Mountains Sanctuary

When Toronto-based architects fuse Eastern wisdom and Western design for more human interaction

In today’s urban life, even if the family members live under one roof, they are busy with their own businesses, staring at the cellphone all day. People have little communication. We hope to change this condition, and bring people together in this space.

Just an hour outside of bustling Chengdu City, Toronto-based architects Mengdi Zhen and Nan Zeng of Z Square Group have returned home to China to design a tranquil sanctuary, a boutique hotel that weaves together the elements of balance, community, and above all, the beauty of nature. The aesthetic melds classic Eastern beauty and Feng Shui philosophy with the minimalist composition and décor of contemporary Western interiors, created with materials native to the area that celebrate local culture.

This project is a departure from Zhen and Zeng’s typical commercial projects, sprawling condominium buildings, and boutique custom homes. They visited the site, connected with the serene beauty of the environment, and created a vision for their concept, knowing what they wanted to undertake.

“We grew up in China and were among the first to receive a complete system of Western architectural education in Canada. We hope to combine our backgrounds of the East and West with local characteristics,” Zhen says.


From afar, the villa looks like a hidden treasure amidst the vast beauty and serenity of the mountains. Standing two stories overlooking the wilderness, the villa is constructed in light, natural shades with materials similar to local buildings that complement the surrounding ecosystem.

Based on Zhen and Zeng’s fengshui studies, they decided to structure the villa facing water on the south and mountains to the north. “The mountains provide shelter from strong winds, helping keep the inside heated in the winter, and the stream in front creates a cool breeze across the property,” Zhen says.

Designed to be an oasis, this villa allows guests to reconnect with nature and with each other.

The home is stunning in its simplicity. The use of door-to-ceiling windows to create lush nature scenes was inspired by ancient Chinese courtyards. These verdant landscapes, which decorate whole walls, look like vibrant paintings of green that can be stepped into. This nature-as-art motif acts as a backdrop connecting rooms throughout the house. Multiple spaces are designed for guests to congregate and enjoy the outdoors seated on wooden furniture or traditional rattan pillows.

The interior of the villa combines local materials with Western thinking, as an open door plan creates large communal spaces where family and friends can come together. This convivial atmosphere is particularly apparent in the kitchen, with the latest Western trends, including a waterfall island, which adds counter seating in addition to the large dining table, to accommodate groups. “In today’s urban life, even if the family members live under one roof, they are busy with their own businesses, staring at the cellphone all day. People have little communication. We hope to change this condition, and bring people together in this space,” Zhen says.

Away from the social centre of the kitchen, the bedrooms offer a small private patio with minimal furniture for solitude and contemplation, reminiscent of a zen garden. The picturesque greenery can be seen from the bedrooms as well, where a wall of windows is all that separates from the breeze that bends the bamboo of the forest outside.

This villa is a special project for architects Zhen and Zeng, combining their Western education with their Chinese roots. But the result is much larger, as it demonstrates the elegance of combining the wisdom of the East and West, and how beautiful this blending of cultures can be when it is done with such expertise. The villa is an idyllic space to experience tranquility, gather with loved ones, and feel a part of the beautiful mountain landscape.

Photo Courtesy of Z Square Group

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