Elevating a naturally breathtaking venue to new levels of beauty is challenging stuff. Swan Lake Park, a natural wetland close to the Yellow Sea in China’s Shandong province, has been a mecca for birdwatchers for eons now. October is an especially popular time for the park, as it’s then that ornithology enthusiasts swarm to watch bevies of Great Swans arriving from Siberia for their annual migration and stay through the winter. It’s known locally as the “Hometown of the Great Swan.” Yes, this venue is truly magnificent, with reeds stretching out as far as the eye can see and babbling brooks winding through the marshlands.

"The Bridge," a new viewing cafe in China's Swan Lake Park by TAO.
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Trace Architecture Office (TAO) was recently chosen to transform the park into an unparalleled sightseeing destination where tourists could be swept away by the extended panoramic views and surrounding dense pine forests, with or without any fine-feathered creatures around.


"The Bridge," a new viewing cafe in China's Swan Lake Park by TAO.

From November to April every year, over 10,000 swans fly into Swan Lake Park from Siberia and other areas, with over 100,000 tourists trekking there to see them. Some just enjoy the experience, while others capture the graceful fowl with cameras. Others write about the surreal happening, and others still capture the awesome birds with watercolors and oils. Rongcheng shops overflow with swan-themed memorabilia, and many of the hotels and restaurants prominently feature swans in their decor. The local conservation sector regularly disinfects the lake area, too, monitoring the health of the swans and spreading food on the surface of the lake whenever it freezes.

The Main Building

"The Bridge," a new viewing cafe in China's Swan Lake Park by TAO.

TAO first conceived a casual café and restrooms on the site for the tourists’ personal comfort. Simply called “The Bridge,” the building in question is 73 feet long and bordered by a thick pine forest on the rear, with the front facing the quagmire. Although the structure seems to float over the water like an enchanted cloud, it’s actually made of cast concrete and sheathed in wood shingles that will eventually fade to gray over time. TAO designed the bridge to meld with the surroundings, making sure it enhanced the landscape rather than take away from it.

The Catacomb Connections

Some spectators have compared the hallways that run along the sides of the structure to those of crypts or catacombs. Indeed, the hallways closest to the pine forest are reclusive and quiet, in stark contrast to the ones on the west side that face the marshland, which are decidedly more airy and inspirational. The two paths sometimes come together, too, creating entrances and connections that sometimes lead to stairs, affording guests multiple visual experiences.

The Viewing Tower

Inside Swan Lake Park's new Viewing Tower.

The Bridge and The Viewing Tower, two new observation structures in China's Swan Lake Park by TAO.

The Viewing Tower is a detached structure located next to the Bridge. It stands a little over 50 feet tall and faces the water, providing a beacon for visitors to enjoy the best possible view of the bayou and nearby Mt. Mashan. It’s encased with the same wood shingles as the Bridge, too, with its sole source of light being a large skylight in the middle of the roof. That stream of light bathes the interior in sheaths of shapes and shadows from top to bottom as people climb the spiral wooden staircase to the tower’s apex. As the light gets brighter, the peak of the tower grows closer and finally yields to a platform that provides a panoramic view of Swan Lake in all its natural glory.