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Healing Architecture in China: Through a Sensorial and Spatial Experience

Healing Architecture in China: Through a Sensorial and Spatial Experience

What elements and qualities does space need for a well-balanced physical and spiritual recovery? How to design spaces that are healthy for both our minds and our bodies? What makes an environment livable and sustainable in the long term?

These are the questions we need to address in the era of the rapidly developing real estate market. Why do we tend to inhabit more and more high-density residential towers? Are we necessarily more mentally secure? If not, what are the spatial solutions or cures for the current urbanites’ anxiety? In this article, we will explore ways of unwinding and finding cures in space.

Revisiting Traditional Ceremonies


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Libraries always play an important role in offering advanced knowledge and spiritual insights, in our cities.

The Satori Harbor / Wutopia Lab. Image © CreatAR Images
The Satori Harbor / Wutopia Lab. Image © CreatAR Images

In November 2020, Wutopia Lab completed the Satori Harbor, a culturally symbolic library situated in VIPshop’s new headquarters, in Guangzhou, China. The name “Satori” was inspired by a concept from the ancient Chinese text Master Zhuangzi, which describes a state of transcendence in the practice of Taoism, as the morning light shines across the entire earth.

The Satori Harbor / Wutopia Lab. Image © CreatAR Images
The Satori Harbor / Wutopia Lab. Image © CreatAR Images

The architect thought to treat the library as a micro version of our mortal world---an abstract harbor city. The design aimed to guide the spectators through a spiritual reading journey, in which the spectators experience their moments of enlightenment and deliverance. Satori Harbor symbolizes a moral place for the practice of life.

The Satori Harbor / Wutopia Lab. Image © CreatAR Images
The Satori Harbor / Wutopia Lab. Image © CreatAR Images
The Satori Harbor / Wutopia Lab. Image © CreatAR Images
The Satori Harbor / Wutopia Lab. Image © CreatAR Images
The Satori Harbor / Wutopia Lab. Image © CreatAR Images
The Satori Harbor / Wutopia Lab. Image © CreatAR Images

One is required to pass through a dim tunnel before arriving at the “city”. The meandering path is intended to trigger a longer period of stay. At the end of the tunnel, one will encounter a large sound dome from which one can hear the waves. Then one will sense he/she is at the edge of the city, close to the harbor and sea.

Pushe Tea Room / Jiejie Studio. Image © Xiazhi
Pushe Tea Room / Jiejie Studio. Image © Xiazhi
Pushe Tea Room / Jiejie Studio. Image © Xiazhi
Pushe Tea Room / Jiejie Studio. Image © Xiazhi
Pushe Tea Room / Jiejie Studio. Image © Xiazhi
Pushe Tea Room / Jiejie Studio. Image © Xiazhi

Besides reading and appreciating the ancient culture of meditation, tea culture is another traditional Chinese concept that might help you regain some inner peace in this post-pandemic world.

Pushe Tea Room / Jiejie Studio. Image © Xiazhi
Pushe Tea Room / Jiejie Studio. Image © Xiazhi
Pushe Tea Room / Jiejie Studio. Image © Xiazhi
Pushe Tea Room / Jiejie Studio. Image © Xiazhi
Pushe Tea Room / Jiejie Studio. Image © Xiazhi
Pushe Tea Room / Jiejie Studio. Image © Xiazhi
Pushe Tea Room / Jiejie Studio. Image © Xiazhi
Pushe Tea Room / Jiejie Studio. Image © Xiazhi

The Pushe Tea Room designed by Jiejie Studio is a project located in a commercial building in Beijing. Through abstract repetition and change of design techniques, of the mountain and forest scenes, people can experience a multi-layered space in reverse. The design attempts to arouse tea drinkers to obtain a sense of being separated from the world, enriching, therefore, the spatial experience of the tea room.

Returning to Nature

Sometimes people also wish to live in calm seclusions, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. This is why architects and designers are working towards blurring the boundary between nature and the built environment.

