauty: skyscrapers run right up to the coast, the subway crosses pastoral mountain landscapes on beautiful bridges, and the entire city is built around the natural, graceful bend of the Yangtze and Jiajing Rivers that surround it.

However, the mountainous topography also poses an architectural challenge: buildings must be safe, and should complement their natural surroundings. But aeo, a Beijing-based architecture and interior design studio, is not new to this challenge and sees mountainside architecture as an exciting opportunity. This year, their team has created a stunning urban building on the side of a cliff in northern Chongqing.

This building uses design to rethink visitors’ modern lifestyles as they move through space. The design draws upon ideas of architecture, nature, society, and the people of Chongqing, seeking to integrate these many sources into one cohesive design. The hope is to foster community through public participation and interaction, creating spaces for the exchange of ideas and input from community members.

The interior space is 3,000 square meters over four floors. The third-floor main entrance leads to the main sales center with an open concept design. This is a huge break from tradition and allows a more inclusive environment where salespeople can interact and share knowledge and experience throughout their workday.

The exhibition space spans the second and third floors, and the fourth floor will be used for an art gallery and eventually, a community art center. The ground floor features a heated swimming pool and health club. Opportunities to engage the people of Chongqing to abound!

The building’s exterior is striking, with large, geometric pieces creating their unique formation for this sleek, angular building. The surrounding rock formations inspired these shapes. The architects deconstructed the existing topography and reimagined it to create a unified, flowing design for the building’s exterior.

The design’s use of natural and artificial light may give this project its most magical quality. The designers thought deeply about the way the abundant natural light would affect their design. They researched how shadow and light affect a wide variety of materials, knowing that the shape of light on the building would determine the flow they were aiming for. Finally, they decided on stainless steel, abundant glass, and acrylic light rods, which contrast beautifully with cave-like elements of the design. The shapes of the exterior’s significant pieces, combined with the variation in light and darkness, certainly create an urban version of the mountains.

A riveted steel structure creates the principal framework for the main entrance. Steel columns and composite plates reduce the overall load of the building. These structural measures lead to a unique, irregular freehand brushwork on the building’s walls. On the exterior, 800 mm glass cantilevers connect the glass framework.

The building also sports a thousand-paper-crane façade, formed through aluminum. The paper crane is a symbol of peace in many Asian cultures. Stainless steel plates support the crane system, but the hanging folded aluminum plates create the dazzling effect of this piece. The sunlight glistens off this piece especially, creating a bright and magical accent amid the mountainous topography and stone-inspired building walls. At night, acrylic light rods glisten from the structure and create a dream-like aura around this already magical structure.

Aeo, the architecture and interior design studio behind this stunning project, has worked in residential, commercial, hospitality, educational, civic, corporate, mixed-use, and urban planning markets.  Through this wide range of work, their vision remains clear: they seek to fuse science and technology with arts and culture while respecting culture, nature, and lifestyle. Their director, Larry Wen, was the Lead Architect of the Chongqing project, and these principles are evident in his design.  

Larry Wen and aeo did not treat the cliff as an obstacle in creating this building. Instead, they saw the cliff as an opportunity, and as a thing of beauty. They found countless ways to work nature’s design off the mountainside into their design of the building. Because of this, their structure becomes more than just a building: it becomes an extension of the mountain, and an extension of the already vibrant community of Chongqing. These values are not only in their statements about the building or its mission: they are integrated into the design itself.

This fantastical, dream-like building is a work of art, a genuinely sculptural design that intrigues the eye. Through aeo’s artistic research process and integration of nature and community in every aspect of the design, aeo has created a building that will be a source of civic pride, community gathering, and a way to appreciate both art and nature.

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