Throughout China, upscale residential communities mimick the style of their Western suburban counterparts, with all the baggage that comes with them. Evian Town, a villa community in Suzhou, breaks from this pattern. By borrowing from its local past and looking forward to its future, it turns blocks of houses into neighborhoods. The 76,640-square-meter development, which is Evian Town’s second phase, includes 221 residential units, a clubhouse, and a kindergarten arranged in a somewhat meandering fashion in deference to the local topography. The site is a preserved ecological area, with fish and crab ponds, rivulets, and fields. Ji Li Jun, director and general manager of China Merchants Real Estate (Suzhou) Ltd., which developed the project, says, “We told our designers, we want a very ecological living space.” Dimi Lee, director of RMJM Hong Kong, the firm that planned and designed the community, says he hopes “the project lets residents have a sense of intimacy with nature.”

China Merchants wanted to build a complex that was “not only Suzhou” but also contemporary. RMJM responded with a scheme that uses traditional water-town elements, such as courtyards, south-facing rooms, and river channels between buildings. It organized houses into clusters of seven to 14 units to create small neighborhoods within the larger development. It designed the individual houses with contemporary forms and a subdued color palette of white, gray, and black, and gave each villa its own front and rear garden for privacy.

RMJM produced a sustainable project through smart planning instead of advanced technology. By clustered residences, it minimized vehicular access and maximized green space. And it widened the traditional Suzhou courtyard house to bring in more daylight and ventilation.