Nanjing Niushoushan Cultural Park | Nanjing China | HASSELL


The Nanjing Niushoushan Cultural Park has been established to collectively exhibit and preserve the cultural treasures of Niushou Mountain – a centuries-old sacred Buddhist site in southern Nanjing containing historic monasteries, pagodas, and relics of the Ming Dynasty.


HASSELL was invited to develop a master plan for the entire 80-hectare tourist park, and later went on to design the landscape, plazas and connections of the central public domain – establishing a serene welcome for visitors, and a sensitive foundation for future development in the area.


The design for the Niushoushan Cultural Park strives to achieve a dignified balance, between ancient Buddhist traditions and contemporary tourist expectations, in the creation of an immersive landscape experience that is guided by the spirit of Zen, says Andrew Wilkinson, Principal at HASSELL.


Creating an immersive ‘Zen’ landscape
Niushoushan has been a Buddhist sanctuary in China since the establishment of Hongjue Temple in 461 AD. However, the warfare in modern Chinese history has damaged a number of cultural relics leaving the time honored traditions of Niushou in need of revival. The vision for the Niushoushan Cultural Park is to re-establish the area’s prominence as a Buddhist stronghold through a distinctive public expression of the spirit and theology of Zen.


Upon entering the parklands, visitors are guided through a series of ‘Zen’ gardens by an interpretive corten steel ‘scripture scroll’ that flows from one space to the next, adapting to the site’s changing landforms. Corten steel has been used throughout the landscape to symbolise a Buddhist scripture scroll. The steel’s strong colour and materiality provides a rustic contrast to the natural elements. It punctuates focal areas and ties the spaces together. The scroll blends and supports significant level changes within the site, and contains a water feature along the ‘bright mirror path’.


In the second more intimate space the scroll opens out in the form of a high wall, providing a quiet moment for visitors to appreciate Bodhidharma’s ‘wall gazing’ meditation. It then extends along to the terraced plaza to reveal the work of the Zen master – and the spectacular ‘Feast of Spring Niushou’ when the blossoms celebrated in Nanjing are in full bloom.

As the pinnacle of the garden tour, the scroll extends along the water to Yinlong Lake plaza. From this point, tourists can take in panoramic views of the lake and mountains, while relaxing in the tranquil environment.



Promoting a peaceful lifestyle that’s in harmony with nature
As established in the master plan, the commercial aspects of the cultural park are carefully located to maintain the site’s natural beauty and integrity. The landscape structure and planting establishes an invisible boundary, between the tourist park and the sacred areas of the mountain, where visitor behaviours are limited so that life at Niushou Mountain can continue to thrive in accordance with Buddhist doctrines. This separation also fosters a more authentic experience for the thousands of tourists who visit Niushou Mountain each year.


Viewing platforms, pavilions and rest points are sensitively embedded in the natural setting to minimise visual and environmental impacts, protecting the sights for future generations. And rain gardens have been integrated to manage runoff while softening the transition between the hardscaping and natural elements.


Early site investigations led to a discovery of a cultivated farmland texture that traces back thousands of years. The overall planning for the cultural park retains much of this usable farmland for future agricultural recovery, and the design team also sought ways to extend this intelligent texture within the newly landscaped areas.


Ultimately all of Niushou Mountain’s highlights, including the newly developed Foding Palace and World Zen Centre, will unfold from the park’s entrance gardens along a series of well-connected, landscaped roads and trails that give preference to pedestrians and cyclists.


The public domain of the Nanjing Niushoushan Cultural Park is now open to visitors.


Nanjing Niushoushan Cultural Park

Location | Nanjing, Jiangsu, China
Landscape Architect | HASSELL
Client | Nanjing Niushoushan Culture Tourism Development Co. Ltd
Year | Phase 1 completed 2015
Photography | Johnson Lin
Site Plan/Visualisations | HASSELL

About Damian Holmes 3274 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