Tongling Recluse / RSAA/Büro Ziyu Zhuang. Image © Ting Xu
Tongling Recluse / RSAA/Büro Ziyu Zhuang. Image © Ting Xu

Ziyu Zhuang, the founder of RSAA/Büro Ziyu Zhuang, is always searching for ways to allow tradition and modernity to interweave and coexist in his contemporary architectural practices. In his 2017 project Tongling Recluse, he sought to bring nature back to a remote abandoned village in the north of Anhui Province in China.

Tongling Recluse / RSAA/Büro Ziyu Zhuang. Image © Shengliang Su
Tongling Recluse / RSAA/Büro Ziyu Zhuang. Image © Shengliang Su
Tongling Recluse / RSAA/Büro Ziyu Zhuang. Image © Shengliang Su
Tongling Recluse / RSAA/Büro Ziyu Zhuang. Image © Shengliang Su

As Daniel Wu, the owner of this project has requested, the design embraces the existence of the tallest tree that survived in the village: “It is beautiful. It should be seen in our house.” Thus, the architect divided this residual wall into two parts; and the middle part was used as a courtyard where people can admire the stars at night, with the water, from four directions, flowing in. In addition, the eaves divided the two ridges into different materials.

Tongling Recluse / RSAA/Büro Ziyu Zhuang. Image © Shengliang Su
Tongling Recluse / RSAA/Büro Ziyu Zhuang. Image © Shengliang Su
Tongling Recluse / RSAA/Büro Ziyu Zhuang. Image © Shengliang Su
Tongling Recluse / RSAA/Büro Ziyu Zhuang. Image © Shengliang Su

The design also established a dialogue between the indoor and the outdoor space. Traditional folded roof and detached streamlined space were blended together, coinciding with the cosmology of Chinese culture - “The Dao (Way) produces One (world), One produces Two (Yin-Yang)....”- the whole roof was covered with grey tiles, taking a unique shape from a bird’s eye view, which was not only outstanding but also a convergence of existing ancient village. This was the first time the indoor space echoed the outdoor space.

Tongling Recluse / RSAA/Büro Ziyu Zhuang. Image © Shengliang Su
Tongling Recluse / RSAA/Büro Ziyu Zhuang. Image © Shengliang Su
Tongling Recluse / RSAA/Büro Ziyu Zhuang. Image © Shengliang Su
Tongling Recluse / RSAA/Büro Ziyu Zhuang. Image © Shengliang Su

Wonder Architects, in their 2017 project Beijing ‘Tsuo’, took another approach to break away from the crowded city by fabricating an artificial wonderland in reality. Similarly, as all our ancestors did, the architects sought to explore a new means of explanation in this confined space.

Beijing ‘Tsuo’ / Wonder Architects. Image © Haiting Sun
Beijing ‘Tsuo’ / Wonder Architects. Image © Haiting Sun
Beijing ‘Tsuo’ / Wonder Architects. Image © Haiting Sun
Beijing ‘Tsuo’ / Wonder Architects. Image © Haiting Sun
Beijing ‘Tsuo’ / Wonder Architects. Image © Haiting Sun
Beijing ‘Tsuo’ / Wonder Architects. Image © Haiting Sun

Under limited dimensions, designers wanted to demonstrate a tendency of using functional space to ‘collect’ views and deliberately create unconventional views of Beijing in daily scenes. It is considered that the panoramas and spaces are correspondents in this building.

Beijing ‘Tsuo’ / Wonder Architects. Image © Haiting Sun
Beijing ‘Tsuo’ / Wonder Architects. Image © Haiting Sun
Beijing ‘Tsuo’ / Wonder Architects. Image © Haiting Sun
Beijing ‘Tsuo’ / Wonder Architects. Image © Haiting Sun
Beijing ‘Tsuo’ / Wonder Architects. Image © Haiting Sun
Beijing ‘Tsuo’ / Wonder Architects. Image © Haiting Sun
Beijing ‘Tsuo’ / Wonder Architects. Image © Haiting Sun
Beijing ‘Tsuo’ / Wonder Architects. Image © Haiting Sun

During the process of renovation, architects tried to keep the layers of progression within the building. From the rough reconstruction done in the early periods to the random fixtures that took place later, all the reversions were kept, leaving the trace of the time, delicately captured in the structure.

