In the context of today’s rapid urban development, it’s easy to forget the rural country roots we’ve left behind. After all, who has the time (or the space) to think about growing vegetables amid our hectic city lives? And who really wants to spend time in the great outdoors when outside is a polluted concrete jungle? While escaping to the country may be an obvious solution to this dilemma, fleeing the city isn’t always a realistic or favorable option. If only there was a comfortable middle ground instead…
Enter BEAMS Creative, a Hong Kong-based design agency which has brought together architecture and agriculture in China. In collaboration with our old friends, Rooftop Republic, the agency have created a contemporary urban farm on the rooftop of a newly developed Changsha housing complex. We caught up with BEAMS Creative’s Design Director, Donte Dandridge, to find out more about the project, as well as his experience working in China more generally.
“I’m originally from America, but both of my partners are locals from Hong Kong,” shares Dandridge. “After working in China for a bit, I was kind of in limbo, deciding if I should return back to the US or not. At the same time, I partnered up with a friend on a few freelance projects. That partnership eventually became BEAMS, which stands for Build Environment At Minimal and Sustainable.”
“Working in Asia is quite different than in America because of the density, and also because of the Mainland Chinese market,” reveals Dandridge. “There is a lot of opportunity, but there are also so many competitors. The difficulty is to learn not to compromise your morals or design standards in order to match the taste or pace of the market.”
“While design is of course based first on functionality, it is also a reflection of the designer’s beliefs on what works best. There is sometimes an incubation or study period needed to research or understand not only the project, but one’s own intentions and why we have them. This process is sometimes skipped because of the breakneck speed.”
Urban Farming in Changsha
“The Changsha project was actually one of those fast paced projects that I mentioned earlier,” Dandridge remembers. Their client – Rooftop Republic – wanted to give city workers a taste of the rural lifestyle amid hectic urban life. Rooftop Republic envisioned an outdoor rooftop space which combined elements of traditional farming with modern architecture. The goal? To offer China’s newly urbanized a familiar yet modern take on the rural life many had just left behind.
“The client had chatted with us about the project but had then disappeared for a while. Three or four months later they came back and asked us to give them a design within the week. We presented it and almost without any revisions, it was being built two weeks later. Sometimes in China you just shrug your shoulders and ride the wave.”
A Break From Tradition
When it came to the design, BEAMS Creative began with the traditional rigorous linear farm grid. The team then clashed this design with structural function. For instance, two walls work to define the space, forming the bases of the rooftop’s classroom and bar areas. “We placed the walls in strategic positioning that maximize shading,” explains Dandridge. “At the client’s request, the structure is all located near the center of the site so as not to disturb the form of the building for pedestrians. This allowed us to place bar tables at the north to maximize views of the nearby lakes.”
“I’m also very much into playing with users’ curiosity. I often use layers to hide things in plain sight. An example of this is the wall on the rooftop. It helps define the space, but because of the angle, the space is not divided, and there is even a bar on the other side of it to discover.”
With sustainable development at the core of BEAMS Creative’s philosophy, it’s no surprise to learn that all materials for construction were non-synthetic, mimicking the actual environment of the rural area.
So what’s next for BEAMS Creative? “Well we recently just started construction on an Education Center in Shenzhen,” reports Dandridge. “We’re also currently working on a series of exhibitions for the Hong Kong Government’s Creative Department. At the same we are looking to get more public space projects, such as landscapes or installation art.”
“Overall, we quite like that we have such a wide variety of work, so hopefully we can keep that vibe of tackling new types of challenges.” We can’t wait to see what the future holds!
*This article was updated on 15th February to amend the BEAMS name