The Copper Blockhouse by Wutopia Lab Emerges from the Water Surface Like a Shimmering Whale, Quietly, Silently, Rippling Inside

This museum located inside a copper arch in Shanghai has been designed as the centrepiece of a creative industry park

Wutopia Lab used the original structure on the site, a bicycle shed with an arched steel roof, and extended the structural steel on both sides to form the building's envelope. This was then clad in copper plates both internally and externally. Explains Ting Yu, chief architect of Wutopia Lab, “The nautical machinery and ships are huge metal objects, thus, I decided to build the building entirely of metal, and copper was chosen in the end," Yu added. "I believe that metal shell is strong enough to protect our souls."

He recounts the journey of this project. “In 2021, I was invited by my friend Qiye, to design a central building in the creative industry park that I renovated for him. However, we were both spaced out those days as our wives were facing a similar dilemma. We were distracted, yet tried to take our minds off anxiety by working, but it was hard to fully concentrate."

“Various possibilities of functions such as clubs and cafés were vetoed, as these ordinary functions could not convince the two middle-aged men who were in panic. Eventually, we agreed on a multifunctional spiritual fortress as the central building. I said to Qiye that we needed to justify our existence, which was impossible for successful commercial development to achieve. The museum is the church of the modern age, and it might settle our disturbed souls. Therefore, we used the museum as the base of the work.”

Yu continues, “The form of the design is the original arched shed on the site. The building is an arch, and that's it. It was the nautical machine factory that inspired me to build this fortress the way a ship is built. Therefore, the construction of the building started with the keel, which was made of welded structural steel, covered by copper plates on both sides to form the internal and external facades. There's a gleaming stainless-steel space in the fortress, the cabin of the ship. It functions as a café, as well as a stage, with a kitchen and a bathroom. This is the only decoration of the Copper Blockhouse, symbolising the sharpness of our souls and our desires left behind. The grass on the north side of the fortress was designed into a huge black wading pool. The Copper Blockhouse is then presented as a submarine, emerging from the water surface like a shimmering whale, quietly, silently, rippling inside.”

Shares Yu, “Every evening, I died and every evening, I was born again. Resurrected. The rest of the park was designed by an excellent architect who gave the park a new look. However, I kept the newspaper wall on the south side of the shed, the human security, the big tree, and the rockery. I tried to retain some fragments of the memory of the site because I am increasingly reluctant to forget. Each building in the park is abundantly designed, and that's why I preferred to keep the Copper Blockhouse simple. If the whole park is a partita, the Copper Blockhouse is a silent pause. I ambushed a variety of possibilities in this "pause", the fortress - exhibitions, performances, lectures, parties, a museum, even skateboarding activities. The café can be used as a stage if the gate towards the pool opens. With the water surface drawing down, a glittering catwalk appears. We once imagined here to be a dramatic show, but after the year of 2022, I've changed my mind. I hope there will be glorious fireworks, a choir performance on the water, singing about the pain and the hope. As what's past is a prologue."

Words: Emily Leung & Nikey Cheng
Photos: CreatAR Images
Published on April 10, 2024