A Tree-First Exhibition Space in Beijing

Tree umbrella open space at Architecture College of Beijing Jiaotong University / Zhongzhong Zeng

Instead of chopping down 10 fully-grown poplar trees and 8 gingko trees to make way for a new glass-box pavilion in front of the Architecture College of Beijing Jiaotong University, Bo Zhang, ASLA, and his colleagues convinced the university to create an open, canopied exhibition space that works around the trees.

Zhang, a landscape architect and assistant professor of landscape architecture at the Oklahoma State University, partnered with Zhongzhong Zeng, associate professor of architecture, and Yongquan Chen, also on the faculty of architecture at Beijing Jiaotong University, to create a tree-first pavilion that both preserves nature and creates a charming space for exhibitions and events.

Tree umbrella open space at Architecture College of Beijing Jiaotong University / Zhongzhong Zeng

The tight site along the glass-fronted wall of the college is just 21 feet wide by 183 feet long. Within these challenging parameters, Zhang and his colleagues developed a set of hexagonal structural units made of Douglas Fir, carefully siting them to avoid hurting the trees and their roots.

Tree umbrella open space at Architecture College of Beijing Jiaotong University / Zhongzhong Zeng and Bo Zhang

At top, gaps between the forms allow trees to penetrate through; and below, spaces in the elevated wood floor covering the trees’ roots enable stormwater to permeate into the ground.

Tree umbrella open space at Architecture College of Beijing Jiaotong University / Zhongzhong Zeng
Tree umbrella open space at Architecture College of Beijing Jiaotong University / Zhongzhong Zeng

Other gaps between the forms are covered in glass, creating more usable spaces.

Tree umbrella open space at Architecture College of Beijing Jiaotong University / Zhongzhong Zeng

Zhang tells us the hexagonal forms were prefabricated and trucked into Beijing, where they were assembled onsite. “The whole process of construction took only ten days.” In that short time, the design team also avoided using heavy machines and vehicles that would compact the top soil.

Zhang and his colleagues purposefully kept the space open so it can be configured for multiple uses, such as lectures, meetings, or exhibitions. Removable wood exhibition panels and chairs give the university flexibility.

Tree umbrella open space at Architecture College of Beijing Jiaotong University / Zhongzhong Zeng

College administrators have also opened up the space to the surrounding neighborhood: residents use the space to teach classes, practice Tai Chi, dance, or just relax.

“Our vision was achieved by blending architecture and landscape, civility and nature, people and space. We hoped to create a model relationship between educational institution and surrounding community.”

Tree umbrella open space at Architecture College of Beijing Jiaotong University / Zhongzhong Zeng

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