After five years of construction and development, MAD Architects has completed Chaoyang Park Plaza, a collection of 10 buildings on the southern edge of Chaoyang Park in Beijing, China. The complex, developed by Smart-hero (HK) Investment Development, covers 220,000 square meters (approximately 720,000 square feet) of office, commercial, and residential space. The residential portion, known as the Armani apartment complex, sits across from the plaza’s two tallest office towers, divided by low-rise commercial buildings.

The plaza is designed to function as an expansion of the natural landscape in which it's been placed. The asymmetrical, undulating architectural forms were inspired by Chinese Shansui paintings, or landscape scenes in brush and ink. Each one evokes a natural feature or space, such as a mountain, brook, creek, rock, valley, or forest. The landscape architecture that surrounds the buildings incorporates Eastern landscape elements, including pine trees, bamboo, rocks, and ponds, to create a “classical” space that works in concert with the surrounding buildings.

“In modern cities, architecture as an artificial creation is seen more as a symbol of capital, power, or technological development, while nature exists independently. It is different from traditional Eastern cities, where architecture and nature are designed as a whole, creating an atmosphere that serves to fulfill one’s spiritual pursuits,” says Ma Yansong, an architect at MAD Architects.

“We want to blur the boundary between nature and the artificial, and make it so that both are designed with the other in mind. Then, the argument [of whether] to protect or destroy nature will no longer exist if we understand and see humans and nature as co-existing. Human behavior and emotion are part of nature, and nature is where that originates and ends,” Yansong continues.

The Armani residential buildings’ undulating forms and green balconies evoke the look of a forest. This staggered frame allows each residential unit greater natural sunlight exposure and, ultimately, more exposure to the natural world. The asymmetrical office towers on the north side of the plaza evoke two mountain peaks, while the commercial buildings are patterned after eroded mountain rocks.

The project has been awarded LEED Gold certification for its use of green and energy-efficient technology. The vertical fins at the top of the office towers function as an energy-efficient ventilation and filtration system, while the lake at the base of the towers cools the air around them in the summer.

Ultimately, despite the plaza’s placement in Beijing’s central business district, it's intended to recall the traditional architecture of the city and the “interdependence” between people and nature.

When asked about the contrast between Chaoyang Park Plaza and the urban landscape in which it stands, Yansong says, “I don’t think that’s our problem. The real question is when did the original cultural context of this city disappear? We have the opportunity to try and create a different kind of city, that on a spiritual and cultural level can be compared to the classical cities of Eastern philosophy and wisdom.”