Shan-shui: A Duality | The Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery

Shan-shui: A Duality | The Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery

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For over a thousand years Mount Emei has persisted as one of the most deeply spiritual places in China and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. The revered ground upon which our site sits has a rich history itself – through the centuries, this land was once an impressive monastery, the site of several historic battles, and a stopping point along many pilgrimage and trade routes. While any built remnants of the past no longer remain on site, its very emptiness is powerfully suggestive of all of its fabled memories. Three years ago, Neri&Hu won the design competition and took up the challenge of designing a distillery and home for Pernod Ricard’s first whisky in China, an opportunity to create a timeless architecture that speaks to the core values of a visionary new brand as well as the material and cultural heritage it aspires to sustain.

Surrounded on three sides by a winding creek, and with the majestic Emei peak as a backdrop, the site for this project is an exemplification of the Chinese notion of the duality of natural elements which make up the world we live in. Shan-shui literally means ‘mountain-water.’ While shan represents strength and permanence, shui represents fluidity and transformation; they are two opposing yet complementary forces. In the spirit of this philosophy, the position of the proposal is to conceive a gesture whose very strength lies in its humbleness and simplicity, by its profound respect for nature. This paradigm is also manifested in the shan shui painting, one of the three genres of traditional Chinese painting, in which the integration of two elements leads to another dimension of the picturesque. The architecture itself manifests this balanced duality in many ways, with the industrial buildings as a modern interpretation of vernacular Chinese architecture, and the visitor buildings as elemental geometries grounded in the terrain.

Three long buildings housing the whisky production facilities are situated at the north side of the site; parallel in formation, they are tucked into the natural gentle slope of the land with gradually descending rooflines. In an interpretation of vernacular architecture, reclaimed clay tiles give a humble texture to the pitched roofs that rest upon a modern concrete post-and-beam structure. The infill of rock walls is made from the very boulders extracted from the ground during site leveling, so that the cycle of destruction and recreation may continue in permanent evolution.

In contrast to the vernacular roots of the industrial buildings, the two visitor experience buildings are built upon fundamental geometries: the circle and the square, which in Chinese philosophy represent heaven and earth, respectively. The round tasting experience building is partially submerged in the ground, with five subterranean tasting rooms surrounding a domed courtyard that contains a cascading water feature in the middle. The upper part of the dome reveals itself out of the ground slightly; with three concentric brick rings perched atop, it subtly mirrors the silhouette of Mount Emei. This sculptural landform becomes an iconic presence that can be seen from every part of site, and meanwhile, acts as a culminating destination from which visitors can enjoy a full panoramic vista. The square restaurant and bar building is located further down the topography, cantilevered on two sides with one corner hovering over the river bank. While the dining space is organized along the building’s perimeter for open views, at the core an open-air courtyard is oriented to frame the Emei peak as a borrowed scene.

Besides a deep appreciation for the site’s natural resources, the project is also an embodiment of the refined sense of artistry embedded in whisky-making and blending, which is in dialogue with traditional Chinese craftsmanship and knowledge of materials. A variety of concrete, cement, and stone mixtures form the base material palette, finding resonance in the strong mineral presence of the site. Accent materials are drawn from those used in whisky craft, such as the copper distillation pots to the aged oak casks. Throughout the project, Neri&Hu tries to embody the Chinese concept of the dichotomy of two elements that exist in opposition yet complement each other, and to strike a harmonious balance between architecture and landscape, between industry and visitor experience, between mountain and water.

Gross Area
7,350 m²


Completion Date
November 2021

2018 – 2021

Yansi Village, Gaoqiao Town, Emeishan, Leshan, Sichuan Province

AD100 Awards 2023, Architectural Digest China, ChinaThe Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery, Commercial Architecture, Winner
Elle Decoration China Interior Design Awards 2022, Elle Decoration China, ChinaThe Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery, Commercial Complex Category, Winner
ENR Global Best Projects Awards 2022, Engineering News-Record Magazine, USAThe Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery, Manufacturing Construction Category, Winner
Best of Year Awards 2022, Interior Design Magazine, USAThe Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery, Bar/lounge Category, Winner
The Plan Award 2022, THE PLAN Magazine, ItalyThe Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery, Production Category, Winner
Design for Asia (DFA) Award 2022, Hong Kong Design Center, Hong Kong, ChinaThe Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery, Commercial & Showroom Spaces Design, Gold Award
Architizer A+Awards 2022, Architizer, New York, USAThe Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery, Architecture + Branding, Finalist
HD Award 2022, Hospitality Design Magazine, New York, USAThe Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery, Beyond Hospitality, Winner
Créateurs Design Awards 2022, Créateurs Design Association, FranceThe Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery, Best Commercial Project in Architecture, Winner
A&D Awards 2022, Perspective Limited, Hong Kong, ChinaThe Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery, Architecture, Best Mixed Use, Gold Award
A&D Awards 2021, Perspective Limited, Hong Kong, ChinaPernod Ricard Emeishan Malt Whisky Distillery, Commercial – Future Developments, Gold Award
The Plan Award 2021, THE PLAN Magazine, ItalyShan-Shui: A Duality | Emeishan Whisky Distillery, Culture/future Category, Honorable Mention