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In a small clearing surrounded by pine trees, a peculiar structure has taken shape — one that could easily be mistaken as a fairytale dwelling for woodland creatures. Part of a larger nature retreat in the city of Xinyu, China, the Mushroom — as it’s aptly named — is the work of Shanghai-based architecture studio ZJJZ Atelier, whose motivation for the design was to consciously straddle the line between nature and architecture, with a nod to ancient folklore weaved in.

“Our client wanted to create a place that is surreal,” says architect Xuanru Chen, “in order to allow visitors to pull themselves away from mundane ordinary life, and to relax and enjoy nature.” Chen also references nearby Fairy Lake as a source of inspiration, drawing on a Chinese legend that associates the body of water as the site where a mortal man fell in love with a celestial fairy. 

Set on six steel stilts with concrete feet, the bulbous guesthouse marries two geometric shapes — a cone-like roof seeming to hover over a bowl-like base. Bisecting the two is a near-continuous horizontal window that wraps around the building and offers panoramic views of the scenic location. To clad the whimsical structure, the architects opted for raw pine shakes to cover the upper conical volume and granolithic concrete to envelop the lower rounded portion. “Our goal was to allow the architecture to blend into the nature,” says Chen of the material selections. Over time, the elements and humidity will subtly alter the appearance of the wood shingles and textured concrete, further harmonizing them with the surroundings. As the structure is lifted off the ground, the Mushroom allows ground cover plants to spread and form a nest-like base of vegetation. 

Access to the interior is gained via a rectangular volume that is inserted into the main round form. Windowless and narrow, it fosters a sheltered sense of arrival for guests and ushers them into the space beyond. Passing through the small foyer with storage closet, one first enters the airy bathroom, which has been segmented for privacy and function, with the shower and toilet in self-contained stalls and a built-in tub and a custom vanity flanking the main space. Clad in 60-by-60-centimetre grey-tone terrazzo tiles, the tub and walls echo the exterior, while the blackened-steel-topped pine vanity adds organic warmth. Horizontal window frame the space to “introduce different expressions of light and shadows with the change of time and weather,” note the architects. 

The Mushroom’s appealing convex shape becomes concave inside the combined living and sleeping quarters, with the entire perimeter curving gently from the floor up to and across the ceiling. Pine planks were used on the lower volume, with smooth gypsum covering the ceiling; discreet rings carved into the upper portion contain embedded LED strips that contribute a moody ambiance.

Installed 90 centimetres above the oak-plank flooring, the horizontal 90-centimetre-tall frameless panes of glass are at an ideal height for vista viewing whether seated in an armchair or reclining in bed; the roof’s pine shakes are just visible along the windows’ top edges, helping to focus and frame the views. Black-framed operable sliding windows at either end allow for fresh air to circulate and nature noises to permeate the interior. 

Up a short flight of stairs is a loft that overlooks the main space. Outfitted with mattresses, the treehouse-like room serves as both play area and bedroom for children or other guests. 

“A spatial response” to the client’s request that the design be based on forms in nature, the Mushroom is stripped of superfluous details and immersed in its surroundings, offering a place of pause and respite.

A Whimsical Guesthouse in China’s Jiangxi Province Looks to Nature for Inspiration

Shanghai-based ZJJZ Atelier has designed a playful retreat that feels at home in its scenic surroundings.

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