by Jincy IypeSep 02, 2022
The cities of China have long been infested by a fervid trend of ‘genericness’, losing all sense of character, history, planning and ambition to fit in with the lifeless, new, and shiny “modern cities” cropping up all over the world. “Our distinctive lives are all covered behind these generic but flashy ‘Generic City’ facades,” comments Wutopia Lab, an architecture practice based in China that strives to criticise the status quo and reimagine the way people live in the buildings that they inhabit. Their recent project, White Upland, is imaginative and dream-like, posing as an architecture of the anti-generic city.
Wutopia Lab’s founder and chief architect, Yu Ting, envisioned a pensive manifestation of the project when he was approached by Shanghai Huijian to design a welcoming stage in front of the sales centre of their project in Huzhou. Given complete design freedom, Ting created a fresh design as a combination of architecture, landscape, interior, lighting, and art installation that weave together personal memories and emotions. Embodying his manifesto for an anti-generic city, the stage has been designed as a communal garden for the public to enjoy.
“Life is a series of obstacles and challenges. Only within the storm, people could deeply perceive the most important meaning of life. Therefore, if there is one place, where people could escape from the reality, forget the pain and pressure that time brings us physically and mentally, it must be in the dreams. Yes, people need daydreams, and daydreaming is anti-generic,” explains the architect.
‘Dreams’ formed the central design principle of White Upland and the main narrative of the project was inspired by the architect’s daughter, evoking elements from her subconscious visualisations dominated by forest landscapes. Keeping the façade and the interiors of the sales centre intact, Ting chose to cover the normal condition of the structure with a powerfully contrasting entrance.
Utilising a ‘generic’ material, 529 steel columns marked the boundaries and resolved the façade of the sales centre. The six-metre high columns were prefabricated in three sizes to form the forest, guiding the visitors’ circulation around abstracted landscape elements such as caves, hills, streams, rocks, highlands, waterfalls and theatres in the woods. Facilities to create weather have also been incorporated to provide starry skies, cloudy atmospheres, sunrise, fog, and the sounds and scents of nature. The elements are made in white to create a surreal ambience.
The 3300 sqm White Upland creates a mega architecture hyper-text, mosaiced with emotions of desire, hope and nostalgia. An ink garden made of black mountain stones surrounded by maple trees greets visitors at the entrance, implying local history, geography and culture as the south of the Yangtze River. A cool-lighted dark blue cave provides a moment of pause, uncertainty, and hope before entering the futuristic forest.
Under the clouds, swings, colourful bunkers, and a Trojan horse representing the innocence of an adult child are embedded into the setting. The plaza hidden in the forest contains a fountain and a covered theatre where bands can perform in the summer.
The footprint of White Upland is an infinite symbol, symbolising the limitless nature of dreams and hope. “It's important for people to understand that something temporary, like White Upland, is created maybe just for the pleasure or happiness of seeing an idea come true. People are even willing to take time to create buildings and places that are basically useless. Transitory, fleeting, yet paradoxical, has a more permanent meaning in White Upland. It's not just a dream, it's actually a sacred space about a better life,” Ting mentions about the project.
Time slows down in White Upland, relieving any sense of urgency and anxiety that riddles everyday life. The design allows visitors to linger in a dreamscape and appreciate the beauty of subtle moments, re-imagining the meaning of life cycle. The concept of time contributes to the most important life experience of Chinese people - vitality.
The unrealistic design reflects moments of real-life, represented with abstract symbols of dream language in different scenes. In White Upland, metaphors and meanings are more profound than the form of architecture it embodies.
Name: White Upland
Location: Intersection of Dongpo Road and South Erhuan Rd, Wuxing District, Huzhou City, Zhejiang Province, China
Client: Shanghai Huijian Investment Co., Ltd.
Area: 3296 m2
Material: Steel, Concrete Panel, Aluminum, Carbon Fiber, Black Mountain Rock, Acrylic, Washed Stone, Adhesive stone, Terrazzo
Construction Stage: September 2019 – August 2020
Design firm: Wutopia Lab
Chief Architect: Yu Ting
Project Architect: Dai Xinyang, Li Zongze
Design Team: Wang Dong, Wu Zhen, Xu Nan
Design Development: Shanghai J.L LV HUA Co., Ltd.
(Peng Feng, Feng Jiming, Li Peiyong, Bao Xuerui, Mao Xinfu, Yang Di, Xie Peirong, Cui Huaming, Dong Xinyu)
(Text by Ankitha Gattupalli, intern at stirworld.com)