MAHA Residence | Beijing, China | BAM

Photo credit: LIN Banye

MAHA Residence is scheduled to open in October 2022, the soft opening of the MAHA Gardens last summer featured an exclusive open-air fashion show by British designer, Jenny Packham.

Ballistic Architecture Machine (BAM) worked closely together with renowned hotelier, Adrian Zecha, and the MAHA team to design the landscape and develop a multiphase masterplan strategy to seamlessly weave a complex mixture of preexisting contemporary and classically-styled elements on the site.

MAHA Residence Park Masterplan Phase 1 | Photo credit: BAM

The fast-paced world of Chinese real-estate development is not well suited to ideas, themes, and methodologies based on slowly maturing landscapes. However, BAM believes that luxury in a landscape is fundamentally an expression of time. While the quality and richness of materials in architecture and interior design tend to be defining factors of ‘luxurious’, BAM believes that time occupies that role in a landscape – time given to mature, time and effort to care for it and maintain it. A luxurious landscape can therefore be understood as a physical manifestation of time.

A wysteria-laden trellis leads from the MAHA residence to the plum blossom garden. |
Photo credit: Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Luxury redevelopment project

The site occupies the northern edge of Chaoyang Park inside the Fourth Ring Road. At the time of engaging BAM, the site architecture was a mixture of four occupied residential towers, five incomplete and unoccupied towers, a Chinese-styled members club, and multiple classically-styled gatehouses in varying states of functionality. The existing landscape was also a smorgasbord of functional and dysfunctional spaces, including a scaled replica of an imperial garden, and a beautiful and maturing man-made forest.

Photo credit: WU Qingshan

BAM’s design for the landscape and master plan unifies disparate aspects of the site together in a seamless series of gardens, functional spaces, and circulatory pathways. The existing landscape spaces are blended with new landscapes. Conflicting styles, epochs, and cultural references are reconciled with a minimalist landscape approach.

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Photo credit: WU Qingshan

China’s real estate market is constantly changing. Even before the recent economic meltdown, in part driven by the collapse of one of China’s largest real estate developers, focus was shifting toward redevelopment and upgrading of existing projects, rather than on expanding into new and increasingly further territories. The MAHA residential park is an exemplar of this changing mentality in the Chinese development industry, and as more and more projects are reimagined, the Chinese development and associated design communities will need to grapple more seriously with how to design by integrating, rather than erasing, existing site conditions.

Photo credit: Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Forest threshold

In most regions of the site, buggy circulation is pushed to the periphery. However, in some key areas, the buggies pass through the center of the site. In those areas, it is critical to define a clear boundary beyond which the buggies should not venture. A low retaining wall, punctuated with low heavy stone bollards marking important entries, demarcates the boundary of the central forest.

Serene forest provides a unique immersion into nature amidst the bustling capital city. | Photo credit: Jonathan Leijonhufvud

BAM carefully picked the best trees to plant in the MAHA Residence gardens from sites with ancient histories. The evergreen pines come directly from the base of Taishan, in Shandong Province. The planting was upgraded to include more all-season greens. Seasonal highlights feature plant species such as Wysteria vines, maple trees, plantain lilies, and red dogwood, infusing color and character throughout the year.

In Chinese traditional belief, spirits move in straight lines. In traditional Chinese architecture and garden, design walls are often utilized to block spirits from entering in directly. Here a sculptural stone which also serves as a focal point along the path serves a similar function. | Photo credit: Jonathan Leijonhufvud
A seating area at the boundary of the forest allows for rest. | Photo credit: LIN Banye

Walking gardens and ceremonial places

Photo credit: Jonathan Leijonhufvud

At MAHA Residence, the circulation around the site is defined through a hierarchy subtly expressed through the paving. The main loop, which circumambulates the site, is divided into two materials – a permeable poured material ideal for jogging or children’s scooters, and a walking path of granite cobbles. The stone-stepped pathway slows the pace of the walk, allowing one to appreciate the presence of the forest from within.

Photo credit: LIN Banye
Photo credit: LIN Banye
Hand chipped stone slabs create a skewed entry to the residence lobby gardens, ‘natural’ counterpoint to the more architecturally organized entry sequence. | Photo credit: Amey Kandalgaonkar
A stepping stone pathway meanders through the forest | Photo credit: Jonathan Leijonhufvud
A stepping stone pathway meanders through the forest | Photo credit: BAM

Seasonal gardens

Although Beijing’s climate can be extreme, it also experiences the fullness and distinct qualities of each season. Typically, the Winter and Summer seasons are the longest, punctuated by short, but much-anticipated, Spring and Fall. Gardens for each season are designed to take advantage of the planting’s seasonality, bringing unique identities to each space. The Wintergarden is a garden contained within a traditional garden wall that is punctuated with minimally expressed windows and gates. Planted only with evergreens, the garden will remain green through the gray and frigid Beijing winter.

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The winter garden is a small multifunction space, used for parties, events, or tea ceremonies. The space is occupied by sculptural pines which appear to be dancing together in the space. | Photo credit: LIN Banye
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Photo credit: LIN Banye
A uniquely carved stone seat provides a vantage for contemplation within the serene setting of the
winter season garden. Photo credit: LIN Banye
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Photo credit: BAM

The entry of the Wintergarden, shrouded by evergreens, peers into the man-made deciduous forest, with a meandering path guiding the way. The Wintergarden doubles as a small multifunctional space for parties, events, or tea ceremonies. The space is occupied by sculptural pines, which appear to dance together in the space. During the winter season, the austere garden comes to life when snow periodically blankets the space, making the pines appear even more expressive than usual.

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Forest view onto the wintergarden | Photo credit: Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Luxury in landscape – Measured in time

A garden cannot be constructed in a day. It must be allowed to grow, and landscapes must be maintained, cared for, and cultivated. When one looks at a masterful or luxurious landscape, one can see time itself in its years of growth, years of maintenance, and seasonal progressions. Unlike architectural fields that depend upon rare or expensive materials to express luxury, a landscape can only truly achieve luxurious expression measured in years or decades. BAM’s idea is to establish a grander sense of time by planting the foundations of a landscape that will grow and continue to mature for generations.

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Photo credit: LIN Banye
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Photo credit: LIN Banye

MAHA Residence Park

Location: 8 Xiaoyun Road, Beijing, China

Landscape Architect: Ballistic Architecture Machine (BAM)

Photographers: Jonathan Leijonhufvud, Amey Kandalgaonkar, LIN Banye, WU Qingshan

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About Damian Holmes 5623 Articles
Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of World Landscape Architecture (WLA). He is a registered landscape architect (AILA) working in international design practice in Australia. Damian founded WLA in 2007 to provide a website for landscape architects written by landscape architects. Connect on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/damianholmes/