Utilizing Light and Borrowed Scenery

Apart from revisiting traditional ceremonies and returning to nature for seclusion, other techniques such as borrowed scenery are also incorporated into contemporary interior design in China. Introduced in traditional East Asian garden design books, borrowed scenery is the principle of "incorporating background landscape into the composition of a garden". 

Resee Studio Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration. Image Courtesy of Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration
Resee Studio Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration. Image Courtesy of Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration
Resee Studio / Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration. Image Courtesy of Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration
Resee Studio / Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration. Image Courtesy of Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration

Designed by Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration, Resee is a studio for a sculptor, located in an office building in a high-tech zone. It covers the functions of a workspace, reception, and meeting area. The project features an oriental landscape interior in contemporary architecture.

Resee Studio / Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration. Image Courtesy of Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration
Resee Studio / Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration. Image Courtesy of Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration
Resee Studio / Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration. Image Courtesy of Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration
Resee Studio / Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration. Image Courtesy of Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration

The interior gardens mainly use the traditional method of borrowing scenes in a modern way. When viewed from the Zen room, the landscape is completely different, which leads to different reflections. The blocking of the light takes advantage of the natural light to show the beauty of space at different times of the day.

Resee Studio / Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration. Image Courtesy of Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration
Resee Studio / Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration. Image Courtesy of Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration
Resee Studio / Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration. Image Courtesy of Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration
Resee Studio / Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration. Image Courtesy of Fujian Yanlin Building Decoration

Lighting design is also essential in terms of enriching the spatial experience and bring people a sense of relaxation.

TaiOursea Laomendong SPA Shop / RoarcRenew. Image © Freeman
TaiOursea Laomendong SPA Shop / RoarcRenew. Image © Freeman

In Roarc Renew's project, TaiOursea Laomendong SPA Shop, the orderly arrangement of red bricks reflects the relation between space and material, while the lamp wall totally alludes to cultural and visual signs. Pray and meditation is a religious behavior, which normally embodies a sense of ceremony.

TaiOursea Laomendong SPA Shop / RoarcRenew. Image © Freeman
TaiOursea Laomendong SPA Shop / RoarcRenew. Image © Freeman
TaiOursea Laomendong SPA Shop / RoarcRenew. Image © Freeman
TaiOursea Laomendong SPA Shop / RoarcRenew. Image © Freeman
TaiOursea Laomendong SPA Shop / RoarcRenew. Image © Freeman
TaiOursea Laomendong SPA Shop / RoarcRenew. Image © Freeman

The “sense of place” emphasized in architecture is a sort of “divinity” formed through space construction. When night falls, thousands of lamps light up. It represents not only a one-to-one blessing but also field spirit. The field spirit takes the night sky as a background. For Roarc Renew, the heart-shaking effect brought by the lighting-up of thousands of lamps is appealing. Hence, Roarc Renew takes thousands of lamps as a focal design element of his scheme. Actually, without being restrained by form, the “divinity” and “field spirit” of religion are completely inherited in this design.

TaiOursea Laomendong SPA Shop / RoarcRenew. Image © Freeman
TaiOursea Laomendong SPA Shop / RoarcRenew. Image © Freeman
TaiOursea Laomendong SPA Shop / RoarcRenew. Image © Freeman
TaiOursea Laomendong SPA Shop / RoarcRenew. Image © Freeman

In the aspect of craftsmanship, there is a special elevated and water-proof design for lamp boxes, which guarantees its usage and weather resistance in outdoor space. The lamp boxes are specially designed in square to echo with orderly gaps left in red bricks.

This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Interior Wellbeing. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.


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About this author
Cite: Scarlett Miao. "Healing Architecture in China: Through a Sensorial and Spatial Experience" 17 Mar 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/958330/healing-architecture-in-china-through-a-sensorial-spatial-experience> ISSN 0719-8884
The Satori Harbor / Wutopia Lab. Image © CreatAR Images

治愈性空间设计,人体感官与中国建筑

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