office ma is working on landscape design at the Vanke Pavilion for the upcoming Horticultural Expo in Beijing. The Vanke Pavilion site occupies a prominent position within the larger Expo complex and is currently under construction. office ma is responsible for designing the site landscape and rooftop garden, as well as providing concept design for the indoor botanical garden with its mangrove habitat exhibition space. The square pavilion building sits at the center of a large square site with generous area for outdoor landscape spaces designed to both compliment the indoor exhibit visitor experience and to perform very real ecological functions. The landscape will ground the exotic artificial mangrove interior environment of the pavilion in the native context of Beijing’s foothills and adjacent mountains. Building on the Expo theme of “Plant Intelligence,” office ma devised a strategy for site grading, which we have named “Smart Topography.” The site is carefully sculpted into “mountains” and “valleys” to capture and hold storm water runoff, recharging groundwater and filling underground tanks to be used during dry periods to meet the entire project’s irrigation water needs. Water moves over the surface of the site, becoming channelized to feed wetlands and water features, from the high northwest “dry” corner (the direction of surrounding real mountains) to the lower wetland portion of the site in the south. Native plants were carefully selected to follow this same metaphoric journey from high mountain meadow ecology to lowlands. Landform and planting work together to perform real ecological work, educate the visitor about the natural environment and to create a setting of natural beauty and comfort.


The eastern facing landscape is the main entry to the pavilion directly adjacent to other Expo sites. It follows the same smart topography strategy as the western half, but here the grading is in service of people, their everyday movements as well as events and performances. A large sweeping arc plaza reaches into to meet the main building entry from the two eastern corners of the site, enclosing a large sunken lawn that can host events. The placement of seating terraces and terraced gardens at the edges of the lawn allow for its use as a performance venue in either direction, looking out from the building or with the sculptural pavilion façade as backdrop and stage set. The entire eastern facing landscape is carefully laid out for queuing in shade, cooled by water features in the plaza, entertainment in the outdoor amphitheater, outdoor vending and eating, all within a shaded lush garden setting that grounds the pavilion in the cultural landscape of Beijing. The entire site is designed to entertain, educate, refresh and perform in service of the overall Expo themes and goals.     

by Steve Hanson