A Laboratory Of Primitive Senses

Taipei is a buzzing metropolis full of all the activity and amenity you would expect from a thriving Asian hub. The setting is a curious dichotomy of eastern and western worlds. On one hand it is dizzyingly modern, with gadgets and technology on every corner; on the other, there is a deep seeded understanding of the importance of nature in creating a liveable environment.

It has been a recurring topic for us lately. The east Asian philosophy of ‘Forest Bathing’ is increasingly recognised as a valuable tool in good city-making practices across the world. The concept essentially revolves around the belief in the benefits of nature on mental well-being. We recently blogged about the implementation of these principals as explored by Dutch designers Gewildgroei during this years World Design Capital program. These principles are, of course, already widely accepted and implemented in the east – Taipei is no exception.

From ideas firmly grounded in this vernacular philosophy, local studio Divooe Zein Architects  created a striking retreat in the foothills of the mountains, on the outskirts of the bustling city. ‘Siu Siu Laboratory of Primitive Senses’ is a sanctuary that seeks to “enable thoughtful explorations into the complex relationship between man and nature.”

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The structure itself is built around an existing wooden house, with additions of glass and iron forming 4 key areas; including a kitchen and mezzanine to host and support the various functions held on site. The most striking element, however, is the eight meter high tunnel of shade cloth that contains the majority of space – acting as a mediator between the external and internal. It is indeed their intention to blur this division. “The net house in the mountains is a liminal space”, the architects explain. “You might enjoy the solitude of total isolation, or you could expose yourself unconditionally to the environment.”

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The cloth creates a micro-environment that is geared more towards the comfort of the flora and fauna than it is for humans. The open ended structure acts as protection from the most extreme elements, whilst allowing the sub-tropical moisture and sunlight to filter though. Nature is truly embraced as the hero of the design; four existing trees were retained and designed around, piercing through the concrete floor and canopy.

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Inside, there is a focus on the ephemeral experience – objects of no practical use are in abundance. Statues, flowers, aromas, planting and the sounds of nature serve to create a truly visceral experience. “This project is to explore the possibility of Primitive Senses through five senses of our own… so architecture is only a part of this project”, said studio designer Fanyu Lin. Activities such as yoga, meditation and floristry and aromatherapy further connect visitors with a calm, spiritual experience; all together serving as a healing process removed from the digital, urban world.

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As we continue to hurtle towards modernity, it is no surprise that retreats such as this have become an increasingly valuable resource to those living in the city. Urban ‘shrines to nature’ are an effective way to provide relief from fast paced city life. The human need to connect with nature seems indeed to be a primal instinct.

Gewildgroei‘s experimental project explored this connection with nature on a more intimate and temporary scale. Projects, such as this one, help create a network of ‘forest bathing’ opportunities of all types and scales. Together these experiences can serve to establish a greater general impression of the presence of nature in the city, and assist in creating a more liveable environment.

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Divooe Zein Architects have embraced one of the core drivers of the World Design Capital intention: making “design thinking” a driver of urban development. By employing design thinking in response to issues relevant to their city, Taipei establishes itself as an adaptive city – ready and willing to provide solutions to ever changing urban challenges.