SanghaRebecca Lo • Photography by Richard Bryant and Seth Powers and courtesy Tsao McKown • September 19, 2018
Partnering with the Chinese federal government, Brooklyn-based architect Calvin Tsao of and his brother, developer Chavalit Frederick Tsao, founder of Shanghai-based real estate company , worked for nearly a decade to bring the integrated wellness community known as to fruition. “The physical aspect of wellness is costly,” says Calvin. “We wanted to offer wellness in a more democratic way.”
For the 46-acre sustainable resort on the shores of UNESCO site Yangcheng Lake on the outskirts of Suzhou, the brothers used as many recycled materials as possible to craft the 1 million-square-foot complex. Focused on low-rise structures with a high portion of green space, Octave was allotted a landfill portion consisting of two finger-shaped peninsulas for the integrated wellness community.
“The site was contaminated and endangered the lake’s natural ecology,” recalls Tsao. “The first thing we did was clean up the landfill and bring in native water plants. We made the land as sustainable as possible, using many recycled materials from a shopping center that used to be on the site.” In addition to reclaimed wood and local tiles, concrete was broken up and used as paving, river rocks are now cladding for outdoor walls, ground recycled stone acts as terrazzo for hard surfaces, and roofs are outfitted with solar panels.
A handful of designers, including Shanghai firms and Yung Ho Chang of , were selected to contribute to the groundbreaking project, which boasts various houses, apartments, a subterranean wellness center, a medical clinic, conference and event spaces, a public plaza, a serene spa, and two hotels, including At One and Fellow Traveler.
The tranquil At One “is about spirituality and being one with the body,” he says. Here, hardwood floors mix with handtufted area rugs and a nature-inspired palette. The more youthful Fellow Traveler boasts an energetic public space, custom Tibetan rugs in the lobby, and Afghan and handwoven textiles for cushions and textiles.
Meanwhile, Tsao created a subterranean structure to focus on nutrition, counseling, and mindful exercise. Skylights appear on ground level as a berm rising gently to a height of five feet. “Outwardly, it looks like landscape,” Tsao says. “The skylights change the lighting quality and remind people what time of day it is.”
Elements such as graywater runoff and rain water collection factor into the building’s operating system, as well. “Fred and I see wellness as not just physical but spiritual,” Tsao believes. “We revisited classical Chinese philosophy and chose aspects that could be modernized. Our fundamental mandate was that heaven and man should be one—that man should honor nature.”