Ballistic Architecture Machine BAM

Ballistic Architecture Machine BAM

Beijing, CN


Beijing Garden Expo: Finite-Infinite

This garden was completed in May of 2013 for the Beijing Garden Expo, BAM collaborated with Peter Walker Partners  to create the design, and developed all the construction drawings and site supervision. There were some other heavy hitter landscape architects as part of the masters gardens... but we all know... BAM's was the best - here's the little blurb we wrote about it:

Garden description
The garden is defined by one device that creates two contrasting conditions. A simple circular parterre garden is divided down the center by a pathway lined with two walls, each covered with mirrors on both sides. Centered in the central pathway is a line of sycamores on a five-meter grid. For the viewer inside the two walls the pathway and its trees are transformed into an “infinite landscape” by the “barbershop effect,” in which reflections are reflected on top of reflections. The one row of sycamores becomes an orchard that multiplies into infinity. By contrast, the circular parterre is divided in half by the walls, until the viewer looks into the mirrors on the outside of the wall. . . and sees the parterre completed in its reflection. The mirrors on the outside of the walls thus create a defined, whole, and complete object.

Reflection is a phenomenon often used in landscape architecture, usually in some form of water—a pond, a river, a fountain. Glass shares many qualities with water, transparency, reflectivity and opacity—all apparent all the time at the same time. Typically water is associated with the landscape and glass with architecture.
Martha Schwartz’s garden for the 2011 Xian Horticultural Expo, for which BAM also played a key role, explored these reflective contrasts in landscape and architecture. The garden was a kind of maze—or fun house—composed of traditional Chinese wall typologies intertwined with glass and one-way mirrors. The adoption of the architectural method for achieving reflectivity and transparency in what was essentially a landscape condition prompted a further exploration in the Walker garden.
The completion of the circle in Finite/Infinite also recalls Walker’s early landscape experimentations, which were aimed at finding a minimalist expression for the landscape. For example, in the 1983 roof garden on Marlborough Street in Boston, the sky was reflected in small mirrors, typical of the modest materials used in these early experimental gardens. Finite/Infinite is at once more grand, more global, and more cerebral. The little mirrors of the Marlborough Street garden reflected little patches of sky; the mirrors of the Expo garden reflect the perceiving self of the viewer. Artist Dan Graham has been famously quoted for stating the importance of the viewer who sees himself in the art work, for, of course, without the viewer the art would not exist. Not coincidentally much of Graham’s work uses glass and mirrors to allow the viewer to see not only himself but others in the action of viewing—and thus creating—the work of art. Walker also found literary inspiration in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871), in which Alice tumbles through the parlor mirror to discover a new Alice in a thoroughly atypical garden of talking flowers. Inspired by these various sources, Walker explores new visions of garden reflectivity in Finite/Infinite.

In discussions with BAM, Walker expressed his interest in furthering Martha Schwartz’s exploration of reflection via mirrors and glass. Thus, when he came to Beijing to see the site, BAM presented him with a kit of elements: Mirrors, reflective paper, model trees, all were used in the work shop where Walker outlined the fundamentals of the design.
BAM’s principle tasks were to turn Walker’s preliminary drawings and sketches into a constructible garden and then oversee its construction. Quality is everything. God is in the details. Measure twice, cut once. These terms are neither easily understood nor achieved when working in China. Unfortunately the design for this garden had very little tolerance for mistakes because everything in it was reflected. One mistake was not one mistake, but infinite mistakes. Thus there could be no mistakes.
The garden could either be an abysmal failure or a great success, and it all was dependent upon the quality of the details—the craftsmanship—and, hence, on BAM’s unrelenting oversight of every step of the process.
The details BAM developed are highly refined and required precision and care in the drawing, manufacturing, and installation. And not only are the hard details important. The quality of the planting and type of planting are key.
In Beijing there is a prejudice against poplars. Many landscape architects in China consider them low-quality trees, far too common for a show garden. Although the tree is found and was historically used in Beijing, this prejudice against using the common to create great value—and the tree’s frequent use in public projects—made it difficult to find the right trees for the garden. The pyramid white poplar or Xingjiang Poplar, which was specified, could not be found anywhere around Beijing or Hebei Province. This presented BAM with quite a problem because the garden required a columnar tree. Eventually we were able to find the right trees just west of Datong in Shanxi Provence, a place poor enough to appreciate the useful cultivation of cheap fast-growth trees. Happily the sycamore is considered a much more worthwhile tree. They fetch higher prices and are thus thought worth cultivating—and thus were easily acquired.
From the detailing, to the choice of plants, to the on-site supervision BAM was frequently a thorn in the side of both the client and the contractor because we chose to fight for the perfection of the design. We found it necessary to resist any compromises, especially ones based on offers of future work, and if that demand for perfection meant we had to go to the site and trim the trees ourselves, then we would. And we did.
China abounds with architecturally impressive structures, but the landscape unfortunately lags far behind. Although BAM had to be tough on the contractors, the Oriental Land team executed the design beautifully and professionally, and now all of us—designers, managers, and contractors alike—have a beacon that reveals to the world what landscape can achieve in China.

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Status: Built
Location: Beijing, CN
Additional Credits: Peter Walker Partners