House on the House / Wutopia Lab

House on the House / Wutopia Lab - Shelving, Stairs, HandrailHouse on the House / Wutopia Lab - Table, Stairs, HandrailHouse on the House / Wutopia Lab - Stairs, Windows, HandrailHouse on the House / Wutopia Lab - LightingHouse on the House / Wutopia Lab - More Images+ 29

Shanghai, China
  • Architects: Wutopia Lab
  • Area Area of this architecture project Area:  39
  • Year Completion year of this architecture project Year:  2015
  • Photographs
    Photographs:Yijie Hu
  • EPC: PSA Associate
  • Architect In Charge: YU Ting
  • Design Team: XIA Murong, GE Yufei, WANG Suyu, LIU Qicai, YU Junfeng
  • City: Shanghai
  • Country: China
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House on the House / Wutopia Lab - Windows, Cityscape, Facade
© HU Yijie

Text description provided by the architects. Located on the top level of no. 23 at 389 Lane, East Jinling Road, the Dream Reformer's Tower House was originally a water tower constructed in the 1920s and rebuilt in the 1980s. It had a total area of 39m2 and two floors connected by a ladder, which was occupied by the kitchen. The house had been in such a bad state of disrepair that it almost seemed a ruin. 


The architect regarded the Tower House as a spatially complex system consisting of a new house stuck in the old structure. Based on the ergonomic module system of the six homeowners, the designer reorganized the functional layout of the interior, striving to create new spaces with maximum economy and comfort. The designer dismissed the idea of a supposedly convenient, "Transformers"-inspired approach, but instead tried to simplify every design to serve a single functional purpose; when joined together, such singularities would constitute variety.

House on the House / Wutopia Lab - Windows, Lighting, Beam
© HU Yijie

The interior variety is first embodied in functional aspects. Combining the owners' requirements with unexpected details developed from them, the designer came up with a wish-list program of more than 140 items. Specifically, he avoided infringing upon the owners' wishes by the excuse of his own aesthetics. Next comes spatial variety: taking advantage of the L-shaped staircase, the designer allows a spatial and local narrative to unfold on seven different levels. He deliberately discards uniform visual control and the so-called architectural logic, but instead creates dramatic scenarios on various nodes, forming rounds of climaxes. Rather than being fabricated, such dramatic scenarios are derived from interviews with the owners. Finally there is variety in the owners' life, as well as in the new possibilities that the complex system provided by the designer would stimulate him to develop. Though small, this complex system may expect to have a more enduring lifecycle guaranteed by variety and certain self-organization. 


The complex system has a blurry boundary, and, due to its commanding height in the old neighborhood, each window presents a borrowed view to the interior. Carefully devised skylights, deliberately treated maple-leaf wall and the kid's room with painted walls break the definite climate boundary. Such indefiniteness is ultimately embodied in the patio that is conceived as a vertical garden, and in the flexible climate boundary formed by the facade. As a result, the interior of this complex system is more like a sophisticated world rather than an ordinary architectural interior.

House on the House / Wutopia Lab - Stairs, Windows, Handrail
© HU Yijie

Still, this complex system is subject to regulations in terms of the boundary between itself and the community outside. According to the suggestions of the administrative department, no alterations should be made to the external profiles of the Tower House. Following these profiles, the designer carefully renovated the exterior walls, patio and roof, reorganized the drainage system and painted the whole house together with the rooms downstairs. On the other hand, the designer was free to redesign externally inaccessible areas such as the interior elevation of the patio and the attic facade. They are skillfully concealed in the second layer behind the renovated profiles, making the exterior elevation and the interior space appear to have two design logics, when in fact they are but different aesthetic variations of the same design logic derived from the old building's intertwined structure. Apart from basic functions for living, the design explored more uses that are beyond the owner's expectation, such as the kid's room, the exterior-like communicational space, etc. The renovation features comfortable spaces with pleasant scale. 

House on the House / Wutopia Lab - Countertop, Sink
© HU Yijie

The small, complex system of the Tower House forms a response to the other un-renovated households in the water tower, while the repainted tower in its turn forms a response to the whole neighborhood. As the architect insists on a light intervention with the urban interface, the completed work of renovation remains unperceived by the residents after having redefined the relationship between the house, the water tower, the neighborhood and the city.

All the deliberately reserved design ambition is ultimately fulfilled in the roof plan, a surrealist scene of a silver roof floating above a sea of red roofs, which greatly transformed the negative impact of this old neighborhood. A tower house within the view, the renovated building constitutes a view in its own right. 

House on the House / Wutopia Lab - Windows, Facade
© HU Yijie

The new episode Dream Home Renovation (season two) produced by Shanghai Oriental TV Station is a renovation project of a residential water tower on East Jinling Rd. The tower used to be a tube-like building for storing water, with elevations no wider than 4 meter. Under the tower is the main channel for the residents of the housing estate. After the Cultural Revolution, the tower is transformed into a civilian house to improve the residents’ livelihood. Columns are built up on the ground floor so that the upper floors can be extended southward. Since then, the eight columns have supported the four families living above, each family occupying a floor.

In the water tower home lived the grandparents and their granddaughter. Their biggest hope is that the son and daughter-in-law can also live here after the renovation. Clothing, living, food and transportation, all basic necessities are contained in this 39-square-meter-space.

House on the House / Wutopia Lab - Lighting, Door, Windows, Bedroom
© HU Yijie

The architect added a mezzanine to the original two floors. Seemingly the space is squeezed, but because of the split level, rooms with different function actually become alienated, creating longer “journey” between each space..

“Squeeze”, namely the establishment of the split level, breaks the original gathered space into scattered individual space, Meanwhile, privacy is guaranteed in each individual space. But this is not enough, the architect wants to create “journey” between different rooms, and enhance the experience of the transaction between “indoor” and “outdoor” space within the house. For example, the corridor with red maple leaf wall, is a combination of the interior façade design with skylight facing the aquarium and bay window of the children’s room. It produces a sense of living in a series of small houses connected by outdoor environment, instead of living in a closed chamber.

The owner wanted to have a roof garden on the sloped roof. However a vertical garden was placed on the balcony instead, considering the safety problem and uncertainty of the future. The proper reconstruction of the outer facade is also a kind of attitude of the designer. Even if it is to change a small individual, a positive response is still necessary for the negative urban space.

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Cite: "House on the House / Wutopia Lab" 25 Apr 2016. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

© HU Yijie

宅上宅/ Wutopia Lab建筑事务所

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