Penda, a Beijing- and Vienna-based design studio that’s visionary work melds the natural world and the built environment with spectacular and sometimes sobering results, has unveiled a temporary landscape pavilion currently under construction at the 2015 China International Garden Expo in Wuhan. Located in the Hubei province, this ancient city, now a smog-shrouded economic hub of east-central China with a population of roughly 10 million, is strategically situated at the confluence of the Yangtze and Han Rivers.
And first glance, Penda’s sprawling installation resembles a sort of twisty-turn-y garden maze that cuts through a sunken manmade meadow like an oversized tributary of the mighty Yangtze itself.
The undulating grass pavilion’s winding pathways are, of course, designed to mimic the natural flow of a river — maybe not the Yangtze but a river nonetheless. Dubbed “Where the River Runs,” the installation also appears to be the ideal place to gush forth and run free along the pavilion’s curving, canyon-like pathway through artificial hills and valleys. A scooter (as evidenced in the design rendering above) or jamming out to Carly Simon only enhances the free-flowing experience.
Okay, running wilding probably isn’t exactly what Chris Precht and Dayong Sun of Penda had in mind. Rather, the roughly 16,000-square-foot pavilion — an “ode to water” is the designers call it — is better suited for leisurely, reflective strolls ... a slow-flowing pace that allows for quiet contemplation about the message at hand: the sanctity of clean water supplies across the globe.
Water is life. Water is the well of our origin. It is the main designer of our environment. Water is the connecting circulation system of our world and a precious resource, on which life on earth survives. It makes up two thirds of our body, just like the map of the world. Our vital fluids are mainly saline, the same as the ocean. Water is our physical connection with the planet.
Water! Seems like plenty to chew on — or sip on, in this instance — while enjoying a zesty constitutional with plenty of oversized boulders to perch on for a spell to rest the legs and take it all in.
Penda describes a typical walk-through of this “natural statement for the importance of clean water and a healthy environment:”
Visitors are naturally guided through the riverbed. On their way they will pass by various landscape formations, like a narrow shore, high cliffs or a natural cave. Throughout the walk, famous local poems and quotes are engraved into the vertical walls. All entrances are leading to the central plaza, where the visitors have time to rest, reflect or have a drink. A natural canopy offers shadow to the plaza. On their walk through the pavilion, the landscape offers the visitors a wide variety of visual, haptic and scented expression from different terrain-formations to various colorful plants, while they become an essential part in the circle of life.
“Where the River Runs” is also a fully participatory experience. As visitors enter the “canyon” from three difference access points, they're bestowed with a variety of local plant seeds (flowers, herbs, veggies, fruits) to be scattered/planted by hand along the edge of the simulated riverbed as they shuffle along the serpentine pathway.
Essentially, visitors are functioning much like water would, carrying seeds along the course of the river and randomly dispersing them along its banks.
As people are hiking through the landscape and seeding their plants, they take over the function of a river as they bring life to the pavilion. Like the river does in an natural environment, the visitors become the starting point in the life-cycle of plants. They are an essential part to design the pavilion and that will increase the sensibility towards the importance of clean water and clean air.
It’s all very poetic and lovely, right? And true to Penda's message of environmental stewardship, the lushly planted pavilion is also planet-friendly complete with an integrated rainwater collection system that's used to irrigate the ephemeral landscape.
As Penda explains, the city of Wuhan itself served as a key reference point for the pavilion:
Throughout its history, the life and growth of Wuhan was linked to water in a very direct way. Located at the intersection of the Yangtze River and the Han River, first settlements arise along the river-shores more than 3500 years ago. The river brought goods from around the world and Wuhan rise to an important hub for trade. But the rivers didn't just bring wealth to the city, it also brought a rich flora and fauna to the people. The natural beauty of Wuhan and the grand variety of plants inspired many poet and painters throughout its history.
While natural beauty may not be the first thing that comes to mind when many think of Wuhan (perhaps communist theme parks, air-scrubbing mega-towers and bacon-draped balconies do), this vibrant modern metropolis is home to one of China's top botanical gardens and the country's largest urban lake, East Lake, which is surrounded by parks and recreation areas.
Due for completion later this month, “Where the River Runs” will remain on display until the conclusion of the China's International Garden Expo in April of next year. In addition to river-mimicking landscape pavilions, Penda is best known for art installations made from recycled plastic soda bottles and hugely innovative bamboo structures including an innovative tent-hotel concept called One With the Birds.