Outstanding architecture is a culmination of art, design, and function. That is, the best examples make eye-catching statements while working with the dynamics of their surroundings and serving a practical purpose. This new building by the Nordic Office of Architecture checks all those boxes and then some.

Located in China’s Nanchang City, Jiangxi Province, “Nanchang Waves” serves as a community center offering multiple opportunities for activity on several structural levels. The mixed-use space features event spaces, cafés, galleries, and urban gardens.

The Nordic Office of Architecture is an Oslo-based firm with offices in Copenhagen, London, and Reykjavik. They centered the project around the nearby water saying, “Nanchang Waves derives its concept from the surrounding waterscapes.” In fact, from afar, one might think the venue was actually a giant water park. Curving walkways resemble a meandering river, and contours of the adjacent lake are replicated in the rippling architecture.

“Each of the landscape nodes contain functions for people of different ages and provide interesting and memorable spatial experiences,” explains the design team.

The element of earth is also expressed in the new facilities, especially in its most functional spaces. The center’s accessible rooftop, for example, is a lush green space with a design that continues the themes seen in the front square below. The architects see it as “the main body of the building [forming] a continuation of the landscape elements in three dimensions through the language of stretched curves and waves.”

Finally, the element of air is strikingly represented in the helical pathway leading to the center’s observation tower. Winding around the building, visitors are introduced to views in every direction as they ascend, anticipation building with each step until they reach the high point, where they’re able to overlook the surrounding natural and architectural highlights uninhibited by obstructions.

It’s often said that location is everything, and the positioning of Nanchang Waves absorbs both the history and modern development of the area. In front of the campus is Elephant Lake Wetland Park, which boasts water, trees, and animals for a relaxing natural experience. In the distance behind the structure, visitors will find a backdrop of skyscrapers — a snapshot of local industry. Closer in, a large new residential development consumes rows of real estate directly adjacent to the buildings. If that’s still not enough for you, the landmark Wanshou Pagoda can also be seen emerging from the nearby woodlands.