The art of casting sculptural architecture from liquid stone: concrete
by Jincy IypeDec 17, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Zohra KhanPublished on : Apr 25, 2022
A series of curved concrete walls give shape to an eight-room retreat, designed by Taiwanese practice XRANGE Architects, which looks much like a mystical paradise emerging from nowhere. Seated amid tall grasses and vast acacia forests, the building is referred to as Wandering Walls by the design team, owing to its flowing form and unenclosed nature. "The retreat is a building where the walls wander throughout like flowing ribbons," describes the design team.
The genesis of the form started by experimenting with a series of bent curves to define certain edges and voids of the building. What followed was the curation of programmes – a series of public and private spaces spread across three storeys - around these curves. While the construction of the retreat was executed despite a shoestring budget and lack of skilled workers on the remote site, XRANGE Architects realised a landmark that draws people into the lap of nature. The retreat is located in Hengchun Township in the southern part of Pingtung County, Taiwan.
"Driven by the constraints and inspired by the raw beauty of the natural surroundings, the design concept seeks to create a sense of quietude and permanence with a single architectural element and a minimal palette of materials; defining the entire architecture with just curves walls that are both structure and form, inside and outside, exterior and interior all at once,” says the design team.
Though the retreat's concrete architecture is elevated on the grassy ground, the vehicular entrance into the building is subterranean. One arrives at it by following a road that connects the building to the outside. However, the pedestrian entry to the property is through a series of steps carved into the landscape that leads one to the first floor. The spaces in the retreat follow a simple arrangement – all the three storeys have guest rooms, only the first floor has an additional kitchen and dining area, and the third floor has an outdoor pool and terrace for guests.
A constant dialogue between indoors and outdoors percolate at every corner of the retreat. Be it the guest rooms that feature large floor to ceiling glass windows, or the connecting passages between rooms that capture panoramic views of the grassy landscape and a small lake outside. On the first floor, pockets of tiny tree gardens composed of curved walls also appear at a few places.
Speaking of the building's structural design, particularly how the curved walls negotiate between fluidity and stability, XRANGE Architects share, "The flat slab and bearing wall structural system enables the concrete walls to move in and out of the three floors independently, dictated by room layouts, views and the placements of wind barriers. At the stairs, curve walls cantilever 4.5m off the floor slab, hover over each other to reveal the horizon at the juncture of the sky, forest and ocean; on the ground floor, walls fly outwards then back in to enclose courtyards.”
The firm continues, "Local formwork of recycled or rough low-grade wood were used, 30 cm wide panels for bigger curves, 20 cm for tighter curves and 4 cm batons for sharp curves. The highly tolerant formwork system allows for misalignments and mistakes made by the local workers, which created the signature “lo-res” curves throughout.”
Using a fascinating vocabulary of walls, the retreat stands on the ground and stands out in a monumental simplicity. While the walls may wander, what it nurtures within surely evokes, even if it’s transitory, a feeling of home and security.
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