The Dutch Ambassador’s residence in Beijing houses three functions: representation, plant and services, and private residence. The relatively large site (4220 m²) allowed the creation of a single-storey building with separate direct access to each function. As a result, the embassy’s official sector does not encroach upon the private quarters.
Design typology is that of a large, luxurious detached house. There are two wings: one containing meeting and dining rooms, and services, the other occupied by the private residence. Each wing overlooks a separate section of the grounds. Between the two, a winter garden offers a permanent representation of nature – a reminder of the special Dutch talent for growing things under glass, especially useful in the extreme climate of Beijing.
A large entrance gives access to the official functions part of the building, with a direct view through the building into the garden beyond. Guests can be received in this official section without disturbing the residential side. Ample room is given to the ritual of welcoming guests, taking coats, presenting the guestbook, etc. The entrance hall leads to a large reception room facing east, a small, intimate “salon”, and a large dining room. A large cantilevered roof protects the interior from direct sunshine in the hot season, and shelters the terrace from the rain.
In the private wing, the kitchen and the main room are the central spaces of a linear plan. The three bedrooms are situated at the far end for maximum privacy. On special occasions, the ambassador can take guests through the winter garden to his study/library in the private wing.
The main expression of the house is dominated by a long wall stretching beyond the building itself. Made from horizontal strips of different-size natural stone, the wall contains embedded lighting strips. The entrance is shielded by a large pane of safety glass.
The garden elevation consists of structural glazing and sliding doors while the private wing is enclosed by a stone wall. On the west side, the rooms open onto a private garden. Louvers provide sun-shielding and privacy. The horizontal articulation enhances the sense of spaciousness and counters the verticality of the trees.
The garden is a crucial part of the design. In the Beijing climate, the garden needs to “survive” visually during the cold, dry winter and provide restful tranquillity during the other seasons. In deliberate contrast to the geometric design of the house, the garden is a ‘dry river’ made up of several layers of materials: grass, gravel and concrete containing a variety of aggregates, punctuated by flower beds, trees, bamboo clumps and green bushes. The trees found on the site were welcomed as valuable assets and integrated into the garden-scape.
Although most plots in this second diplomatic district are surrounded by a 2m-high perimeter wall, the client wanted a house that was welcoming, open and expressive – a physical reflection of a mental attitude. The wall was therefore breached on two sides and replaced by a fence with minimum visual impact.
In the middle of the driveway, an ‘island’ of trees have been turned by landscape artist Sjoerd Buisman into an art installation: aluminium branches, called “presents to the trees”, project from the trees like clones of the real thing.