Neri & Hu’s proposal draws upon the notion of the duality of natural elements, a tenet of ancient Chinese philosophy which holds that two opposite forces or elements can actually complement each other in the natural world, as embodied by the site’s mountain-water duality – the property is surrounded on three sides by a winding creek, while the majestic Emei peak looms in the background.
Upon entering the grounds, a triangular reflecting pool sets the tone with its calming sensibility, while the polished stainless-steel rock-like sculpture in the middle of the pond encapsulates a sense of heartfelt respect for the site’s natural resources. Titled “Fractal Structure – Infinite Shan Shui”, contemporary Chinese artist Zhan Wang’s work is an exact replica of a boulder found during the project’s construction.
Tucked into the terrain’s natural slope, the three long buildings at the north end of the site house the whisky production facilities, including a visitor’s lounge inspired by the traditional tea houses of Sichuan and two giant copper stills hand-crafted by renowned Scottish coppersmith Forsyth. Featuring pitched roofs lined with reclaimed clay tiles, and masonry walls made from locally extracted stones, the humble, low-slung, concrete-frame buildings subtly fuse traditional Chinese and modern architecture. In contrast to the vernacular underpinnings of the distillery buildings, the two visitor centres are built upon fundamental geometries, the circle and the square, which in Chinese philosophy represent heaven and earth.
Further down the slope, the square-shaped restaurant and bar building is cantilevered on two sides with one corner hovering over the river bank. At the heart of the building, an open-air courtyard that beautifully frames the Emei peak contains another immersive water feature, with water gently flowing down a ceremonial set of stairs to form a pool that reflects the surrounding nature. At the top of the stairs, a rooftop viewing platform that allows visitors to take in the majestic landscape in all its glory rounds up the amenities in breath-taking fashion, further enhancing, in the architects’ words, the “harmonious balance between architecture and landscape, between industry and visitor experience, between mountain and water”.