A shrine-like structure, and a circular cut-out, turns this garden villa in Suzhou into a work of art.
Known as a master of neo art deco, Taiwanese architect and interior designer T.K. Chu, of T.K. Chu Design, recently completed the Villa Smriti – a modern four-level residence inspired by the classical Chinese garden. To bring a sense of transcendence to the residence, and to enable the different levels to be more holistically connected, Chu included unusual sculptural forms as part of the interior architecture.
Located in Suzhou’s Old City, adjoining the famous UNESCO-listed 17th century Couple Garden, the project – which was commissioned by China real estate developer Yanlord Land – presented Chu and his team with the unique opportunity to bring nature, architecture and art together in a breathtaking residence where classical Chinese themes merge with contemporary Western aesthetics.
The villa has two basement levels, a ground floor and an upper floor. On the ground floor is an entrance foyer, a tea room that doubles as a study, a kitchen and banquet dining room, a guest bathroom, two en suite bedrooms, a living lounge, which is connected to a garden patio, and landscaped courtyards.
All of the spaces on the ground level look out to the expansive and tranquil courtyard garden that wraps around the south side of the 11,733 square-foot site. All the spaces on the ground floor are nestled within this garden to take full advantage of the green views. Full-height windows draw plenty of natural light into the interiors and bring the Zen-like ambience of the garden indoors.
Shaped like trees and stones, the furniture in the living lounge is set asymmetrically to reflect the randomness of nature. On the south side of the living lounge, a bench is positioned to face a framed view of the garden landscape.
In the centre of the living lounge, Chu included a discrete circular aperture within the floor plate so light from the outdoors can penetrate from the ground level down to the two basement levels. This compact aperture creates a hypnotic well-like visual effect as guests can look down it from the living lounge and see the top of the sculpture that sits at the very bottom of the basement.
A floating marble staircase rises from the ground floor up to the topmost level of the villa where the en suite master bedroom and an additional en suite bedroom are located.
Underneath the ground floor is the project’s pièce de résistance – a striking, contemporary, pavilion-like structure that Chu refers to as “the inner shrine”. Made with timber-framed grids, this inner shrine extends vertically along the two basement levels.
Extending from this structure is a staircase that leads down to the two levels.
“This inner shrine gives the basement levels a sense of spirituality, so guests feel as if they are entering the inner sanctum of the home,” Chu says.
“The hole in the centre of the living room allows light to pass through to the underground spaces and also visually connects the spaces above to the spaces below.”
Located within the first basement level is a private library, staff quarters, two toilets and a catwalk that looks out to a water curtain wall on one side, and down to the lowest level of the basement on the other.
On the lowest level of the basement are parking bays for four cars, a gym, a chess room, two courtyards, an art and sculpture gallery, a sinuous stainless steel sculpture by Taiwanese artist Polin Yang that’s enclosed within the bottom of the inner shrine structure, and a glamorous entertainment room with a wine bar.
Inspired by the whiskey bars found in boutique hotels, with this level, Chu wanted to overturn expectations of the traditional basement by designing the entertainment room like a second communal lounge zone.
“The design of Villa Smriti is inspired by the traditional Chinese philosophy of harmony between man and nature. The villa forms a virtual co-ordinate axis with ‘harmony between humans and nature’ on the horizontal axis, and ‘balance of the inner and the outer worlds’ on the vertical axis,” Chu says.