Penda’s proposal for their 2015 Garden Expo pavilion in Wuhan, China, is a meandering landscape with a strong ecological position described by the designers as a “statement for the importance of clean water and the preservation of our natural environment.”
Where the River Runs, as the project is called, is a designed meadow which the visitors are encouraged to walk around in a river-inspired meandering pathway, the riverbed. Despite the lack of water in the design itself, Penda’s pavilion is a reflection on the importance of this valuable natural resource and the need to protect it in today’s world.
The studio, known for their strong ecological stance and environmentally friendly approach to architecture and design, have written their own ‘Ode to Water’, which puts in words their inspiration and intent for the pavilion.
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 brings a sense of history. The amount of moisture on earth has not changed. The water the dinosaurs drank millions of years ago is the same water that falls as rain today. But how will global warming effect the natural resources? And will there be enough clean water, if the pollution and population of our planet continuous to grow as expected?
We are not important to water. It is the other way around. Our task is to find a reasonable way to survive inside its boundaries. A sensible use of our natural resources, a heart to protect the common goods and a guidance of new achievements in science and technology: Theses will be the tools, that guides us into a sustainable century.
Wuhan has a very specific relationship to water. The 3500-year-old city is located in the intersection between two main rivers, the Yangtze and the Han. This has allowed it to grow as a major trading point in China, bringing riches and goods from around the world. Environmentally, the surrounding water-rich landscape boasts a great variety of plants; its natural beauty has inspired poetry and paintings throughout history. Penda wanted a pavilion which recognised all of this while also making a point about the need to protect water.
“Our proposal for the garden expo is a natural statement for the importance of water and a healthy environment,” Penda says. “A river-like pathway guides visitors through an artificial landscape of hills and valleys. Seeds of different plants are given to the visitors at each entrance and they get the opportunity to plant local flowers, vegetables, fruits or herbs along the ‘riverbed’.”
In this, we see people take the role of water, which, in a nutshell, is the very idea behind Penda’s beautiful pavilion.
“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,” explain Penda, “Like the river does […] the visitors become the starting point in the life cycle of plants.” In turn, this gives the visitors a higher sensibility to the importance of clean water, pure air, and the preservations of the natural environment around them.
The design has separate entrances, all leading to a central plaza as visitors walk through narrow shores, high cliffs, caves and hills. In the plaza, seating is arranged under a natural canopy, allowing people to enjoy rest, have a drink and reflect surrounded by nature. The riverbed walkways are not only circulatory elements, but become sensory trails as a variety of flowers and herbs allow for natural visual, haptic and scented experiences.
Penda’s living pavilion opened to the public in October 2015, in time for the opening of the 10th international Garden Expo in Wuhan, China. It was developed after being chosen as the winning proposal from an international competition. Visitors will have the opportunity to walk around Penda’s organic pavilion until April 2016 when the Expo will come to a close.